Denver, Colorado – November 7, 2023
In a highly anticipated verdict, a jury acquitted Aurora officer Nathan Woodyard of homicide and manslaughter charges on Monday, marking the second acquittal in the case of Elijah McClain’s 2019 death. McClain’s tragic demise occurred after an encounter with the police during which he was restrained and subsequently injected with ketamine by paramedics.
Elijah McClain, a young massage therapist, was walking home from a convenience store on August 24, 2019, when he was stopped by the police. It is important to note that McClain was neither armed nor accused of any crime. However, a 911 caller had reported him as appearing “sketchy.”
During the encounter, three officers pinned McClain to the ground and employed a carotid artery chokehold, a controversial restraint technique that has since been banned in numerous states. Following this, paramedics arrived at the scene and administered the powerful sedative ketamine. Tragically, McClain went into cardiac arrest and passed away three days later.
An updated autopsy report in 2021 attributed McClain’s death to a ketamine overdose administered by the paramedics. In 2022, a subsequent autopsy report concluded that McClain’s demise was due to “complications of ketamine administration following forcible restraint” and classified the manner of death as “undetermined.”
Witnesses testified that McClain likely inhaled vomit into his lungs while being restrained, making it difficult for him to breathe. His condition deteriorated even before the sedative was administered.
Prosecutors also contended that the police encouraged the paramedics to administer ketamine to McClain by citing symptoms such as increased strength, which are associated with a controversial condition known as “excited delirium,” often linked to racial bias against Black men.
In response to this tragic incident, the city of Aurora reached a settlement of $15 million to resolve a federal civil rights lawsuit brought by McClain’s parents.
During the trial, Officer Nathan Woodyard argued that he had placed McClain in the carotid control hold due to a perceived threat to his life. He claimed to have heard McClain say, “I intend to take my power back,” and another officer had alleged that McClain attempted to grab his gun. However, prosecutors argued that there is no evidence of such an attempt in the body camera footage.
The prosecutors emphasized that Woodyard seized McClain within a mere eight seconds of exiting his patrol car, all without properly identifying himself or offering any clarification for the encounter. McClain, seemingly surprised by the sudden interaction, attempted to continue walking, leading to the escalation of the situation.
This case marked the third trial of officers involved in McClain’s death. Earlier this month, Aurora police officer Randy Roedema has been convicted of criminally negligent homicide and third-degree assault in the case of McClain. In contrast, another officer, Jason Rosenblatt, was acquitted on all charges. Rosenblatt had been terminated from the police department in 2020 for his involvement in a photo reenacting McClain’s death.
Prosecutors contended that the carotid control hold, by cutting off oxygen to McClain’s brain, triggered a series of medical issues, and police officers and paramedics failed to assist in ensuring his ability to breathe.
The next trial related to McClain’s death is set to involve paramedics Jeremy Cooper and Lt. Peter Cichuniec, who have pleaded not guilty to the charges. This high-profile case has drawn significant public attention, particularly in the context of broader conversations surrounding racial justice and police reform.