When Lindsay Minter heard about the officers and paramedics being charged for Elijah McClain’s death, her first thought was, “Yes, we did a great job.”
But then she saw the charges.
“I was like, oh, well they were just charged with something. They were just charged with something to pacify us,” she expressed to The Final Call.
A grand jury indicted two Aurora, Colo., police officers, one former officer and two paramedics on 32 counts. Colorado Attorney General Phil Weiser announced the charges on Sept. 1. The charges came two years after Elijah McClain’s death.
On Aug. 24, 2019, 23-year-old Elijah was walking home after getting off work and stopping at a corner store to buy iced tea. He had on a ski mask because he had anemia, which caused him to get cold easily. He was reported as “suspicious,” and three Aurora police officers—Nathan Woodyard, Randy Roedema and Jason Rosenblatt—responded to the report. When the officers pulled up, they asked him to stop walking, accused him of resisting, tackled him to the ground and handcuffed him. Throughout the encounter, the young Black man can be heard saying, “I was just going home,” and “I can’t breathe.”
Officers eventually used a carotid chokehold on Mr. McClain, which restricts blood to the brain. Paramedics were called to the scene, and after officers decided Elijah was suffering from “excited delirium,” paramedics injected him with ketamine. According to medicalnewstoday.com, Ketamine is a medication that is used to induce loss of consciousness, or anesthesia. As he was being transported to the hospital, he went into cardiac arrest and was later declared brain dead and taken off of life support.
Officers Randy Roedema and Nathan Woodyard, former officer Jason Rosenblatt and paramedics Jeremy Cooper and Peter Cichuniec were all charged with manslaughter and criminally negligent homicide. Officers Roedema and Rosenblatt face a charge of second-degree assault with intent to cause bodily injury and a related count of a crime of violence. The paramedics face additional charges of second-degree assault with intent to cause bodily injury, second-degree assault for recklessly causing serious bodily injury by means of a deadly weapon (ketamine), second-degree assault for a purpose other than lawful medical or therapeutic treatment and one count for a crime of violence.
The officers and paramedics have been suspended without pay.
Sheneen McClain told the Black News Channel that she was surprised at the outcome.
“I was praying for a good outcome. I was praying for one that would allow my son’s soul to be at peace,” she said.
She said she didn’t expect that level of legal response, especially in the state of Colorado.
Civil rights attorney Mari Newman told The Final Call that Elijah McClain’s father, Lawayne Mosley, is relieved and thankful.
“When we spoke with the attorney general, Elijah’s dad actually broke down in tears because he was so both happy and relieved that there was going to finally be some measure of accountability for the people who had killed his son,” said Ms. Newman, who represents Mr. Mosley.
She helped file a lawsuit on behalf of the family and Elijah McClain’s estate in Aug. 2020.
A first step, but more work needs to be done
Aurora activists say the charges are a first step, but they’re not satisfied.
“I think that the charges are one of the things that we asked for, one of the things that we had advocated for that is a measurement of accountability. This by no stretch of the imagination is justice,” said Candice Bailey, an “actionist” who is fighting to run for the Aurora City Council. “We can never ever bring young Elijah McClain back from the grave. White supremacy carried out the murder, the felonization of Elijah McClain because of the skin that he was born in. Aurora and Aurora Police Department has continued to enforce Jim Crow laws to continue to murder Black men and women.”
She said in order to get a conviction, it will take the same thing it took to get the indictment.
“It will take the people. This has been a journey and a pathway of a multilayered defense mechanism. And if we look back in time, it’s the art of war. If you look back at the ways that movements were successful throughout our history, it would take layers,” she said. “It wasn’t just someone going out and speaking and having a rally and a march.
It wasn’t just a sit-in. It wasn’t just someone breaking windows and burning things down and looting. It wasn’t just someone in the back room talking politics and how to change things. It wasn’t just someone in the back room who was making economic power moves. It was not a singular narrative. It was all of those things combined, and it will continue to take all of those things, but we must become unified in those things.”
Ms. Newman said there is ample evidence that Elijah’s civil rights were violated. “As part of the civil case, of course I engaged experts, medical experts, law enforcement experts, all of whom came to the conclusion that these officers and medics killed Elijah,” she said. “Certainly, the attorney general has similar experts that will say the exact same thing.”
Shareef Aleem, an activist, community organizer and founder of Aurora Cop Watch who was involved in many of the early protests regarding Elijah’s death, said he’s “optimistically cautious” about the case. He said he’s a good friend of Elijah’s father and was told about the young man’s death by a family member. He explained that there was a “mad community rush” to get justice, and it intensified after the death of George Floyd in May 2020. Six protesters walked away with felony charges that summer.
“I think these indictments were put out there to kind of quell a lot of the public protests, but we’ll just have to see what’s going to happen in the months or years to come,” he said.
He described getting the conviction as the real hurdle and said one or two may be convicted, but he doesn’t know about all five.
