Police Abuse

An Indictment Accuses Three Cops and Two Paramedics of Killing Elijah McClain With a Cascade of Legal, Tactical, and Medical Errors

The 32 charges include manslaughter, criminally negligent homicide, and second-degree assault.

|

On a Saturday night in August 2019, Elijah McClain was walking home from an Aurora, Colorado, convenience store, where he had just bought three cans of iced tea, when he was accosted by police, who ultimately killed him. McClain, a 23-year-old massage therapist, could not understand what he had done to provoke this confrontation—which is not surprising, because there was no legal justification for stopping, frisking, arresting, or assaulting him.

Yesterday, Colorado Attorney General Phil Weiser announced that a statewide grand jury had indicted three officers and two paramedics who were involved in this baffling incident. The officers (Nathan Woodyard, Jason Rosenblatt, and Randy Roedema) and paramedics (Jeremy Cooper and Peter Cichuniec) face a total of 32 charges, including manslaughter, criminally negligent homicide, and second-degree assault.

"We have the solemn duty to prosecute this case and recognize that it will be difficult to prosecute—these types of cases always are," Weiser said. "Our goal is to seek justice for Elijah McClain, for his family and friends, and for our state. In so doing, we advance the rule of law and the commitment that everyone is accountable and equal under the law."

The rule of law was violated from the moment when Woodyard, responding to a 911 call from a teenager who thought McClain "look[ed] sketchy," ordered McClain to stop. McClain, who was listening to music on earbuds, evidently did not hear Woodyard, and the situation immediately escalated.

Woodyard grabbed McClain, and he and Rosenblatt forced him to a grassy area, where they tackled him, applied a "carotid control" twice, handcuffed him, and pinned him to the ground as he temporarily lost consciousness, repeatedly vomited, and repeatedly complained that they were hurting him and that he could not breathe. Roedema joined the assault, using a "bar hammer lock," which involved pulling McClain's arm behind his back. Roedema later said he "cranked pretty hard" on McClain's shoulder and heard it pop three times. In response to what they perceived as "excited delirium," Cooper and Cichuniec, the paramedics, injected McClain with an overdose of the anesthetic ketamine.

By the end of this encounter, McClain had no pulse and had to be resuscitated in the ambulance with an injection of epinephrine. He never regained consciousness, and he was declared brain dead three days later. According to the indictment, McClain "suffered hypoxia, cerebral hypoxia, hypoxemia, metabolic acidosis, aspiration, [and] respiratory arrest." The Adams County Coroner's Office said the cause of McClain's death was "undetermined" but added "it may be a homicide if the actions of officers led to his death." A forensic pathologist cited in the indictment concluded that McClain died due to complications from his violent treatment and the ketamine. He said the manner of death was homicide.

Now let's go back to the beginning of the encounter. What grounds did Woodyard and the other officers have for stopping McClain, let alone violently subduing him?

Despite the warm weather, McClain was wearing sweat pants, a jacket, a knit cap, and a ski mask, reportedly because he had anemia, one symptom of which is cold extremities. The 911 caller thought the ski mask was suspicious. He also reported that McClain was making "all these kinds of signs" with his hands. The caller added that "he might be a good person or a bad person." He said no one was in danger and he had not seen any weapons.

In a report issued last February, an independent panel of legal, law enforcement, and medical experts concluded that none of this amounted to "reasonable suspicion" of criminal activity, the standard for an involuntary street stop. "Officer Woodyard's decision to turn what may have been a consensual encounter with Mr. McClain into an investigatory stop—in fewer than ten seconds—did not appear to be supported by any officer's reasonable suspicion that Mr. McClain was engaged in criminal activity," the report said. "This decision had ramifications for the rest of the encounter."

After grabbing McClain, Woodyard decided to frisk him, a step that is legally justified only if police reasonably suspect the subject is armed. Yet the 911 caller had not reported any weapons (a point that was noted in the police dispatcher's message), McClain was plainly holding nothing but his phone and the plastic bag from the convenience store, and Woodyard himself later said he "felt safe making an approach" because McClain "didn't have any weapons." The panel's report said "we were not able to identify sufficient evidence that Mr. McClain was armed and dangerous in order to justify a pat-down search."

