Cops, paramedics accused in the death of Elijah McClain push arraignment to November

Racial Injustice Elijah McClain
David Zalubowski/AP
Demonstrators carry placards as they walk down Sable Boulevard during a rally and march over the death of 23-year-old Elijah McClain, Saturday, June 27, 2020, in Aurora, Colo. McClain died in late August 2019 after he was stopped while walking to his apartment by three Aurora Police Department officers.

Updated 2:20 p.m.

The three Aurora police officers and two paramedics have bumped their plans to plea in the cases against them alleging roles in the death of 23-year-old Elijah McClain to November.

Lawyers from both sides agreed to a secondary arraignment date for Nov. 4.

Former officer Jason Rosenblatt and officers Nathan Woodyard, Randy Roedema and paramedics Peter Cichuniec and Jeremy Cooper collectively face 32 criminal charges, including manslaughter, criminally negligent homicide and lesser assault charges. 

Woodyard, Roedema, Cichuniec and Cooper are unpaid leave from their positions.

A grand jury returned with the indictments almost a year ago, but there have been delays throughout the proceedings with defendants filing motions to dismiss and the attorney general’s office filing motions making sure all of the defendants were represented by separate counselors.

Adams County Judge Priscilla Loew ruled this week that she would like to try the cases together.  In a hearing in April, Loew apologized for the delays and said she had homicide trials throughout the summer and that she needed to get through the several hundred pages of grand jury testimony.

Three years ago, McClain was walking back from an Aurora convenience store when someone called the police and said he was allegedly acting suspiciously. He was wearing a mask and dressed warmly on a summer day and waving his hands in the air. 

Officers Woodyard, Rosenblatt and Roedema tried to question him and the exchange quickly escalated when officers say McClain resisted commands. 

McClain told police he didn’t have a gun and that he preferred personal space, according to a tape of the incident. 

Officers eventually placed McClain in a carotid chokehold, a tactic which is now banned in Colorado. He briefly passed out and also vomited a couple of times. Paramedics injected McClain with ketamine and he went into cardiac arrest while being transported to the hospital. He died several days later after doctors declared him brain dead.

The local district attorney at the time declined to file criminal charges against any officer or paramedic but Gov. Jared Polis, in an executive order, asked Attorney General Phil Weiser to look into it. 

Weiser brought evidence to the statewide grand jury starting in January 2021. They returned with indictments in August 2021.

Sheneen McClain, Elijah’s mother, has called for her son’s justice since the beginning. She has attended every court hearing with her lawyer Qusair Mohamedbhai.

Securing felony convictions may be tough for Weiser’s criminal prosecutors, however, because a contracted coroner at the time did not consider McClain’s death a homicide, rather he called it “undetermined” because he said it was unclear how the man died. 

The five defendants are out on bond and are expected back in court in November to enter their pleas in the cases against them.