Elijah McClain, a 23-year-old Black man from Aurora, Colorado, died due to complications of ketamine injected by paramedics, according to an amended autopsy report recently released to the public.
The report could have wide implications regarding the cases against the officers and paramedics who were charged for involvement in the death of Mr. McClain. Lindsay Minter, an activist who has been involved in seeking justice for Elijah McClain for the past three years, believes that the amendment could result in a finger-pointing game between the officers and paramedics who face charges of manslaughter and criminally negligent homicide, among a slew of other charges.
“The paramedics can say, well, we wouldn’t have injected him with ketamine if the officers wouldn’t have ordered and demanded it, and the officers can say that if the paramedics hadn’t injected the ketamine, he’d still be alive, regardless of our chokeholds and our carotid holds and all the abuse he suffered at our hands,” she said. “I think that this is going to serve a disservice, and it’s going to cause injustice. I don’t think anybody is going to be held truly accountable as a result.”
The amended report, released September 23, comes three years after Elijah McClain’s death in 2019 and one year after two Aurora Police Department officers, Nathan Woodyard and Randy Roedema, one former officer, Jason Rosenblatt, and two Aurora Fire Rescue paramedics, Jeremy Cooper and Peter Cichuniec, were indicted. According to multiple reports, the accused have not entered pleas. Qusair Mohamedbhai, attorney for McClain’s mother, Sheneen McClain, declined a request for comment, reported several news outlets.
In the original autopsy report, cause of death and manner of death were both listed as undetermined. In the amended one, signed July 2021, forensic pathologist Dr. Stephen Cina lists cause of death as “complications of ketamine administration following forcible restraint.”
The conclusion was drawn due to the coroner’s office receiving additional material for review, including body camera footage, witness statements and additional records. The ketamine dose given to Mr. McClain was higher than recommended for his body weight, says Dr. Cina.
“I believe that Mr. McClain would most likely be alive but for the administration of ketamine,” he concludes.
He states that he cannot determine if the carotid hold used against Mr. McClain played a role in his death, nor did he see any evidence that the young man’s police-inflicted injuries contributed to his death.
Mr. McClain, a massage therapist and self-taught musician, was walking home from work when he was reported as “suspicious.” Officers who responded to the report asked him to stop walking, accused him of resisting arrest and tackled and handcuffed him. During the incident, officers used a carotid chokehold, the same chokehold used on George Floyd in Minneapolis, Minnesota, less than a year later. Paramedics were called to the scene and injected Mr. McClain with ketamine, an anesthetic that can cause loss of consciousness. He died a few days after going into cardiac arrest during his transport to the hospital.
“I know that this second coroner did the best job that they could do, but at the same time, I don’t think that any coroner could have watched that video and watched Elijah get placed in those chokeholds and watched Elijah get threatened while he is laying on his side throwing up and convulsing, that there was nothing else going on because all of that happened before the ketamine was introduced to his system,” Ms. Minter expressed. “He was in a lot of distress beforehand. And me as a common person with no medical degree or whatever, I can see that he was in distress before the ketamine.”
A 2021 bill limited the use of ketamine in Colorado. The Aurora City Council is discussing banning the medication. Both the city council and the state of Colorado banned law enforcement from using chokeholds, including the carotid chokehold. Ms. Minter helped fight for some of those ordinances. But the amended autopsy report caused disappointment to seep in.
“I do pray for a conviction, but this new autopsy provides reasonable doubt. And if you have reasonable doubt, then you can’t convict people. That’s how our law system works. It wasn’t made for justice for Black, Brown, minority people. It was made for defense of property crimes and other types of things,” she argued.
“So when it comes to protecting our lives, there is always a sneaky way out, and I just believe that this autopsy is a sneaky way out,” she added. “I know at the arraignment on November 4, this autopsy is going to be used to have several people try to dismiss their charges. And then after they hopefully don’t get dismissed, then they’ll finally, years later, plead guilty or not guilty,” said Ms. Minter.
She argued that there has been excuse after excuse as to why the cases against the officers and paramedics are being dragged out.
“After their arraignment, things should kick off and flow fluidly,” she said. “But all of the attempts to try to get this case dismissed and all of the not necessary things that were allowed to go on has delayed justice for Sheneen McClain (Elijah McClain’s mother) and Elijah’s family.”