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Elijah McClain

Protesters in West Hollywood, California hold paintings of Elijah McClain inscribed with the unarmed Black man's last words before he died after being violently restrained by police and injected with ketamine by paramedics in Aurora, Colorado on August 24, 2019. (Photo: Rich Fury/Getty Images)

While Welcoming Indictments, Advocates Say Charges in Elijah McClain Killing Are 'Not Justice'

"My son's murderers... need to be in prison for what they did to him. They had no right to stop him. They had no right to handcuff him, brutalize and terrorize him, or inject him with ketamine."

Brett Wilkins

While racial justice advocates welcomed Wednesday's indictment of five Colorado police officers and paramedics for allegedly killing unarmed Black man Elijah McClain in 2019, many movement voices echoed the familiar refrain that true justice would mean that the victim were still alive, and that such killings would stop.

"Elijah McClain should be alive today. That would be justice. But this is a step toward some accountability."
—Jumaane Williams, New York City Public Advocate

The Denver Post reports a state grand jury indicted Aurora police officers Nathan Woodyard and Randy Roedema, former officer Jason Rosenblatt, and paramedics Jeremy Cooper and Peter Cichuniec on 32 combined counts last week, according to unsealed court records.

All five defendants face charges of manslaughter and criminally negligent homicide, both felonies. Roedema and Rosenblatt also face felony second-degree assault charges. Cooper and Cichuniec were indicted (pdf) on numerous additional counts of assault, including assault with a deadly weapon.

The five men turned themselves in to the Glendale Police Department on Wednesday and were booked before being released on $10,000 bond. The paramedics and two of the officers who are still employed by the city of Aurora were subsequently suspended without pay pending the outcome of their cases. In July 2020, Rosenblatt was terminated along with two other officers not involved in the killing after they mocked McClain's death.

"We're here today because Elijah McClain is not here, and he should be," Colorado Attorney General Phil Weiser said at a Wednesday news conference. "He was a son, a nephew, a brother, and a friend."

Sheneen McClain, Elijah's mother, called the charges "a step toward justice," while LaWayne Mosley, the victim's father, said that though "nothing will bring back my son," he is "thankful that his killers will finally be held accountable."

Scott Roberts, senior director of criminal justice and democracy campaigns at Color of Change, said in a statement that "yesterday's indictment is not justice; it's the first step toward accountability for the officers and paramedics who murdered Elijah McClain."

"These individuals targeted, drugged, and brutalized Elijah in an unconscionable act of anti-Black violence," said Roberts. "After taking Elijah's life, these officers and medics have been able to remain at home with their families and avoid the consequences of their actions while Elijah's loved ones grieved their tremendous loss. The injustice has already been done to Elijah, his family, and his community."

McClain, a 23-year-old massage therapist and violinist, was walking home from a convenience store on August 24, 2019 when officers responded to a 911 call about a "sketchy" looking man in a ski mask. McClain's family said he suffered from anemia and needed the mask to keep warm.

The officers tackled McClain—who was unarmed and accused of no crime—to the ground. Although he begged them to stop because he could not breathe, the officers twice rendered him unconscious using a carotid hold, a potentially fatal neck restraint that cuts off blood flow to the brain.

MSNBC host Geoff Bennett choked up while reading part of McClain's last words during a live broadcast on Wednesday:

When Cooper and Cichuniec arrived on the scene, Roedema said that McClain—who weighed 143 pounds—had "incredible strength" and appeared impervious to pain. The paramedics concluded McClain was suffering "excited delirium"—a condition recognized by neither the American Psychiatric Association nor the American Medical Association—and injected him with ketamine, a powerful sedative whose clinical uses include horse tranquilization.

According to court documents, Cooper overestimated McClain's weight by 57 pounds and injected him with 500 miligrams of ketamine—around 175 miligrams more than the appropriate dosage for his actual weight. McClain subsequently choked on his vomit and went into cardiac arrest on the way to the hospital. He was pronounced brain dead three days later and removed from life support on August 30, 2019.

A report by the Adams County Coroner said the cause of McClain's death was "undetermined." In February, an independent investigatory panel concluded that officers stopped McClain and escalated violence against him without justification.

According to Color of Change's Roberts:

Had it not been for the police's chronic use of fake medical conditions to justify violence, Elijah might still be alive today. For years, local police departments have relied on fake diagnoses like "excited delirium" and "spontaneous delirium" to trigger unnecessary and often deadly force—particularly against Black people. In this case, Aurora officers and medics attacked and sedated Elijah because of so-called excited delirium; George Floyd and Daniel Prude's killers used the same terminology.

Sheneen McClain told ABC News: "My son's murderers and their accomplices all need to be in prison for what they did to him. They had no right to stop him. They had no right to handcuff him, brutalize and terrorize him, or inject him with ketamine."

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