The 2019 killing of Elijah McClain, a 23-year-old Black man who was stopped while walking home from a convenience store, involved three Aurora police officers and two paramedics. In October, a jury convicted former officer Randy Roedema and acquitted former officer Jason Rosenblatt. In a trial separate from Roedema and Rosenblatt, Nathan Woodyard, 34, was acquitted earlier this month.
“[Woodyard] has elected to reintegrate with the APD and is currently on Restricted Duty (not in uniform, no public contact, and no enforcement actions) pending [the] next steps in the reintegration process,” a city spokesperson, Ryan Luby, told The Guardian. The decision aligns with a local law that states that officers must be suspended without pay if facing felony charges and then reinstated if acquitted.
Woodyard used a now-banned chokehold technique, a carotid hold, on McClain, which cut off the flow of blood to his brain, while the other officers held McClain down. McClain had repeatedly said “I can’t breathe” throughout the encounter.
“I’m so sorry. I have no gun. I don’t do that stuff. I don’t do any fighting … I don’t even kill flies! I don’t eat meat … I respect all life … Forgive me! All I was trying to do was become better,” McClain said during the struggle, according to The Associated Press.
Despite McClain’s final words, Woodyard claimed during the trial that he feared for his life and that he wouldn’t live to see his wife at home.
“I heard Mr. McClain say he was going to take his power back. I was expecting to get shot and I would never see my wife again,” Woodyard testified, according to CBS News.
McClain went in and out of consciousness and had vomited during the arrest. When paramedics arrived, McClain was handcuffed, but they injected him ketamine, a controversial sedative, in a dose that was too much for his 5-foot-6, 140-pound size.
The 23-year-old violinist and massage therapist went into cardiac arrest on the way to the hospital. He was later pronounced brain dead and taken off life support in the days following.
“The Aurora medics had no right to inject Elijah with ketamine at all,” an attorney for McClain’s family, Mari Newman, said, according to NBC News. “He was handcuffed, crushed against the ground by officers much larger then he was, and he was not fighting. He was begging for his life, vomiting and trying to breathe. And they certainly had no right to involuntarily inject him with a dose intended for someone over twice his size.”
The killing of McClain became part of a rising chorus against a spate of police killings and brutality against Black men and women. Protests that built up into a deluge of 2020 protests seeking a racial reckoningdemanded police reform and accountability across the country. Bans on chokeholds were among the responses.
The paramedics, Jeremy Cooper and Peter Cichuniec, begin their trial this week.