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Cops, EMTs plead not guilty in murder of unarmed Colorado man

Elijah McClain died in August 2019 after police stopped him on his way home from purchasing ice tea.

BRIGHTON, Colo. (CN) — Three police officers and two first responders from Aurora, Colorado, pleaded not guilty Friday to charges of manslaughter and first-degree homicide in the 2019 death of 23-year-old Elijah McClain.

McClain, 23, encountered police on Aug. 27, 2019, while walking home from purchasing iced tea. Three officers responded to a call reporting a suspicious person in the area.

For nearly 20 minutes while waiting for an ambulance, officers held McClain against the ground with two constructive carotid holds and threats to sic a police dog on him if he resisted, according to a 2020 civil complaint. On the ground, McClain told police he was an introvert and a vegetarian. “Forgive me,” McClain told the officers. “All I was trying to do was become better.”

After McClain passed out at the scene, a paramedic injected him with 500 milligrams of ketamine — more than double the recommended dose for someone of his size, 143 pounds. McClain died three days later in a hospital.

Former Aurora police officers Randy Roedema, Jason Rosenblatt, and Nathan Woodyard, along with Aurora Fire Rescue paramedics Jeremy Cooper and Peter Cichuniec each face charges of first-degree manslaughter and criminally negligent manslaughter. Except Woodyard, the men also face multiple charges of assault and violence.

Seventeenth District Judge Mark Warner broke up the proceedings into three trials.

“I assume you’ll be entering not guilty pleas,” Warner said before denying three requests to reschedule the arraignment to a later date. Roedema and Rosenblatt will go to trial in July. Cooper and Cicuniec go to trial in August. Woodyard goes to trial in September.

The proceedings are being held in person at the Adams County Justice Center in Brighton.

The court built additional days into the schedule anticipating heavy media coverage of the incident and subsequent proceedings will make it difficult to find unbiased jurors.

Internal investigations by the Aurora Police and Fire departments initially concluded no wrongdoing had occurred. Then-Adams County District Attorney Dave Young also investigated the incident and cleared the officers.

Following the George Floyd protests of 2020, Colorado activists began chanting McClain’s name at protests, prompting a second look at the incident.

The Aurora City Council then placed a moratorium on the use of ketamine by emergency personnel and ordered an independent investigation into the incident.

When the 17th Judicial District attorney's office declined to press charges, the state summoned a grand jury investigation and pressed charges in September 2021. The grand jury investigation driving the prosecution remains sealed to the public.

McClain’s parents sued the city of Aurora in August 2020 and settled for $15 million in November 2021.

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