Second Colorado officer acquitted in Elijah McClain death

A second Colorado police officer has been acquitted in the 2019 death of Elijah McClain, who was pinned down and injected with ketamine.

Nathan Woodyard, 34, was found not guilty of negligent homicide and reckless manslaughter charges.

Another officer, Jason Rosenblatt, was acquitted in October. A third, Randy Roedema, was found guilty.

The death of Mr McClain, a black man, faced renewed scrutiny after the death of George Floyd.

Mr McClain, a 23-year-old massage therapist, was walking home from a shop in the Denver suburb of Aurora when he was stopped by three white police officers responding to a call about a “sketchy” individual in the area.

At the time, he was wearing a balaclava to protect himself from chronic chills due to his anaemia, as well as headphones. Mr McClain initially ignored officers’ calls to stop.

Body camera footage of the ensuing confrontation shows Mr McClain being wrestled to the ground and placed in a chokehold, repeatedly uttering the words “I can’t breathe”. A medic later injected him with ketamine, a sedative. He never regained consciousness and died after being taken off life support three days later.

Mr Woodyard placed Mr McClain in the chokehold during the incident. He faced years in prison if convicted.

During the week-long trial, Mr Woodyard testified that he placed Mr McClain in a chokehold because he feared for his life after allegedly hearing him say that he intended to take “his power back”.

Another officer also said that Mr McClain had attempted to reach for Mr Woodyard’s weapon – a charge prosecutors deny and that is not supported by footage of the incident.

In court, lawyers for Mr Woodyard argued that he was not at the scene during the time in which Mr McClain’s condition worsened. The body camera footage shows that he had stepped away.

Elijah McClain

Elijah McClain died after police put him in a chokehold and a medic injected him with ketamine

In an email quoted by the Washington Post , Mr Woodyard’s lawyers said that they “never disregarded the tragic circumstances” of Mr McClain’s death but are “relieved for what we believe is the just outcome for our client”.

It was not clear if Mr Woodyard would be back on the force in Aurora. He was suspended without pay in 2020.

In a statement, Colorado Attorney General Phil Weiser said that while the verdict “is not the one we hoped for”, the state is “undeterred in our pursuit of accountability and justice for Elijah McClain”.

“We must do all we can to stop the unlawful and unnecessary use of force that can result in people dying at the hands of law enforcement,” he added.

In October, a jury found officer Randy Roedema guilty of criminally negligent homicide and third-degree assault. Jason Rosenblatt was acquitted of reckless manslaughter, criminally negligent homicide and second-degree assault.

Two paramedics, Jeremy Cooper and Peter Cichuniec, are facing trial later this year.

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