The Colorado police officers and paramedics involved in the death of an unarmed Black man more than two years ago were indicted on Wednesday in an unexpected ruling from a grand jury.
The manslaughter indictments in Elijah McClain‘s death — which advocates have called “murder” — came more than one year after the Aurora City Council unanimously voted to adopt a resolution calling for an independent investigation following allegations of misconduct by officers with the Aurora Police Department and the responding paramedics.
A total of five people were charged — two police officers, one former police officer and two paramedics — each with one count of manslaughter and criminally negligent homicide for the death that was preceded by McClain telling police that he couldn’t breathe because of the chokehold in which he was placed.
A total of 32 counts were handed down by Colorado Attorney General Phil Weiser, who was appointed a special prosecutor in the case.
McClain’s father told NBC News he was “thankful” that McClain’s killers will finally be held accountable.”
McClain was 23-years-old when the pedestrian was stopped on August 24, 2019, by cops who were responding to a report of a “suspicious” person. The young man, who was wearing a ski mask at the time, was on his way home from a gas station where he purchased four cans of Brisk tea.
Eventually, the confrontation between the police and McClain — a massage therapist and violinist — escalated and cops put him in a chokehold. He was also forced to the ground for 15 minutes, and he eventually started vomiting and saying that he couldn’t breathe. McClain was put in a carotid hold, which restricts blood flow to the brain.
According to Elijah’s family, he was anemic and he usally wore a ski mask to keep his face warm while he was outside walking.
Police claimed McClain was in an “agitated mental state,” which caused the cops to request backup from Aurora Fire paramedics, who injected McClain with the sedative ketamine to respond to his reported anxiety. While in the ambulance vehicle en route the hospital, McClain went into cardiac arrest and he eventually died at the hospital days later on August 30 after being taken off life support.
Bodycam footage showed McClain calmly asking officers to respect his space. He explained that he was an “introvert” who was trying to turn his music down in order to hear the officer’s commands.
McClain, who stood at 5-foot-7, and weighed 140 pounds, was administered enough ketamine for a man weighing 190 pounds, an independent investigation determined back in February of this year.
The investigation also determined that officers never “articulated a crime that they thought Mr. McClain had committed, was committing or was about to commit,” and that their intervention set up “ramifications for the rest of the encounter.”
The two police officers indicted were identified as Nathan Woodyard and Randy Roedema. Jason Rosenblatt, the former officer who was also indicted, was fired after his response to a photo text message in which three Aurora police officers posed for a photo reenacting the carotid restraint used on McClain. Those three officers were fired, too.
The paramedics are named Jeremy Cooper and Peter Cichuniec.
Mari Newman, a lawyer who represents McClain’s father, said the charges should put police on notice.
“This indictment serves as a powerful reminder to all members of law enforcement that no one is above the law,” Newman said in a statement.