Nathan Woodyard, an Aurora police officer implicated in the 2019 death of Elijah McClain, was acquitted by a jury on Monday. Woodyard was cleared of both manslaughter and criminally negligent homicide charges in relation to the incident where McClain, a 23-year-old Black man, died after an encounter with police while he was walking home.
The not guilty verdict concludes Woodyard’s trial, which is part of a series of court proceedings involving three Aurora police officers and two paramedics charged in the case. Last month, another officer was found guilty of homicide, while a third officer was acquitted. The trials for the two paramedics are set to commence later this month.
During the trial, prosecutors asserted that Woodyard escalated the situation upon arrival, failing to identify himself or explain his actions to McClain who was reported as looking suspicious for wearing a mask. Body camera footage exhibited during the trial captured McClain, seemingly surprised, trying to continue walking as Woodyard confronted him.
Prosecution criticized Woodyard for utilizing a neck hold on McClain, which caused temporary unconsciousness. They challenged his justification that McClain was reaching for an officer’s gun. Subsequently, McClain was administered a lethal dose of ketamine by paramedics.
The defense highlighted that Woodyard had stepped away during the confrontation upon his supervisor’s request and was not present when McClain’s condition deteriorated. The defense maintained that Woodyard reasonably entrusted his colleagues and the paramedics with McClain’s care.
An updated autopsy report by the coroner’s office in 2021 concluded that McClain’s death was due to an overdose of ketamine administered post-restraint by police. Contrary to the report, prosecution introduced a medical expert who argued the restraint directly contributed to a sequence of critical health issues for McClain.
The prosecution in Woodyard’s case argued he was negligent upon returning to the scene by not intervening in McClain’s positioning or the administration of ketamine, suggesting his concerns were more aligned with potential repercussions than McClain’s well-being.
Woodyard, unlike his fellow officers, testified, recounting his fear for his life during the incident. He described the emotional aftermath, including his tearful conversation with his supervisor and subsequent return to the scene.
Following the jury’s decision, the Aurora Police Department issued a statement respecting the legal process and the verdict, expressing gratitude to the jury for their service. The department refrained from further comments due to the pending trial of the paramedics.
The process for the upcoming trial of ex-paramedics Jeremy Cooper and Peter Cichuniec is slated to begin with jury questionnaires on November 17, followed by jury selection on November 27, anticipating a multi-week trial duration.