The jury has reached a split verdict in Adams County Court for two Aurora police officers who are on trial for the. The death of the unarmed young Black man four years ago received widespread publicity inside and outside of Colorado and led to and in Aurora’s police department.
The verdict was reached around 4:20 p.m. Thursday and the judge read the verdicts less than 30 minutes later.
The jury found Randy Roedema guilty of criminally negligent homicide and third-degree assault, Jason Rosenblatt was found not guilty of manslaughter and assault. Sentencing for Roedema is scheduled for Jan. 5 at 1:30 p.m. in Adams County Court.
The 23-year-old died after first responders got a call of a suspicious person walking down the street. They found McClain on Aug. 24, 2019, wearing a mask and carrying groceries when they arrived at Colfax Avenue and Billings Street. Jason Rosenblatt, Randy Roedema and another officer all were indicted by a grand jury for forcibly restraining McClain in a violent struggle that was captured on police body cam video. They face felony charges of criminally negligent homicide, manslaughter and second-degree assault, however, the jury had the option to convict on lesser charges which they did in the case of Roedema where they found him guilty on third-degree assault.
CBS News Colorado’s Karen Morfitt talked to McClain’s mother after the verdict was read. Outside the Adams County Courthouse, Sheneen McClain said, “That’s what happens in divided States of America,” and she was visibly upset as she walked to the parking lot.
Rosenblatt no longer works for the Aurora Police Department. Roedema and the third responding officer, Nathan Woodyard, have been suspended from the police force without pay.
“We are here today because Elijah McClain mattered. He was only 23 years old when he died, he had his whole life ahead of him. His mother Sheneen McClain has had to relive that night again and again over the last several years. I and those on our team, are deeply inspired by her. Her commitment and devotion to her son and justice,” said Colorado Attorney General Phil Weiser. “She has been determined not to let anyone forget Elijah McClain, how he lived and how he died. I thank Sheneen for her strength, for her grace, for her commitment to justice, and for her resilience during this process. Elijah McClain’s memory is living on as a blessing.”
Woodyard also faces a separate trial, and paramedics who injected McClainmoments after the interaction with the officers are also facing a separate trial. After he was given the drug, McClain went into cardiac arrest and was declared brain dead. He died several days later.
A coroner’s report released in 2021 said his death was caused by the administration of the powerful sedative, and the coroner said he couldn’t rule out the possibility that the carotid hold the officers put McClain in contributed to his death. The hold is designed to restrict blood flow to the brain.
During the trial prosecutors said Rosenblatt and Roedema ignored McClain’s cries that he couldn’t breathe as he struggled with them. They said the officers used excessive force and violated department policy by not taking steps to de-escalate the situation. They said those actions made McClain medically more likely to die from the dose of ketamine he received.
Defense attorneys tried to convince the jury the blame for McClain’s death falls solely on the paramedics and their use of a drug that caused McClain to lose consciousness. They said what the officers did was according to policy and according to the department’s training. They said it took several tries for McClain to respond when they told him to stop in what was described as a high-crime area.
The body-worn camera videos taken of the interaction with McClain were played several times in the courtroom during the trial.
“Stop right there. Stop. Stop,” one of the officers said in one of the videos, to which McClain, who was headed home from a convenience store, responded, “I have a right to go where I am going.” The officer replied “Stop. Stop. I have a right to stop you ’cause you’re being suspicious.” After the neck hold was used, McClain can be heard saying on the video he was having trouble breathing.
Neither of the officers took the witness stand in their own defense in the trial and the defense didn’t call any of its own witnesses.
The trials for the other first responders are scheduled to take place starting at the end of the week (for Woodyard) and next month (for paramedics Peter Cichuniec and Jeremy Cooper).
Lawyers from the Colorado Attorney General’s Office are prosecuting all of the cases. The district attorney representing Adams County decided against prosecuting the officers in the months after McClain’s death in part because the initial coroner’s report couldn’t identify the exact cause or causes of McClain’s death. A revised report was released in 2021.
In closing statements, prosecutors argued the officers failed to follow multiple police policies and that McClain struggled to breathe before the administration of ketamine. Defense attorneys for the officers argued that the state offered little evidence that either officer’s actions caused McClain’s death and that they followed their training in calling paramedics immediately after the use of the choke hold.
“No reasonable police officer could believe that this was appropriate for someone who was handcuffed,” said prosecuting attorney Duane Lyons.
“You would think if they think there’s some kind of criminal case here against Randy Roedema, that they could get at least one live witness,” said one of his defense attorneys.
“We knew that this prosecution would be difficult. It was nonetheless important that this very significant case go before a jury so it could hear the evidence, review all the facts, and make a judgment,” said Weiser. “I am deeply proud of the team behind me, their hard work, the seriousness of purpose and the manner in which they put everything they had into this prosecution. They presented the strongest cast they could to lead to hold accountable the actors responsible in the death of Elijah McClain.”
Impacts of McClain’s Death
In part because of McClain’s death, neck holds by law enforcement officers are now banned in Colorado. The guidelines for use of ketamine in emergency situations where a person is acting in an erratic manner have also been limited by the Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment.
Since McClain’s death, APD has been through several police chiefs and the city has entered a consent decree in which police reforms surrounding use of force and racial bias are mandated.
The City of Aurorawith McClain’s family two years after his death. That resolved the federal civil rights lawsuit they had filed.
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