The panel said the decision to tackle and pin McClain "likewise cannot be justified by the record." At this point, Woodyard's unjustified investigatory stop became an arrest, which is constitutionally permissible only when police have probable cause to believe someone has committed a crime. That is a higher standard than reasonable suspicion, a test the cops had already failed to meet. "Since Officer Woodyard's order to him to stop, the only facts that had changed were Mr. McClain's attempt and stated intention to keep walking in the direction he had been going and his 'tensing up,'" the report said. "In the Panel's view, none of these facts would be sufficient to establish probable cause of a crime."

While the officers were manhandling McClain, Roedema exclaimed, "He grabbed your gun, dude." That statement, Woodyard claimed, "changed the situation." Roedema later said he was referring to Rosenblatt's gun. But according to the indictment, Rosenblatt "stated that he did not feel any contact with his service weapon."

In any case, the independent panel noted, "Once he was lying on the ground, Mr. McClain's ability to reach an officer's gun or other weapons was limited by the fact that Officer Woodyard was on the ground behind him, with his gun and pepper spray pinned beneath him." If McClain "was no longer presenting a threat of harm to the officers, there would have been no justification for Officer Woodyard to apply a carotid hold." The body camera footage is unclear at this point, because the cameras were dislodged during the struggle. But the available record "does not provide evidence of the officers' perception of a threat that would justify Officer Woodyard's carotid hold, which caused Mr. McClain to either partially or fully lose consciousness."

A carotid hold involves pressing on the sides of the neck to induce temporary unconsciousness by cutting off blood flow to the brain. Woodyard's use of a carotid hold followed Rosenblatt's unsuccessful attempt at the same maneuver. "The risk of hypoxia and cerebral hypoxia was exacerbated by applying two carotid control holds," the indictment says. The three officers "had all been trained that the carotid hold posed dangers and should never be administered more than once."

The indictment notes that McClain "vomited multiple times while being restrained." Some of that vomit was found inside his ski mask, which he could not remove while he was restrained but "ultimately came off" after he was handcuffed. "Gurgling sounds by Mr. McClain were audible in body-worn camera video footage," which was "evidence of potential aspiration." McClain's breathing "further indicated he had hypoxia following the police restraint and use of the carotid control hold."

McClain was five feet, seven inches tall and weighed 143 pounds. But the officers, who said McClain's strength was "crazy" and "incredible" because of "whatever he's on," claimed their violence was justified because he resisted their unlawful attack on him. Providing further evidence of how everyone at the scene exaggerated the threat posed by McClain, Cooper gave him too much ketamine because he estimated that the short, slender man weighed 200 pounds, which was off by 57 pounds, or 40 percent.

After about two minutes on the scene, the indictment says, Cooper and Cichuniec "both concluded that Mr. McClain was suffering from excited delirium." As three medical experts note in a 2020 Brookings Institution article, "law enforcement officers nationwide are routinely taught that 'excited delirium' is a condition characterized by the abrupt onset of aggression and distress, typically in the setting of illicit substance use, often culminating in sudden death." But "this 'diagnosis' is not recognized by the vast majority of medical professionals. In fact, 'excited delirium' is not recognized by the American Medical Association, the American Psychiatric Association, or the World Health Organization."

The indictment says Cooper and Cichuniec reached their conclusion about McClain's condition "after receiving some information from officers and observing Mr. McClain for about one minute." The cops were convinced that McClain was "definitely on
something," and they repeatedly grilled him about what drugs he had taken. "Weed," he said, but they did not believe him. Toxicology tests later found nothing psychoactive in McClain's blood except for THC and the ketamine.

The indictment notes that neither paramedic "ascertained Mr. McClain's vital signs, nor did either of them talk to or physically touch Mr. McClain before diagnosing him with excited delirium." Based on body camera footage, "an emergency room physician with expertise in paramedic protocols concluded that excited delirium was an inaccurate diagnosis born of the paramedics' failure to adequately assess Mr. McClain's symptoms, and further concluded that ketamine should never have been administered."

