Elijah McClain case: Police officers and paramedics plead not guilty, trials are scheduled

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Elijah McClain Arraignment
Andy Cross/The Denver Post, Pool
Paramedics Jeremy Cooper, left, and Peter Cichuniec, right, at an arraignment in the Adams County district court at the Adams County Justice Center January 20, 2023. Aurora Police officers Nathan Woodyard, Randy Roedema and former officer Jason Rosenblatt along with paramedics Jeremy Cooper and Peter Cichuniec were indicted by a Colorado state grand jury in 2021 on 32 combined accounts related to Elijah McClain’s death in August 2019.

The three former Aurora police officers and two paramedics criminally charged in the death of Elijah McClain all pleaded not guilty on Friday, and trials were set for later this year.

“We need to get this process started,” said Judge Mark Douglas Warner, after 10 attorneys representing the five defendants all asked, on behalf of their clients, for another continuance on entering pleas. “We need to get these cases on track.”

McClain was forcibly arrested by three police officers in August 2019, and put in a carotid chokehold. Officers called the paramedics, who gave him a large dose of ketamine before checking his physical condition. McClain, who was unarmed and not suspected of committing any crime, died a few days later at a hospital.

Adams County District Court Judge Warner ruled earlier this week that the cases will be split into three separate trials

The two officers who arrived on scene as backup after the initial suspicious person call came in, Jason Rosenblatt and Randy Roedema, will go first in a three-week trial starting in July.

Then the paramedics, Jeremy Cooper and Peter Cichuniec, will go next in a three-week trial starting in August.

The first officer on the scene, Nathan Woodyard, who also made McClain pass out from an applied chokehold, will have a third and final trial starting in September.

Jury selections are scheduled ahead of each trial.

Lawyers argued for more than an hour about continuing the case and the thousands of pages of discovery that state prosecutors are releasing to defense attorneys. There are now more than 42,000 pages of investigatory documents in the case. The special prosecutors are from the attorney general’s office after they were appointed by Gov. Jared Polis in summer 2020. 

One of the largest issues at the trials will be why and how Elijah McClain died. 

Already, all five defendants are blaming the others for causing his death. The investigation was conducted by a secret grand jury in the summer of 2021 and many of the details that led to a recommendation of the indictment have not been released. McClain’s autopsy was changed after the grand jury investigation from an “undetermined” cause of death to a death caused by ketamine.

Sheneen McClain, Elijah’s mother, decided not to attend the arraignments in Adams County on Friday because she is upset that the trials have been severed. She said she believes all of the actions by law enforcement and medical personnel contributed to her son’s death. McClain was a healthy 23-year-old who liked long-distance running, she said.

“They are all accomplices in my son’s murder,” she said. “Woodyard was holding Elijah’s head, choking him out. Roedema was brutalizing Elijah, cracking his arms while he was in handcuffs. And Rosenblatt had his legs … I have no hope at all. I have no hope in the system at all.” 

McClain tried to listen in on the proceedings on Friday afternoon but was locked out from the online platform that streams court hearings.

“The judge is not sensitive to what the family of Elijah McClain is going through,” she said.