First Trial in the Death of Elijah McClain Expected to Begin: What to Know

Jury selection continues in a Colorado district court for the trial of two police officers indicted in the 2019 death of Elijah McClain, a young Black man who died days after being subdued by officers and paramedics. The case is split into three separate trials, the first of which is scheduled to begin this week.

The 23-year-old was walking from a convenience store when he was confronted by the police after a 911 caller described Mr. McClain as suspicious. The police placed Mr. McClain in a carotid chokehold, and paramedics injected him with ketamine — both the restraint and the sedative have since been banned. He suffered cardiac arrest and died in the hospital several days later.

A total of five first responders — three police officers and two paramedics — are facing charges in his death. All have pleaded not guilty.

Officer Randy Roedema, 41, who has been suspended, and Jason Rosenblatt, 34, a former police officer, will be on trial first. Each faces charges of manslaughter and criminally negligent homicide among other charges.

Mr. McClain’s death in August 2019 drew new scrutiny after the murder of George Floyd in Minneapolis nine months later. The May 2020 killing of Mr. Floyd, videotaped by a bystander, ignited a national movement around police brutality and racial injustice.

Mr. McClain’s death was quickly linked with the deaths of Mr. Floyd and Breonna Taylor, a Black medical worker who was shot and killed by the Louisville police in a botched no-knock raid. The three names and faces were among the most identifiable of the protests in summer 2020 as victims of police violence. Collectively, protesters demanded more accountability, transparency and changes to address police brutality and racial profiling.

In addition, the death of Mr. McClain set in motion multiple investigations into the Aurora Police Department resulting in a state consent decree as well as local reform efforts.

Mr. McClain has been described by friends and family as a gentle massage therapist and self-taught violinist. At the time the police stopped Mr. McClain, he was wearing a dark mask (his mother said he had anemia which could make him cold) and waving his arms. He was not suspected of any crime and he was not armed.

An autopsy by the Adams County coroner reported the cause and manner of death as undetermined — a finding that would later be amended. Based on new information from the grand jury, the coroner changed the cause of death to “complications of ketamine administration following forcible restraint.” The manner remained undetermined.

Months after his death, Adams County prosecutors declined to file criminal charges against the police and paramedics, citing insufficient evidence.

Protesters accused the police department of covering up alleged crimes related to Mr. McClain’s death and demanded changes in police policies.

Colorado Gov. Jared Polis, a Democrat, appointed Attorney General Phil Weiser as a special prosecutor to examine the case, resulting in a 32-count indictment from the grand jury against the police and paramedics in 2021.

Mr. Weiser’s office also found the police force had a “pattern and practice” of racially biased policing and using excessive force after an investigation by the Colorado Department of Law. In 2021, the city of Aurora settled a civil suit filed by Mr. McClain’s parents for $15 million.

Mr. McClain’s death was part of a tumultuous period for the Aurora force that included multiple accusations of police misconduct, state-ordered oversight, some overhaul efforts and changing leadership over four years.

A district judge ordered three separate trials for the five defendants, who each face multiple felony charges, including manslaughter and criminally negligent homicide. The first trial, which is expected to begin this week, is scheduled to last about three weeks. The next is scheduled to begin in mid-October, followed by a third trial in late November.

Kelley Mcmillan Manley contributed reporting to this story.

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