Elijah McClain. Credit: Mari Newman / CBS

Officers, paramedics charged in death of Elijah McClain

A grand jury has returned a 32-count indictment against officers and paramedics involved in the death of Elijah McClain, a 23-year-old Black man who was put in a chokehold by Aurora police and injected with a sedative during an August 2019 arrest, Colorado’s attorney general announced Wednesday. The charges include manslaughter and criminally negligent homicide.

McClain’s death gained widespread attention last year amid a national reckoning on police brutality and racial injustice that followed the murder of George Floyd in Minneapolis.

In June 2020, Colorado attorney general Phil Weiser launched an independent investigation into McClain’s death, and in January announced a grand jury would determine whether the officers and paramedics involved should be charged. A local district attorney had in 2019 declined to file charges, citing inconclusive evidence surrounding how McClain died.

Weiser said two Aurora police officers, a former police officer and two paramedics have each been charged with one count each of manslaughter and one count each of criminally negligent homicide. Two of the officers face additional assault and crime of violence counts, and the two paramedics also face assault counts, in addition to counts of recklessly causing bodily injury with a deadly weapon — the sedative ketamine.

McClain had been walking home from a convenience store wearing a ski mask when someone called 911 to report a suspicious person. Three arriving officers tried to arrest the unarmed man, using a carotid hold — a technique where pressure is placed on both sides of the neck — and tackling him to the ground. Aurora Fire Department personnel later injected him with the sedative ketamine. He suffered a heart attack and was later removed from life support.

Another independent investigation into McClain’s death, which wasn’t tasked with determining whether criminal wrongdoing occurred, found in February that officers used force or threat of force “nearly constantly” against McClain in the 18 minutes from the time police first approached him until he was placed on a gurney to be transported to the hospital. The officers justified the use of force by saying McClain resisted and showed extraordinary strength, but body cam audio portrayed a starkly different scenario, the report said.

“The audio captured by the body worn camera contains two sharply contrasting narratives — on the one hand, Mr. McClain pleading, apologizing, and expressing pain, and on the other hand, the officers continuing to perceive resistance,” the report found.

The report found that officers took McClain into custody within seconds of their interaction with him, failed to assess whether there was reasonable suspicion to believe that a crime had occurred, and continued to use force against McClain after it was justified. It found paramedics who responded didn’t didn’t immediately provide care to McClain, accepting the officers’ suggestion that he was experiencing “excited delirium” without evaluating him. Paramedics also overestimated McClain’s weight before administering the ketamine, affecting the weight-based calculation for dosage, the report found.

Weiser’s office is continuing to investigate whether the Aurora Police Department has a pattern or practice of violating citizens’ civil rights.

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