No one at the scene questioned that decision. "Yep, sounds good," Rosenblatt said when Cooper announced that he planned to inject McClain with ketamine. "Perfect, dude, perfect," Roedema agreed.

Piling error upon error, Cooper administered 500 milligrams of ketamine. Even if McClain actually weighed 200 pounds, that was too high a dose. "At that weight," the indictment says, "in accordance with the standing order from [the paramedics'] medical director, Mr. McClain should have been administered 453 mg of Ketamine." The correct dose for a 143-pound man would have been 325 milligrams, so McClain was given 175 milligrams too much, or 54 percent more than he should have received, even assuming that an involuntary ketamine injection was appropriate to begin with. The indictment notes that "the paramedics did not ask Mr. McClain how much he weighed."

The cascade of legal, tactical, and medical errors that led to McClain's death is especially appalling because all he wanted to do was go home, as he had every right to do. "Let me go," he told Woodyard after the officer grabbed him. "I am an introvert! Please respect the boundaries that I am speaking. Stop. Stop! I'm going home!" The cops responded to McClain's perfectly understandable objections by telling him to "relax," "stop tensing up," and "please cooperate." To which McClain replied: "No. Can you leave me alone?" For reasons only they can fully understand, they could not.

NEXT: China Declares a Culture War on Androgyny

Editor's Note: We invite comments and request that they be civil and on-topic. We do not moderate or assume any responsibility for comments, which are owned by the readers who post them. Comments do not represent the views of Reason.com or Reason Foundation. We reserve the right to delete any comment for any reason at any time. Report abuses.

  1. Blue state, blue county, blue city. This is what happens when democrats are in charge.

    1. Start working from home! Great job for students, stay-at-home moms or anyone needing an extra income…You can work this job As part time or As A full time job.FEs You only need a computer and a reliable internet connection… Make $90 hourly and up to $12000 a month by following link at the bottom… You can have your first check by the end of this week…Lifetime Opportunity

      This is what I do……………… VISIT HERE

      1. Start making money this time… Spend more time with your family & relatives by doing jobs that only require you to have a computer and an internet access and you can have that at your home.ACv Start bringing up to $65,000 to $70,000 a month. I’ve started this job and earn a handsome income and now I am exchanging it with you, so you can do it too.

        You can check it out here……….. VISIT HERE

      2. Google pay 390$ reliably my last paycheck was $55000 working 10 hours out of consistently on the web. My increasingly youthful kinfolk mate has been averaging 20k all through continuous months and he works around 24 hours reliably.WFg I can’t trust how direct it was once I attempted it out. This is my essential concern…:) For more info visit any tab on this site Thanks a lot …

        GOOD LUCK………….. VISIT HERE

    2. And when cops are virtually never held accountable. It’s settled law that cops need probable cause to physically subdue someone. But these guys didn’t care because it’s never been a problem before. Indictments like this are needed to get these guys to follow the law and policies.

      I’m less inclined to indict the paramedics. There’s no bright line failure there.

      1. “The indictment notes that neither paramedic “ascertained Mr. McClain’s vital signs, nor did either of them talk to or physically touch Mr. McClain before diagnosing him with excited delirium.”

        That, and the improper dose, I’d be inclined to indict them.

        1. And in what universe should paramedics be issuing a diagnosis not recognized by their country’s medical community?

          Even if they had positive drug tests, a diagnosis of “exited delirium” should be per-say malpractice.

      2. I made over $700 per day using my mobile in part time. I recently got my 5th paycheck of $19,632 and all i was doing is to copy and paste work online. this home work makes me able to generate more cash daily easily.VFd simple to do work and regular income from this are just superb. Here what i am doing.

        Try now………………. VISIT HERE

      3. As an EMT, I disagree.

        No patient assessment, dose miscalculation. They fucked up badly.