Ms. Minter has also been fighting for justice for Elijah for two years and has seen many of her friends arrested and charged for protesting.
“If protesters have to spend weeks in jail and pay $75,000 bonds and face up to 36 years to 70 years in jail and in prison, us having this whitewashed process that the police officers go through to get arrested and not be held and be out on bond, I think it’s atrocious. And it slaps us right back in the face,” she said. “It shows us how the system was not built for us, but it also does not care about us. And we can fight, and yes this is a great step for a change, but I just don’t think it’s enough.
“But I’ll never be satisfied because I know that you can never give Elijah back to his mom or his dad or his community. He doesn’t get to make those impacts that he would have made. He doesn’t get to play his violin to the cats anymore. He doesn’t get to work in massage anymore, healing people,” she continued. “And that beautiful soul is gone, and who knows what he could have done while he was on this earth.”
She and Ms. Bailey said it took so long to get charges because of coverups, corruption and collusions between counties, former Colorado District Attorney Dave Young and the Adams County coroner. She also explained that the only officers who were fired were the ones who posed with a picture that reenacted Elijah’s death, one of them being Jason Rosenblatt.
Last month, Phil Weiser announced that his department is investigating the practices of the city’s police and fire departments.
Other police brutality incidents that happened in Aurora include Kyle Vinson, a 29-year-old Black man who was pistol-whipped and choked by an officer on July 23, and a Aug. 2020 encounter where officers held a Black woman, Brittney Gilliam, and four Black girls ranging from six to 17 at gunpoint and handcuffed them in 100-degree heat.
Getting rid of poisonous police forces
After the charges were announced, the Aurora Police Association released a statement saying the “officers did nothing wrong,” that Elijah died because he violently resisted arrest and had a pre-existing heart condition and that the “hysterical overreaction to this case has severely damaged the police department.”
Ms. Minter called the police union’s response bold and callous.
“They blamed the victim. They said if he hadn’t violently resisted, he’d be here. Saying ‘I don’t do guns, I’m a vegetarian, I don’t eat meat, I wouldn’t kill a fly,’ that doesn’t sound like a violent resistor to me. When you watch that video, violent resistance is not what you see,” she said.
In a message delivered on July 4, 2020, titled “The Criterion,” the Honorable Minister Louis Farrakhan of the Nation of Islam warned about the evil actions of police unions. “They sure are not bringing in good fruit in their policing efforts. Vicious men and you in the police union, you are the worst ones. You are worse than the killers in blue,” he said. “You sit behind a desk and find a way to absolve them of the guilt that you know they’re guilty of. You are no good at all. So, we’re not going to get rid of bad police and leave a no-good police union in place.”
As calls for police reform have intensified across the country, both Ms. Minter and Ms. Bailey say the institution of policing is broken at its very source, as police were created to be slave catchers.
“Who are they here to protect and serve? You started as a slave catcher. You are here to protect White supremacy and serve White supremacy, therefore you will never equate to anyone that protects and serves me and mine,” Ms. Bailey said.
She described policing as a tree rooted in contaminated soil. “Not only must we chop it at the root, remove the root, but we must do a land evaluation and see what will grow in that soil, what will get rid of the poison of White supremacy. Because until someone comes and assesses the soil, everything that grows in that dirt will be contaminated as well,” she said.
Ms. Minter said in the future, she would like to work with legislators to create a Colorado revised statute for police murder.
“Charge them based on the crimes they committed because things are going to happen in that course of work where they’re going to make split decisions, but they’ve been trained. We hold them to a higher standard, and we should hold them to a higher standard in the law,” she said.
She said the law would include a sentence of a minimum of 10-15 years for every charge.
“That way it’s consistent across the board, and it would actually serve as a deterrent to these cops when they just recklessly take these Black and Brown bodies for granted and just wipe us off the planet,” she said. “We need something to actually deter that, and I know that two to six years doesn’t tell any other cop, ‘Oh hey, I don’t want to do that. Let me use a taser, or not use a taser 47 times. Let me just use it once. Or how about I use the first contact, the first use of force which is my implied authority and use my ability to talk and to communicate and to de-escalate.’ ”
Mr. Aleem said justice means police officers being terminated, being indicted and being convicted.
“And real convictions and not little slaps on the wrist or 18 months in jail and then you get out and all of this kind of stuff, but real convictions,” he said.
Nation of Islam Student Minister Herman Muhammad of Denver, Colo., said the atrocities speak to the Honorable Elijah Muhammad and Minister Farrakhan’s words for Black people to separate.
“Separation is the best and only solution to the problems between Black and White,” he said. “And with the Honorable Minister Louis Farrakhan and his divine leadership, we have the solution in the sense that we have a 10,000 Fearless in our communities to stand between the police, now, and other warring parties and really to begin the process of policing ourselves, which is ultimately what we’re going to have to do anyway.”