A jury in Adams County, Colorado, has found Randy Roedema guilty of criminally negligent homicide and assault in the third degree in the death of 23-year-old Elijah McClain.
Roedema and Jason Rosenblatt were the two officers first tried in connection to McClain's death.
Rosenblatt was found not guilty on charges of reckless manslaughter, assault in the second degree and criminally negligent homicide.
The two men, along with Officer Nathan Woodyard, who was first on the scene, and two paramedics, pleaded not guilty. The trial of Roedema and Rosenblatt lasted almost a month, with opening arguments starting on Sept. 20.
The prosecution argued that the two officers violated department protocol by using excessive force against McClain. Prosecutor Jonathan Bunge argued that the two men failed to de-escalate the situation.
"When Elijah is on the ground handcuffed, he's saying over and over and over again, 'I can't breathe. Please help me,'" said Bunge during opening arguments, adding that McClain vomited after the chokehold and was drowning in vomit.
"There was no doubt that there was forcible restraint and heard the testimony from Dr. Beuther who said that ketamine is a sedative, but when someone is in respiratory distress they are at greater risk," said Special Assistant Attorney General Duane Lyons during closing arguments.
The defense argued that the officers followed their department policies and training, instead blaming McClain's death on the EMTs who later arrived at the scene and gave McClain a shot of ketamine. The EMTs also claimed they were following department protocol at the time.
"There's little doubt that this case is a tragedy. But if you take the emotion out of this case, which is what you must do, the [prosecution falls] woefully short," said Don Sisson, Officer Roedema's attorney, during closing arguments. "They cannot prove Randy's actions or inactions were criminal in any way."
Following the verdict, Attorney General Phil Weiser released a statement thanking the jury and calling attention to Elijah McClain and the McClain family.
"Today’s verdict is about accountability; everyone is accountable and equal under the law. And hopefully today’s verdict is another step in the healing process for the Aurora community and the state. I recognize that some people may not agree with the verdict, but we all must respect the jury system, which is a pillar of our democratic republic," he said in a statement. "The people who served on the jury are our neighbors, regular Coloradans who interrupted their lives for weeks to hear the evidence in the case, to deliberate, and to deliver justice. I thank the members of the jury for their service.
"We are here today because Elijah McClain mattered. He was just 23 years old when he died, and he had his whole life ahead of him. His mother, Sheneen McClain, has had to relive that tragic night repeatedly for the last five years. Yet I, and all of us, are inspired by her courage and devotion to her son. Sheneen has been incredibly resilient and determined to not let anyone forget about Elijah. I want to thank Sheneen for her strength, grace, and understanding. Elijah’s memory lives on as a blessing," his statement read.
Interim Chief of Police of Aurora, Colorado, Art Acevedo, also posted a statement on X in reaction to the verdicts.
“I know many have been waiting a long time for the involved parties to have their day in court," his statement read. "As a nation, we must be committed to the rule of law. As such, we hold the American judicial process in high regard. We respect the verdict handed down by the jury and thank the members of the jury for their thoughtful deliberation and service. Due to the additional pending trials, the Aurora Police Department is precluded from further comment at this time."
McClain died after being stopped by police on his way home from a convenience store in August 2019. A passerby called 911 to report McClain as acting "sketchy" with a ski mask on; however, the caller said there was no weapon and that no one was in danger at the time.
In police body camera footage, McClain can be heard saying, "I have a right to where I am going."
One of the officers told McClain he had a right to stop him because he was "being suspicious."
Woodyard then placed McClain in a carotid hold and all three officers moved McClain by force to the grass and restrained him. McClain can be heard pleading with officers in body cam footage, saying he can't breathe correctly.
When EMTs arrived at the scene, McClain was given a shot of 500 milligrams of ketamine for "rapid tranquilization in order to minimize time struggling," according to department policy, and was loaded into an ambulance where he had a heart attack, according to investigators.
McClain's cause of death, which was previously listed as "undetermined," was listed in the amended report as "complications of ketamine administration following forcible restraint." The manner of death remained listed as "undetermined" as it was in the initial report.
Woodyard will be tried separately because he was first on the scene and applied the hold, according to a court order.
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