        You can usually put more drugs in. It’s hard to take them back out. Even the 325 mg that the article claims would have been correct is an *insanely* high 5 mg / kg. Even assuming that administration of the drug was appropriate, I’d have started at half that or less. And kept a damned close eye on my patient at that point.

  2. Only one thing matters. Was Elijah McClain a registered Republican?

    If so then this was an injustice. If not then he got what he deserved for voting for dirty Democrats. Fuck him.

    Being that he’s black, the odds of being a Republican are small.

    So fuck this guy. He voted against Trump. He deserved what he got.

    1. vax status uber alles.

    2. I’m done reading you, fuckface.

      1. It’s only offensive if you thing it’s true.

        1. It’s not offensive, it’s just stupid.

    3. No. Fuck you asshole.

    4. You’re a sorry excuse for a human being. Mute on.

  3. A truly disturbing story from the ground up, although I’m sure the bootlickers will be here in a jiffy with some debased justification. My favorite part of these indictments, though, has got to be the psychotic and incompetent paramedics. They certainly won’t have the ‘blue privilege’ to get them off easy, like the pigs will….oh no, they will very likely be receiving some ‘forced injections’ of their own after their sentencing.

    1. As a general rule, paramedics loathe cops. Cops prevent them from doing their work.

      1. That’s why I find this confusing. Most of the time paramedics try to do their thing and avoid the assholes with guns. I’m guessing that the cops ordered the paramedics to inject the guy, told them how much to use, and are now covering their asses.

        1. can’t wait for the episode of Body Cam

      2. I know several law enforcement officers who are also part time EMT’s.

        1. I find that surprising. When I was a fly on the wall where cops drank I heard some sick shit. One guy loved to choke people. The others concurred. Another was drunk and almost sobbing that he hadn’t had the opportunity to kill someone. They laughed about scaring the shit out of people and flouting the law. They do what they want. They’d scare the rest of the customers out with their antics. What are you going to do, call the cop? Assholes.

      3. But without cops they’d have so many fewer injuries to treat! Really, they should be grateful to the Thin Blue Line for keeping them employed with a steady stream of victims.

    2. It really does make you wonder what the hell was going on the their brains as they beat the shit out of a small guy. It is almost like an animalistic response.

      1. It’s more a function of doing police work in that part of Aurora. It has the worst crime rates in the city and has been an absolute, filthy, gang-ridden shithole for decades. Ironically, the Mexicans moving in after 2000/2001 and ethnically cleansing a lot of the black gang members out of the city and back to their main territory on north Colorado Boulevard calmed things down quite a bit from the more violent 90s.

        The officers for those areas deal with the absolute dregs of humanity on a daily basis, and it makes tempers really short for anyone they think is playing fuck-fuck games. The police department really needs to treat patrols there like it’s a combat tour of duty and rotate guys out after a two-week period or so, in order to keep them from getting so jaded that they go off for any reason. I suspect the more experienced patrol cops end doing a lot of their shifts in the mostly white, low-crime southeastern part of the city.

  4. if he was fatherless the State let him live 23 years too many anyway.

  5. The panel said the decision to tackle and pin McClain “likewise cannot be justified by the record.”

    How many unjustified uses of force and how many violations of rights happen routinely and are never addressed.

  6. Ashli Babbitt. Say her name.

  7. Seems to me the guys who killed McCalin suffered from “excitable delirium”.

    1. I meant “McClain “.

      1. Yippie-Ki-Yay, mother fucker.

        Sorry. Wrong McClain.

        1. Interestingly enough, Al struggles with mistakenly shooting a kid in Die Hard. I doubt any of these assholes with a badge thought twice about this kid after he died.

  8. Another appalling cop murder story. The only thing Reason is actually libertarian about these days. But thanks for the reporting.

  9. The 911 caller also should have been charged.

    When you call the police on someone, even for good reasons (like a welfare check), there is always a chance that person will end up getting killed.

    Just doing it for some random guy, albeit dressed oddly for summer, does not really merit an emergency call to 911

    1. The caller added that “he might be a good person or a bad person.”

      The caller indicted himself. Charge that motherfucker.

