Police officer not guilty in Colorado police death of black man

November 7, 2023

A second police officer has been found not guilty of homicide and manslaughter in the death of a 23-year-old black man in police custody in Aurora, Colorado in 2019.

Nathan Woodyard, who put Elijah McClain in a neck hold after stopping him for looking suspicious, was acquitted by a jury on Monday after a week-long trial. 

McClain was restrained and handcuffed at the scene until paramedics arrived, who injected him with ketamine.

After passing out from the drug, he went into cardiac arrest in the ambulance and died a few days later after being taken off life support.

Cause of death

Prosecutors argued that Woodyard's neck hold contributed to his death, but the defense said that Woodyard wasn't even present when McClain's health began to deteriorate.

An autopsy showed that McClain died from the ketamine injection, which was too large for his size, after initially blaming the struggle with police and noting abrasions on his neck from the hold.

“There are people guilty of killing Elijah McClain but they are not here today,” defense attorney Andrew Ho said during his closing arguments.

A third police officer charged in the case was convicted previously of the lesser charges he faced--negligent homicide and third-degree assault.

"Predictable"

Reports are that McClain protested being stopped, saying that he wasn't doing anything and questioning being restrained.

An article in The Cut detailed his case and questioned the use of ketamine by police and paramedics to subdue aggressive individuals. In McClain's case, 500 milligrams was too much for a person of his size and led to the "predictable" reaction, Dr. Robert Glatter, an emergency physician in New York City, said.

“It is a new weapon,” Minneapolis-based lawyer who specializes in police brutality cases Kenneth Udoibok said. “It absolves the police officers of the consequences of deploying a taser.”

The paramedics who injected McClain with ketamine will face trial later this month for their actions, but many still believe that police brutality occurred and that McClain was unfairly targeted by police in the first place.

A settlement

The case occurred before George Floyd's death in Minneapolis in 2020, but did not attract as much national attention.

The McClain family received a $15 million settlement from the city of Aurora in 2021.

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