Aurora police officer found guilty of brutalizing Elijah McClain sentenced to 14 months in jail, 4 years probation

· Jan. 5, 2024, 3:36 pm
240105-MCCLAIN-TRIALS-ROEDEMA-SENTENCED240105-MCCLAIN-TRIALS-ROEDEMA-SENTENCEDHart Van Denburg/CPR News
Former Aurora Police Department officer Randy Roedema leaves the courtroom after being convicted of charges in the 2019 death of Elijah McClain during a trial in the Adams County Courthouse, Oct. 12, 2023, in Brighton, Colo.

Updated 5:38 p.m. on Friday, Jan. 5, 2024

Former Aurora police officer Randy Roedema was sentenced to 14 months in jail and four years of probation for his role in violently detaining an unarmed Black massage therapist and not paying attention to his pleas for help before he ultimately died.

Roedema was convicted last year of criminally negligent homicide and third-degree assault for his role in Elijah McClain’s 2019 arrest that ultimately led to his death.

The judge sentenced him to 90 days of jail to be served concurrently with the 14 months for the third-degree assault. The sentence includes 200 hours of community service and allows for Roedema to work while in jail in a work release program.

Before handing down the sentence, Judge Mark Warner said that he was shocked at the indifference to Elijah McClain’s suffering after he was handcuffed and clearly detained. He called McClain a quirky, interesting, peaceful, and hardworking young man.

“I don’t think anyone can unsee what was depicted in the videos,” Warner said, referring to the hours of body worn camera footage shown in court of Roedema’s actions on the scene. “I can’t begin to comprehend what it’s like for … his family.”

McClain’s mother, Sheneen, emotionally asked for the maximum prison time for Roedema, which would have been three years in prison, though because criminally negligent homicide is not a “crime of violence” as defined in the state statutes, he would have likely been eligible for parole after less than a year.

240105-MCCLAIN-TRIALS-ROEDEMA-SENTENCEDHart Van Denburg/CPR News
Sheneen McClain speaks with reporters after former Aurora Police Officer Randy Roedema was sentenced for his role in the death of her son, Elijah McClain, at the Adams County Justice Center, Friday, Jan. 5, 2024.

After the sentencing, she told reporters she doesn’t consider it justice.

“This is the same story happening over and over again and more lives are getting lost because nobody is doing the right thing,” she said, adding, “Elijah's name will always be alive in the history books.”

Roedema is the only officer to have been found guilty of crimes related to the arrest, two others were acquitted by separate juries in Adams County last year. The two paramedics who gave McClain an overdose of ketamine that contributed to his death were also found guilty of criminally negligent homicide.

Roedema and his family sought probation with no jail time, citing the former officer’s long record of public service that included eight years in the Marine Corps and 14 years of law enforcement serving in two agencies, including Aurora. They said he had no prior complaints of excessive force and no criminal history.

They also said Roedema was awarded a Purple Heart for conduct on duty in Iraq and an attack that left him severely injured in 2017.

One of his commanders, Lt. Col Chris Ferguson, told the judge on Friday that Roedema was selfless in the Marines and served others. His attorneys said he is active in his church, has a good job now and is trying to raise his three children with his wife.

“This is a guy that was dedicated to policy, procedure, chain of command,” said Don Sisson, one of his attorneys. “If you tell him to do something, he's going to do something. I think you need to consider the fact that this is a guy that was trying to do the best he could. Yes, he fell short, but … he wasn't directed by other people to do something different.”

Roedema also spoke to the judge and said he couldn’t “imagine the agony” of what McClain’s family is going through, that he would be devastated if he lost any of his own children.

“I want to begin by expressing my deepest condolences to the McClain family. I do not think there is anything that I can say that will make this OK,” he said. “However, I want the McClain family to know the sadness I feel about Elijah being gone.”

What Randy Roedema did at the scene

On Aug. 24, 2019, in the last hours of a long shift, Roedema arrived on the scene with Elijah McClain, a 23-year-old walking home from a convenience store and not suspected of committing any crimes.

Roedema helped take McClain to the ground and held him down with his full weight after McClain was put in two carotid holds by other officers, which cut blood flow off to his brain. McClain was vomiting and asking for help and Roedema never spoke to him.

He then yanked McClain’s arms back until his shoulder popped. He also assured his supervising sergeant that McClain could breathe, even though McClain had been saying repeatedly that he couldn’t as he was repeatedly vomiting after the carotid hold.

Roedema also insisted McClain stay handcuffed after being given the sedative ketamine, even when a paramedic suggested they try soft restraints on a gurney.

