On Aug 24th, 2019, Colorado police responded to a call from a resident living in the city of Aurora who spotted a “sketchy” man. The man in question was Elijah McClain, a 23 year old professional massage therapist and self taught violinist. McClain was on his way home from the convenience store after buying an iced tea while wearing a ski mask. What police didn’t know is that McClain suffered from anemia and wore the mask as a protective covering in order to keep his face from getting cold. Shortly after police arrived on the scene, they approached and accosted McClain before pinning him down on the ground for eighteen minutes. Fifteen of those minutes were spent in handcuffs.
Both body camera footage and news reports indicate that immediately after appearing on the scene, police acted aggressively with McClain who became tense as officers grabbed and restrained him. It is clear in the body camera footage that the view of the altercation was deliberately obstructed while the officers placed McClain in a carotid hold which, according to a letter from the Adams County District Attorney, restricts blood flow to the brain. The officers are even heard threatening McClain with a police dog and taser. McClain showed clear signs of distress and even threw up during the arrest as he shouted for help and tried explaining that he meant no harm.
When paramedics arrived on the scene, they shot him with 500 milligrams of the sedative ketamine. Ketamine is known as a dissociative anesthetic that is often used in anesthesia in both hospital and veterinary settings. The average dose of this specific sedative should be between 75 to 125 milligrams on average, but McClain received approximately four times the average dose. McClain fell into cardiac arrest on the way to the hospital as a result of this careless action made by the paramedics on the scene. He was pronounced brain dead only three short days later and was then taken off of life support.
The three officers involved in McClain’s death: Nathan Woodyard, Jason Rosenblatt, and Randy Roedema were all reassigned the second week of June, almost an entire year after the incident occurred. District Attorney Dave Young wrote in a November 2019 letter that his office couldn’t find any evidence that the officers violated any of Colorado’s laws nor did they use excessive force. Four additional officers are facing backlash for photos taken last October, only three months after McClain’s death, that consisted of them mocking the chokehold used on McClain right in front of his memorial. Officers Kyle Dittrich, Erica Morrera, and Jason Rosenblatt were fired and Jaron Jones resigned.
The family of Elijah McClain has filed a civil rights lawsuit against the city of Aurora naming multiple officers of the police department as well as members of Aurora Fire Rescue. The nine claims in the suit include negligence led death, denial of equal protection, excessive force, failure to ensure basic safety, failure to provide adequate medical care, substantive due process, deprivation of liberty, forcible administration of medication, and battery causing wrongful death.
The lawsuit against the city of Aurora stated that “Elijah’s family and community remember him for his outsized kindness and grace, his desire to help and heal, and his thoughtful, spiritual approach to life”.
Elijah McClain fell victim to yet another unfortunate situation caused by law enforcement and a broken justice system. McClain has been described by coworkers, friends, and family as a “beautiful soul”. We must capture Elijah’s spirit in the fight for justice in order to do right by the victims’ families and all others who are faced with these horrific circumstances.