Colorado officials quietly decided in 2021 that Elijah McClain, an unarmed black man who died in a violent arrest in 2019, was killed by a ketamine injection from on-site paramedics, according to newly released documents.
Three Aurora Police Department officers and two paramedics are facing charges in connection with the arrest, although it’s unclear how the case will progress as the Adams County coroner decided in July as part of a grand jury investigation that the way of death remains “undetermined”. Colorado Public Radio reports. Originally, a 2019 autopsy deemed both the cause and manner of McClain’s death “undetermined.”
Police encountered McClain in August 2019 when she was responding to a call about a suspicious person. McClain, an austistic musician and massage therapist, was not wanted for any crime, but police believed the young man fit the description of the call.
At the time of his arrest, he was wearing a ski mask that his family said was used to prevent the anemic 23-year-old from getting chills. McClain was wearing headphones and did not respond to calls from the police, who put him in a crankcase-shaped chokehold. He cried, vomited and asked the police to respect his boundaries.
Just under a year before George Floyd was killed in similar circumstances in Minneapolis, McClain told officers, “I can’t breathe,” the same final words Floyd used that became a rallying cry during the 2020 Black Lives Matter protests.
Paramedics on the ground eventually concluded that McClain was experiencing “excited delirium,” a highly controversial diagnosis that police say often justifies the use of force, even though many medical experts question its credibility.
First responders injected McClain with a large dose of ketamine, a powerful anesthetic, and he lost consciousness while strapped to a stretcher and was pronounced brain dead three days later.
In September, Officers Randy Roedema, Nathan Woodyard and Jason Rosenblatt, and paramedics Jeremy Cooper and Peter Cichuniec were charged with felonies, including homicide and manslaughter, after Governor Jared Polis appointed a special prosecutor to investigate McClain’s death.
The first responders will plead in the case in November.
Last fall, the city of Aurora agreed to pay McClain’s family a $15 million settlement to end a civil rights lawsuit.