Colorado's attorney general announced Wednesday that three police officers and two paramedics are being charged in connection with the 2019 death of Elijah McClain, a 23-year-old Black man who was killed after being placed in a chokehold and injected with ketamine while being arrested.
Attorney General Phil Weiser told reporters at a press conference that a grand jury had returned a 32-count indictment against Aurora police officers Randy Roedema and Nathan Woodyard, former Aurora police officer Jason Rosenblatt, and Aurora Fire Rescue paramedics Jeremy Cooper and Peter Cichuniec.
"Make no mistake, we recognize this case will be difficult to prosecute. These types of cases always are," Weiser said. "Our goal is to seek justice for Elijah McClain, for his family and friends, and for our state."
Qusair Mohamedbhai, an attorney representing McClain's mother, Sheneen, told BuzzFeed News they were confident the five would be convicted.
"I believe that the truth will come out, and we are very confident with that the truth is that Elijah was murdered," Mohamedbhai said.
Each of the five faces one count of manslaughter and one count of criminally negligent homicide.
Roedema and Rosenblatt also face one count of second-degree assault with intent to cause bodily injury and caused serious bodily injury, as well as one count of a crime of violence related to the second-degree assault charge.
The two paramedics also each face one count of second-degree assault with the intent to cause bodily injury and caused bodily injury, one count of second-degree assault for recklessly causing serious bodily injury (referring to the administering of ketamine), and one count of second-degree assault for a purpose other than lawful medical or therapeutic treatment intentionally causing stupor, unconsciousness, or other physical or mental impairment or injury to McClain by administering a drug (ketamine) without consent. They also face two counts of crimes of violence for each of the assault charges.
McClain was walking home from a grocery store on the evening of Aug. 24, 2019, when he was stopped by three Aurora police officers. According to the department's incident report, an unknown person called 911 because McClain was wearing a ski mask and "acting weird" by "waving his arms around."
One officer accused him of reaching for one of their weapons as they attempted to pat him down, prompting one of them to place him in a chokehold. Audio from the officers' body cameras reveals that McClain begged for his life as he cried, struggled for air, and vomited in the chokehold, repeatedly telling police that he couldn't breathe.
"I have no gun. I don't do that stuff," he said. "I don't do any fighting. Why are you attacking me? I don't even kill flies."
When McClain passed out, paramedics injected him with ketamine in order to sedate him. He died three days later in a hospital.
An investigative report released in February found police had no legal reason to initially stop McClain.
McClain's death at the hands of police attracted national public attention as Black Lives Matter protests swept the US in the summer of 2020.
In June 2020, Gov. Jared Polis designated Weiser as a special prosecutor to reinvestigate the circumstances of McClain's death.
"We're here today because Elijah McClain is not here," Weiser told reporters on Wednesday, "and he should be."
Mohamedbhai and Sheneen McClain watched the Weiser press conference at the lawyer's office, with Mohamedbhai telling BuzzFeed News that Wednesday was a significant step toward justice.
"Ms. McClain was emotional and overwhelmed," he said. "She's processing all of this. She has deep gratitude for Phil Weiser, his team, and the hard work of the citizens of Colorado."
Ellie Hall contributed reporting.