The Colorado state grand jury has handed down an indictment of 32 counts against the police and paramedics in Aurora who arrested Elijah McClain, 23, two years ago during a meeting that preceded his death, Attorney General Phil Weiser said on Wednesday.
Five people – three police officers and two paramedics – each were charged with one count of manslaughter and one count of criminally negligent homicide after Weiser’s office filed the indictment in court on Wednesday District of Adams County.
Manslaughter is a Class 4 felony in Colorado, while criminally negligent homicide is a Class 5 felony.
The officers indicted are Nathan Woodyard, Jason Rosenblatt and Randy Roedema. Rosenblatt was fired from the Aurora Police Department last year after responding “ha ha” to a text message image of other officers reenacting a neck grip like the one police used on McClain.
The convicted Aurora Fire Rescue paramedics are Jeremy Cooper and Peter Cichuniec, a lieutenant.
Qusair Mohamedbhai, the attorney representing McClain’s mother, Sheneen McClain, did not immediately respond to a request for comment on the indictment.
Weiser spoke for about 10 minutes at a press conference where he announced the charges. He didn’t answer any questions.
“At the time, I said that our investigation would be guided by a commitment to the facts, by careful and diligent work and that it would be worthy of the trust of the public and of our criminal justice system,” said Weiser at the press conference. “These remain our guiding principles in this area. “
McClain was arrested by police on August 24, 2019, as he walked home from a convenience store. Officers approached him after receiving a report from a 17-year-old local that McClain looked suspicious.
McClain hadn’t committed any crime, but officers placed him in a neck grab. The unarmed black man was then injected with ketamine, a powerful sedative. He suffered cardiac arrest and died in hospital on August 30, 2019.
An independent review commissioned by Aurora City Council found that police were too quick to make a decision when they arrested McClain and investigators poorly documented the incident.
In November 2019, Adams County prosecutors refused to charge one of the first responders involved in the meeting with McClain. But then Governor Jared Polis, facing renewed pressure following social justice protests in Colorado and across the country last year, appointed Weiser’s office to serve as a special prosecutor and review the case with a view to possible criminal prosecution.
It was an unprecedented gesture.
Then, in January, Weiser opened a statewide grand jury investigation into McClain’s death. The panel has subpoena power and is made up of people from across the Denver metro area. The grand jury can consist of up to 23 members.
No more than a quarter of statewide grand jury members can be from a single county. Members, whose identity and work are kept strictly confidential, are selected by a judge in consultation with attorneys from the Attorney General’s office.
“As our department proceeded with our work, it became clear that we needed a grand jury and its enhanced investigative powers to obtain documents and compel witnesses to testify that otherwise we would not be. not able to obtain using ordinary investigative techniques, “Weiser said Wednesday.
The attorney general’s office and the grand jury have suffered several delays over the past year due to the pandemic, he said. The jury met in December and the following month began its investigation into McClain’s death.
Weiser said the grand jury completed its work on Thursday. The indictment was not announced until Wednesday because his office wanted to notify McClain’s family and the targets of the investigation that a resolution had been reached.
The work of the grand jury, as well as the investigation by the attorney general’s office, was shrouded in secrecy. Weiser declined as late as last week to provide an update on his office’s investigation.
McClain’s death sparked further scrutiny and international outrage following the murder of George Floyd by police in Minneapolis on May 25, 2020.
McClain’s death also prompted the Colorado legislature to pass new laws in 2020 and 2021 to reform how Colorado police officers can use force. The changes included a ban on neck grips and strict limits on when ketamine can be used in situations involving law enforcement outside of hospital settings.
McClain’s family is suing Aurora for Elijah’s death. Sheneen McClain has become a champion of police reform efforts.
“To me, it comes down to policies and laws,” she recently told Colorado Public Radio. “And I will fight for the rest of my life to make sure people don’t use her name the wrong way.”
The FBI and federal prosecutors are also investigating McClain’s death.
Weiser said Wednesday that his office continues to investigate the practices and policies of the Aurora Police Department. It is not known when this review will be completed.
It’s a developing story that will be updated.
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