Elijah McClain was a 23-year-old Black man who died seven days after his encounter with Colorado police. A lover of animals and music, McClain was walking home from a convenience store wearing a ski mask in Aurora, CO, when someone called the cops to report a suspicious person. Three officers arrived on the scene and attempted to arrest McClain, who was unarmed. After struggling to handcuff him, he was placed in a chokehold.
It was reported that McClain’s last words were that of confusion. He did not understand why he was being restrained and also informed authorities he was having trouble breathing. According to his family, McClain had a blood condition that constantly made him feel cold, which is why he wore a ski mask that night.
“I can’t breathe. I have my ID right here. My name is Elijah McClain. That’s my house. I was just going home. I’m an introvert. I’m just different. That’s all. I’m so sorry. I have no gun. I don’t do that stuff. I don’t do any fighting. Why are you attacking me,” he said.
After about 15-minutes, paramedics arrived on the scene and, injected him with the powerful sedative, ketamine. He was taken into custody, and bout seven minutes later, McClain had no pulse and went into cardiac arrest.
Although the medics revived McClain, he was declared brain dead, and taken off life support less than seven days later.
On Friday, Sept. 23, a modified autopsy report revealed that McClain died of “complications of ketamine administration following forcible restraint.”
The report confirmed and added that McClain was given a higher dosage of the sedative than he could handle.
The amended autopsy noted, “I believe this tragic fatality is most likely the result of ketamine toxicity. Simply put, this dosage of ketamine was too much for this individual and it resulted in an overdose.”
Last year, MSNBC anchor Geoff Bennett alleged that McClain, who was 5’6 and weighed only 140lbs was given “enough sedative that you would give to someone who weighed 220 pounds.”
According to the amended report, the manner of McClain’s death remains undetermined. Initially, the autopsy report signed on Nov. 7, 2019, stated his cause of death was undeterminable, however, the new information that surfaced during a grand jury investigation urged the state attorney’s general office to request a second autopsy.
“The opinions rendered were based on information available at that time. Since then, this office has received additional material for review, including extensive body camera footage, witness statements, and additional records,” the report noted, adding, “It is worth noting that these materials had been requested prior to the release of the initial autopsy but the material was either not provided to us or not provided to us in their entirety.”
The amended report arrives approximately one month following the announcement from Colorado Attorney General Phil Weiser that the two police officers, one former officer, and two paramedics involved have been indicted and are each to be charged with one count of manslaughter and criminally negligent homicide. There are also other allegations in the 32-count indictment.
Ian Farrell, an associate law professor at the University of Denver, feels that altering an official cause of death is rare, but isn’t unheard of.
“In order for there to be a second autopsy, you have to have some reason to think that there was a problem with the first one,” he shared.
State officials said that the five named in the indictment are set for a November 4th arraignment, in Adams County District Court. They are Aurora Police Officers Nathan Woodyard, Randy Roedema, former Aurora officer Jason Rosenblatt, and paramedics Jeremy Cooper and Peter Cichuniec.
The new autopsy report was publicized after a lawsuit filed by Colorado Public Radio against the Adams County Coroner’s Office for the denial of the news organization’s request for a copy of the amended report. Weiser’s office refused to comment, and the defendant’s attorneys are inaccessible.
The new report could play a major role should this case go to trial. Colorado-based and First Amendment attorney Steve Zansberg shared, “The prosecution team will argue in court that the coroner’s office initially reached a conclusion that wasn’t initially well-informed.”
He also added, “The defendants will argue that the attorney general’s office persuaded or twisted the arm,” of the coroner’s office, where they stated the original autopsy was factual.
Farrell, who is not involved in the McClain case, feels the original autopsy wouldn’t have made it impossible to get a conviction, but it presented a hurdle.
“I don’t think anyone can plausibly argue that if Mr. McClain had just been allowed to walk home that night, he would have died,”
he continued. “So, at least in some sense, they (the defendants) caused his death by the things they did from a legal point of view.”