Colorado jury finds third police officer charged with death of Elijah McClain not guilty News
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Colorado jury finds third police officer charged with death of Elijah McClain not guilty

A Colorado jury returned a not guilty verdict on Monday for a third police officer charged in the 2019 death of 23-year-old Elijah McClain. Aurora Police Officer Nathan Woodyard was charged with manslaughter and criminally negligent homicide in 2021. Woodyard was one of the five people, including three police officers and two paramedics, who were charged in a 32-count indictment.

In August 2019, the Aurora Police Department received a 911 call about McClain walking on a street with a “full-on mask on,” carrying a plastic bag. Woodyard was one of three officers dispatched to the scene. He arrived first and ordered McClain to stop. Woodyard saw no weapons but regarded the bag as “suspicious.” Joined by two other officers, the stop quickly turned into an attempt to restrain McClain physically. To gain control, Woodyard applied a department tactic known as a carotid control hold, which was later banned. The physical struggle to restrain McClain continued for some time.

Aurora Fire Rescue paramedics Peter Cichuniec and Jeremy Cooper, whose trials start later in November, arrived at the scene and injected a dose of ketamine that was higher than recommended for McClain’s size, which caused an overdose.

An amended 2021 autopsy report listed McClain’s manner of death as undermined but named the cause as “complications of ketamine administration following forcible restraint.” During Woodyard’s trial, expert witness Dr. Nadia Tereschenko testified that, according to her emergency response experience, the police’s role is to provide safety, and paramedics are responsible for providing medical care. She testified that paramedics fell below the standard of care when they did not conduct a full assessment before administering ketamine.

In October, a Colorado jury found one of the officers, Randy Roedema, guilty of criminally negligent homicide but acquitted another officer, Jason Rosenblatt. In 2021, an independent investigation panel concluded that officers could not articulate what reasonable suspicion they had for the stop. According to officers, McClain was in a high-crime area, waving his arms, wearing a mask, acting suspiciously and refusing to stop. Thus, the panel recommended that the Aurora Police Department review the training and supervision of officers and reform the use of force policies and its de-escalation tactics.