'Randy Roedema stole my son's life'

Assistant Attorney General Jason Slothouber, who prosecuted the case, told Judge Warner on Friday that despite Roedema’s deserved commendations and devotion from his family, he should be sentenced “not for his life, but for his actions on Aug. 24, 2019.”

“I think it's important for the court and even for me to acknowledge that Mr. Roedema has made some positive contributions in service to his country and in the lives of his friends and his family," Slothouber said. "He's being sentenced for his actions which showed a callous disregard for the person who he endangered, restrained, and ultimately killed,”

Sheneen McClain, Elijah’s mother, also addressed the court before the decision, calling Roedema a “bully with a badge.”

“Peace officers are not supposed to be murderers, but that is what Randy Roedema became the night he bullied my son to death,” she said.

“Randy Roedema stole my son's life. Prison is the only accountable justice that Randy Roedema deserves. He does not deserve probation. He does not deserve his freedom with his family,” she said.

Elijah McClain Officer SentencedDavid Zalubowski/AP Photo
Former Aurora Police Department officer Randy Roedema leaves the courtroom after being convicted of charges in the 2019 death of Elijah McClain during a trial in the Adams County Courthouse, Oct. 12, 2023, in Brighton, Colo.

Slothouber told the judge: “The life of Elijah McClain mattered.”

He noted that McClain’s death inspired a host of changes in policing in Colorado, including requirements that all officers wear body worn cameras and that there are more rules around use of force.

The trial of Randy Roedema and Jason Rosenblatt

This is the first sentencing of the first responders convicted in McClain’s death. Roedema and Jason Rosenblatt were tried together in September for reckless negligence in how they treated McClain on the scene.

Using hours of body worn camera footage stitched together from various officers on the scene, prosecutors made a successful case that Roedema failed to follow his training that requires him to de-escalate tense scenes and treat people in custody with care — including listening to their pleas for help when they say they can’t breathe. 

When medics arrived, neither Roedema nor Rosenblatt communicated with fire and rescue personnel about McClain’s rapidly deteriorating medical condition. Roedema said, according to the body worn camera footage, that McClain “spoke English” but he didn’t tell the medical professionals anything about McClain complaining he couldn't breathe or that he had repeatedly vomited, including into a mask where he was inhaling it and aspirating.

A mostly white Adams County jury found Roedema guilty in October. Rosenblatt was acquitted of all the charges against him, but had already been fired by the Aurora Police Department.

Peter Cichuniec and Jeremy Cooper, the two paramedics found guilty in December of criminally negligent homicide for giving McClain a fatal dose of ketamine and failing to provide care to him on the scene, will be sentenced in March.

Roedema is expected to serve time in the Adams County jail, but the judge said he was open to him asking to be transferred somewhere else if that was OK with sheriff’s deputies. He has until March 22 to turn himself in.

Roedema’s attorneys told the judge they planned to appeal the conviction and the sentence given problems with jury selection and the fact Roedema was tried with another officer, Rosenblatt, whose attorneys pointed fingers at Roedema’s actions that night. The vast majority of the filings in these cases are still sealed by the court.

Reactions to the sentencing

Attorney General Phil Weiser, who was appointed to open an investigation into McClain’s released a statement Friday evening. 

“We believe that time in county jail and community service is an appropriate and serious sentence for Randy Roedema, who, as the judge noted, showed shocking indifference to the life of Elijah McClain. This sentence is necessary to demonstrate that officers who betray their training and their vow to protect members of the community are held accountable,” Weiser said in the statement. 

In his initial reaction, NAACP Aurora chapter President Omar Montgomery thanked Weiser 

“If it wasn't for the Attorney General bringing up this case, there wouldn't be any accountability. There wouldn't have been any time for Elijah McClain to have his day in court for Sheneen McClain to witness some type of justice for what happened to her son the night he ran into these officers who, in my opinion, didn't treat him with humanity,” he said.

Montgomery also defended Sheneen McClain’s address to the court.

“That's what she needed to express at that time. What she's saying is you just didn't murder Elijah McClain. You probably murdered or took away a whole generation or a family experience that will never happen. Could it have been grandkids? Could it have been a marriage? Could it have been Elijah McClain doing some other wonderful things in society that we will never experience?“ 

Lauren Bonds, National Police Accountability Project executive director is somewhat skeptical that the sentence sends a clear message on accountability. 

“I think the sentence today is probably telling police officers and telling the community that you can't expect any severe criminal consequences, even if you take someone's life away, who's unarmed, who's not resisting, and you had little reason to apply the force that you were applying,” she said.

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