The trial for two police officers involved in the fatal encounter with Elijah McClain began on Friday with jury selection. McClain, a young Black man, was stopped by police in Aurora, Colorado, in 2019 after a 911 caller reported him as “sketchy.” The officers, Randy Roedema and Jason Rosenblatt, are facing charges of manslaughter, criminally negligent reckless homicide, and assault. They have pleaded not guilty.
The encounter with McClain, who was unarmed and had not committed any crime, escalated when the officers put him in a neck hold and paramedics administered a sedative. McClain’s death, days later, was determined to be caused by complications from the sedative. The trial is expected to last about a month.
Roedema, a former Marine, had been with the department for five years at the time of McClain’s death, while Rosenblatt had worked for the agency for two years. Rosenblatt was fired for making light of other officers’ reenactment of the neck hold, not for his involvement in the fatal encounter.
The officers’ attorneys, Donald Sisson and Harvey Steinberg, have not provided comments on the case. The indictment against Roedema and Rosenblatt came in 2021, following public outcry over McClain’s death in the wake of George Floyd’s murder.
The revised coroner’s report stated that McClain’s death was caused by complications from the sedative, but also noted that it occurred after he was forcibly restrained. The pathologist could not rule out whether the stress of being held down by the officers contributed to McClain’s death.
The trial will focus on determining the officers’ responsibility for McClain’s death. While ketamine is blamed for causing his death, experts suggest it may be challenging for prosecutors to establish a direct link between the officers’ actions and McClain’s demise. However, they could still pursue assault charges against the officers.
The encounter between McClain and the officers was captured on body camera footage, which played a significant role in bringing attention to the case. The trial for a third officer, Nathan Woodyard, and two paramedics involved in the incident is scheduled to begin later this year.
Elijah McClain’s mother, Sheneen McClain, has called for the officers to be sent to prison. She and McClain’s father reached a $15 million settlement with the city of Aurora.