Elijah McClain: Opening statements due in first Aurora police trial

AURORA — Attorneys are expected to give opening statements Wednesday in the jury trial for the first two Aurora police officers criminally charged in the 2019 death of Elijah McClain.

Aurora officer Randy Roedema, 41, and former officer Jason Rosenblatt, 34, each are charged with reckless manslaughter, criminally negligent homicide and assault in connection with McClain’s death.

They are the first to stand trial of the five people indicted in the 2019 killing. Jury selection began Friday and is expected to be completed on Wednesday.

McClain, 23, was walking home from a gas station in Aurora on Aug. 24, 2019 — wearing a black ski mask as he often did — when someone called 911 to report a suspicious person. The responding officers detained McClain, violently forced him to the ground and handcuffed him before a paramedic injected McClain with the sedative ketamine. McClain suffered cardiac arrest on the way to the hospital, where he was later declared brain dead. He died Aug. 30, 2019.

McClain’s death drew outrage from across the country after the May 2020 death of George Floyd in Minneapolis, and led to major protests in Colorado that summer. His killing eventually prompted changes to state law to limit the use of ketamine during police encounters and led to a consent decree over the Aurora Police Department. The city settled a lawsuit brought by McClain’s parents for $15 million.

Then-17th Judicial District Attorney Dave Young declined to press charges against the officers in McClain’s death and the county coroner at first found his cause of death to be “undetermined.”

However, after the case drew attention in 2020, Gov. Jared Polis appointed Colorado Attorney General Phil Weiser as special prosecutor to re-examine the killing. That led a grand jury to bring indictments against both the police and paramedics involved. The Adams County Coroner’s Office also changed McClain’s cause of death from undetermined to complications from ketamine.

An independent investigation commissioned by the city also found the officers did not have a legal basis to detain McClain or force him to stop walking.

Officer Nathan Woodyard, who is accused of putting McClain in the chokehold that caused the 23-year-old to lose consciousness, is scheduled to stand trial alone in October. Paramedics Jeremy Cooper and Peter Cichuniec, who injected McClain with an overdose of ketamine after vastly overestimating his weight, are scheduled for a joint jury trial in November.

This is a developing story and will be updated.

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