      1. Yes, we definitely need to prosecute people who try to protect their neighbors in a crime-ridden society by reporting suspicious behavior.
        And “charge the motherfucker” for what? The only reason someone can be prosecuted for making a 911 call is if it’s dishonest.

  10. Excited delirium does not exist. It is not accepted as a diagnosis by any major medical organization except the American College of Emergency Physicians. It is an excuse for excessive restraint.

    1. Seems logical that emergency physicians would be the only ones to classify it as a diagnosis, since emergency physicians are the only specialty who would ever encounter it. I wouldn’t think dermatologists would come across it often.

      1. Psychiatrists do not agree and it is not listed in the DSM or the ICD. It is not recognized by the AMA or WHO.

        It is nothing but resisting arrest and agitation. It is not a disease state and not delirium.

        1. As much as I hate to come down on the side of LE, I’m afraid I must. I thought that excited delirium was some bullshit made up by some MD with a cop fetish, but it turns out that there is actually some/a lot of truth in the diagnosis. When the whole George Floyd thing came about, I saw an explanation of it – can’t recall much, but it had to do with the brain’s breathing centers shutting down while still conscious, leading to panic. Restraining the subject helps keep them from using up all the oxygen in their blood.

          ER docs and paramedics are probably the only medical professionals that would encounter such a case. Cops, even more so, because this is what happens immediately before the death from OD.

  11. Earbuds == death sentence if the cops come calling.

    Of course, that’s true for everything.

  12. I watched the bodycam footage from the initial stop to McClain’s removal in the ambulance, and this account of the police behavior is dishonest. The cops wanted to frisk him because he was wearing a hoodie and a ski mask in warm weather (the cops and paramedics in the videos were all wearing shirt sleeves). Anyone who doesn’t believe this is suspicious is an idiot. Prior to COVID, a ski mask in warm weather was the uniform of someone who was preparing to rob or rape, hence someone who might be armed and dangerous. Neither they nor the caller had any way of knowing McClain was anemic.

    Then they approached him in a casual, low-key way and attempted a Terry patdown. Had he gone along with the brief patdown, it would easily have been established that he was doing nothing wrong and he would have been back on his way home in 5 minutes. Instead he resisted and became increasingly agitated. They urged him repeatedly to “Relax” and “Calm down”, and he continued to resist. And then he was warned, “If you don’t relax, I’m going to have to change the situation.” Having watched the video I suspect that McClain was somewhere on the autistic spectrum, given his irrational behavior. Hence “I am an introvert! Please respect my boundaries!” while physically struggling with the cops and escalating the situation. Should we allow criminal suspects to resist searches because they say they’re introverts?

    He was put on the ground and frisked, after which the cops did absolutely nothing to him, other than quietly urging him to “Take it easy, just relax man, you lost this one.” The way they spoke to him was intentionally calming, not bullying or sadistic. He became increasingly agitated and hysterical and they assumed, not without reason, that he was mentally ill or tripping. Hence the ambulance call and the fatal overdose. His death was the (unintentional) fault of the paramedics, not the cops — the cops responsibly called EMS to deal with someone who appeared to be mentally ill. There are plenty of real cases of police brutality — this isn’t one. These cops are being prosecuted because they had the misfortune to arrest someone black who was overdosed by the paramedics.

    Anyone who wants to call me a “bootlicker” is free to find the videos, watch them and tell me where I’m wrong.

    1. Should we allow criminal suspects to resist searches because they say they’re introverts?
      No, We allow ANYONE to resist UNREASONABLE SEARCHES OR SEIZURES like this because IT’S THE SUPREME LAW OF THE LAND. There was NO BASIS for a Terry stop [question and frisk].
      Cops do not get to walk up and lay hands on you because they think you’re “suspicious.” Read Terry v Ohio. They MAY “pat you down” for weapons while talking with you “for their safety”. If McClain didn’t want to talk, the cops have diddly and have to go.

Please to post comments