In Elijah McClain trial, closing arguments begin for Colorado officer charged in death

In Elijah McClain trial, closing arguments begin for Colorado officer charged in death

Claire Thornton
 USA TODAYplayShow CaptionHide Caption#videoDetailsToggle{color:var( –color-dove-gray,rgba(0,0,0,.6));cursor:pointer;display:inline-block;font-family:var(–sans-serif,sans-serif);font-size:var(–type-7);font-weight:var( –font-weight-bold,900);line-height:var(–spacer-twentyfour,24px);margin-bottom:-8px}#vdt_hide{margin-bottom:10px}.vdt-flex[hidden]{display:none}.vdt-svg{fill:var( –color-dove-gray,rgba(0,0,0,.6));height:var(–spacer-twentyfour,24px);width:var(–spacer-twentyfour,24px)}Opening Arguments begin in Elijah McClain trialTrial began Wednesday in the death of Elijah McClain, a Colorado man whose death in a 2019 confrontation became a rallying cry for protests and spurred police reform. (September 20)AP

Closing arguments began Friday in the trial of Nathan Woodyard, the third Colorado officer charged in the death of Elijah McClain. In 2019, the 23-year-old was killed after police stopped him on the sidewalk, restrained him, and paramedics injected him with ketamine.

Police in Aurora, Colorado, stopped McClain, who was not armed and walking home from a convenience store, after a 911 caller reported he looked suspicious and was Black.

The year after his death, renewed calls for racial justice and police reform in the wake of George Floyd’s death in Minneapolis brought increased attention to McClain’s case.

Prosecutors argued Friday that Woodyard, who stopped McClain, put him in a neck hold and then abandoned him as his condition deteriorated, should be convicted of manslaughter in his 2019 death.

Earlier in the case, updated autopsy reports found paramedics illegally administered the sedative ketamine to McClain. An investigation concluded the Aurora police department was racially biased against Black people, arresting them at disproportionately higher rates.

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What happened to Elijah McClain?

Prosecutors in McClain’s case have reminded jurors that McClain, a massage therapist, was simply walking home from a store on Aug. 24, 2019, when he was stopped by police. McClain was not armed or accused of committing a crime, but a 911 caller had reported a man who seemed “sketchy.”

Three officers pinned McClain to the ground and placed him in a carotid artery chokehold, a restraint method now banned in many states.

Next, two paramedics arrived and injected the powerful sedative ketamine. McClain went into cardiac arrest and died three days later.

The coroner’s autopsy report, updated in 2021, found that McClain died of a ketamine overdose given by the paramedics. In 2022, an amended autopsy report further determined McClain died because of “complications of ketamine administration following forcible restraint” and lists his manner of death as “undetermined.”

Witnesses have testified that McClain, likely inhaled vomit into his lungs while he was being restrained, which made it harder to breathe, and his condition deteriorated even before he was given the sedative.

Prosecutors have also argued police encouraged the paramedics to give McClain the sedative by saying he had symptoms, like having increased strength, that are associated with a controversial condition known as excited delirium that has been associated with racial bias against Black men.

The city of Aurora later agreed to pay $15 million to settle a federal civil rights lawsuit brought by McClain’s parents.

Nathan Woodyard argues self-defense

Woodyard is the third police officer to stand trial in McClain’s death. He is charged with manslaughter and criminally negligent homicide.

This week, Woodyard testified he put McClain in the carotid control hold because he feared for his life. He said he had heard McClain say, “I intend to take my power back,” and another officer said, “He just grabbed your gun, dude.”

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Prosecutors say McClain never tried to grab an officer’s weapon, and it can’t be seen in body camera footage.

The defense has argued Woodyard had to react to what he heard in the moment.

Prosecutors say Woodyard grabbed McClain within eight seconds of getting out of his patrol car without introducing himself or explaining why he wanted to talk to McClain. McClain, seemingly caught off guard, tried to keep walking. The encounter quickly escalated.

2 other police officers stood trial

Earlier this month, Aurora police officer Randy Roedema, 41, was found guilty of criminally negligent homicide and third-degree assault in McClain’s case.

The third officer, Jason Rosenblatt, 34, was found not guilty on all charges. Rosenblatt was fired from the police department in 2020 over a photo reenacting McClain’s death.

In the earlier trial, prosecutor Duane Lyons said in his closing argument the officers failed to de-escalate the confrontation and ignored McClain’s pleas, Colorado Public Radio reported.

2 paramedics plead not guilty

Prosecutors said the carotid control hold, by cutting off oxygen to McClain’s brain, triggered a series of medical problems for him and that police officers and paramedics did nothing to help him, including making sure he could breathe.

Paramedics Jeremy Cooper and Lt. Peter Cichuniec are scheduled to be prosecuted in the final trial in McClain’s death later this month, and have pleaded not guilty.

Contributing: N’dea Yancey-Bragg, Minnah Arshad, Christine Fernando, and Joel Shannon, USA TODAY; Associated Press

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