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Police, EMTs charged in death of 23-year-old Black Coloradan

Twenty-three-year-old Elijah McClain died after being placed in a carotid hold and administered ketamine by Aurora, Colorado, police and first responders in August 2019.

DENVER (CN) — Colorado Attorney General Philip Weiser announced on Wednesday the filing of 32 charges against Aurora police officers and emergency medical technicians in the 2019 death of 23-year-old Elijah McClain, an unarmed Black man who had been walking home from a convenience store.

"We are here today because Elijah McClain is not and he should be," Weiser said in a press conference. "He was 23 years old and had his whole life ahead of him."

Aurora police officers Randy Roedema and Nathan Woodyard, former officer Jason Rosenblatt, and Aurora Fire Rescue paramedics Jeremy Cooper and Peter Cichuniec each face charges of first-degree manslaughter and criminally negligent manslaughter, as well as other charges including assault.

“Nothing will bring back my son, but I am thankful that his killers will finally be held accountable," McClain's father LaWayne Mosley said in a statement provided by civil rights attorney Mari Newman.

According to a civil complaint filed by McClain's family in August 2020, McClain was dancing while listening to music on his way home from the corner store at 10:30 p.m. on Aug. 24, 2019, when police officers Roedema, Woodyard and Rosenblatt tackled and handcuffed him. Officer Woodyard told McClain he had the right to stop him for being suspicious.

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

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

In June 2020, Colorado Governor Jared Polis appointed Weiser to investigate the death as state prosecutor. Weiser in turn opened a grand jury investigation by undisclosed community members, who compelled witness testimony and reviewed documents. Due to the Covid-19 pandemic, the investigation did not commence until this past January and wrapped up on Aug. 26.

Weiser announced the charges will be filed in Adams County and said he informed McClain's family before announcing the charges publicly.

"My department is looking into whether the city of Aurora, the Aurora Police Department and Aurora Fire Rescue has a pattern of violating the civil rights of its people," Weiser added.

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