Opening statements were due to begin Wednesday in the first of three trials over the 2019 death of Elijah McClain, a Black man who was not suspected of any crime when Colorado police confronted him, placed him in a choke hold and called paramedics who gave him a sedative overdose.
McClain, 23, was walking home from a convenience store in the Denver suburb of Aurora on Aug. 24, 2019, when he was stopped by police responding to a report he was acting suspiciously.
No Black jurors were among the 12 and two alternates on the panel chosen during a selection process that began Friday. This first trial involves city of Aurora police officer Randy Roedema and former officer Jason Rosenblatt, who are both charged with manslaughter, criminally negligent homicide and other charges.
Both men have pleaded not guilty.
After police restrained McClain in a choke hold, he was injected with the powerful sedative ketamine by paramedics, then lapsed into cardiac arrest and died days later at a hospital. All the police and paramedics involved are white.
The McClain case drew national attention following the 2020 killing of George Floyd under the knee of a white Minneapolis police officer, which sparked a summer of global protests over the mistreatment of African Americans and other minorities by U.S. law enforcement.
Local prosecutors at first declined to press charges in McClain’s death. But a public outcry prompted Colorado’s governor to order the state attorney general to review the case. A grand jury charged three police officers and two paramedics in a 32-count indictment in September 2021, two years after the killing.
A revised autopsy report in September 2022 concluded McClain died from a ketamine overdose. The forensic pathologist who had initially concluded McClain’s cause of death was “undetermined,” wrote in the later report that he had had “insufficient information” during his 2019 autopsy.
In a video recording of the encounter from a police-worn body camera, a sobbing McClain could be heard pleading: “I can’t breathe, please stop. I was just going home.”
The Colorado attorney general also determined that Aurora’s police department routinely violated the law by engaging in racially biased policing and excessive use of force.
Aurora police officer Nathan Woodyard, who is accused of putting McClain in a chokehold, will stand trial alone on the same charges in October. He has pleaded innocent.
Two paramedics who injected McClain with ketamine are scheduled for a joint trial on the same charges in November. The pair have pleaded not guilty.
Rosenblatt was fired in 2020 after responding “haha” in a text in response to a mocking photo that three police officers had taken at the site of McClain’s killing. The other two officers and the paramedics have been suspended without pay pending the outcome of the trial. Two of the officers who posed for the photo were fired, and the third resigned before any disciplinary action was taken.
The city of Aurora agreed in November 2021 to pay McClain’s family $15 million to settle a civil rights lawsuit.
An independent panel hired by Aurora’s City Council found the officers who stopped McClain had no apparent reason to suspect a crime was being committed and that an initial internal police investigation of the matter was flawed.