Second Colorado officer acquitted in Elijah McClain’s death
A second Colorado police officer has been acquitted in the 2019 death of Elijah McClain, who died after being injected with ketamine and immobilized.
Nathan Woodyard, 34, was found not guilty of negligent homicide and manslaughter.
In October, another officer, Jason Rosenblatt, was acquitted. A third, Randy Ruedema, was convicted.
The death of Mr. McClain, a black man, has faced renewed scrutiny after the death of George Floyd.
McClain, a 23-year-old massage therapist, was returning home from a store in the Denver suburb of Aurora when he was stopped by three white police officers responding to a call about an “unclear” person in the area.
He was then wearing a mask to protect himself from chronic chills due to anemia, in addition to headphones. Mr. McLean initially ignored the 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 phrase “I can’t breathe.” A paramedic later injected him with ketamine, an analgesic. He never regained consciousness and died after being taken off life support three days later.
Mr. Woodyard placed Mr. McLean in a chokehold during the incident. He faces years in prison if convicted.
During the week-long trial, Mr. Woodyard testified that he placed Mr. McLean in a chokehold because he feared for his life after hearing him say he intended to take back his “power.”
Another officer also said that Mr. McLean tried to reach for Mr. Woodyard’s gun, a charge that prosecutors deny and that is not supported by footage of the incident.
In court, Mr. Woodyard’s lawyers said he was not at the scene during the period when Mr. McLean’s condition deteriorated. Body camera footage shows he walked away.
In an email quoted Washington Post Mr Woodyard’s lawyers said they had “never ignored the tragic circumstances” of Mr McLean’s death, but were “comforted by what we believe is the just outcome for our client”.
It was not clear whether Mr. Woodyard would return to the force in Aurora. He was suspended without pay in 2020.
Colorado Attorney General Phil Weiser said in a statement that although the sentence “is not the one we had hoped for,” the state “is undeterred in our pursuit of accountability and justice for Elijah McClain.”
He added: “We must do everything we can to stop the unlawful and unnecessary use of force that can lead to the death of people at the hands of law enforcement.”
In October, a jury found Officer Randy Ruedema guilty of criminally negligent homicide and third-degree assault. Jason Rosenblatt was acquitted of manslaughter, criminally negligent homicide and second-degree assault.
Two paramedics, Jeremy Cooper and Peter Cichonek, face trial later this year.