On Friday, a group of police officers and paramedics charged in the death of a 23-year-old Black man who was forcibly detained and injected with the strong anaesthetic ketamine pleaded not guilty to the accusations against them.
In 2021, a state grand jury charged them on multiple counts including manslaughter and criminally negligent homicide. Two years prior, in the Denver suburb of Aurora, a man named Elijah McClain was killed after being stopped by police. Someone dialled 911 to report a suspicious individual.
McClain would have survived if not given a dose of ketamine that was too high for someone of his height, according to a revised autopsy report published last year. McClain was found dead, but the official cause of death was still listed as suspicious.
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After McClain’s death, the usage of ketamine by emergency personnel came under heightened investigation, prompting the state health department in Colorado to adopt a guideline restricting its use.
Prosecutions of paramedics are extremely uncommon, according to emergency medicine specialists. However, two Illinois paramedics have been charged with murder for allegedly murdering a Black man last month after police requested an ambulance.
At a hearing in the Denver suburb of Brighton, police officers Randy Roedema, Nathan Woodyard, and Jason Rosenblatt, together with fire department paramedic Jeremy Cooper and Lt. Peter Cichuniec, all pled not guilty. Not one word was spoken in response to the claims.
Officers Roedema and Rosenblatt will be the first to go to trial, with their trial expected to begin in July. Cooper and Cichuniec’s retrial is set to resume in August. The court date for Woodyard’s trial will be in September.
The Democratic governor, Jared Polis, requested that Attorney General Phil Weiser initiate a criminal inquiry into the matter, which led to the indictments handed down by the grand jury. After demonstrators gathered in 2020 over the execution of George Floyd, there was fresh national attention on McClain’s death. The city of Aurora will pay $15 million to resolve the lawsuit launched by McClain’s parents in 2021.
Massage therapist McClain had done nothing wrong and was unarmed. The indictment states that in 2019, after purchasing iced tea, he was heading home while wearing a ski mask, months before face coverings became prevalent due to the epidemic. Police used a chokehold on McClain, and he passed out for a while. The situation gradually deteriorated. Relatives say McClain wore the mask because anaemia made him cold. He moaned he couldn’t breathe as three officers had him shackled on the ground and he threw up multiple times.
After a prior district attorney said he could not press charges because an autopsy did not reveal a clear cause of McClain’s death, Polis launched a state probe. Because of his passing, Colorado passed legislation mandating police accountability, outlawing chokeholds, and limiting the use of the tranquillizer ketamine.
In September, authorities released an updated autopsy report that concluded McClain’s death was the consequence of complications from administering ketamine while he was restrained. There was no indication that injuries inflicted by police caused McClain’s death, but pathologist Dr Stephen Cina said he couldn’t rule out the possibility that changes in McClain’s blood chemistry, including an increase in lactic acid, led to his death. McClain was charged with having low oxygen levels and high acid levels in his blood.
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McClain was an introverted, soft-spoken man who took it upon himself to play the violin for the comfort of cats at a local shelter, according to his family and friends. His apparent bewilderment at what was happening was severely emphasised by his begging comments captured on police body camera video: “I’m simply different.”
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