Elijah McClain’s family sues Aurora, officers over his death

By IVAN PEREIRA, ABC News

(AURORA, Colo.) — The family of Elijah McClain filed a lawsuit against the city of Aurora, Colorado, on Tuesday that accuses several officers and paramedics of violating the 23-year-old’s civil rights and negligently causing his death nearly a year ago.

Attorneys for the family contend the city hasn’t done enough to discipline the officers and paramedics involved in an Aug. 24, 2019, incident that led to McClain’s death on Aug. 30, three days after doctors pronounced him brain dead and he was removed from life support.

McClain is said to have shouted, “I can’t breathe,” while officers, responding to a recent 911 call about a “suspicious person,” put him in a chokehold during an arrest. McClain later went into cardiac arrest and was hospitalized.

“Even though Elijah had committed no crime and the police had absolutely no reason to suspect that he had, APD officers subjected Elijah to a lengthy, torturous use of force for 18 minutes — 15 of which Elijah was handcuffed and lying on the ground,” Mari Newman, the family’s attorney, said in a statement.

A spokeswoman for Aurora said in a statement to ABC News that the city is reviewing the suit and is unable to comment at this time.

The suit names 16 total defendants, including the city, which stands accused of working to justify the actions of first responders who injected McClain with a powerful sedative after he vomited at the scene. Among 13 cops named in the lawsuit are four former officers who took and shared photos in October mocking a memorial at the site of the incident.

McClain had gone to a convenience store to buy a soft drink and was wearing a ski mask, which he often wore, his family said, because he had anemia, a blood condition that makes some people feel cold more easily.

A caller to 911 reported a suspicious person and referred to McClain as “sketchy,” but added “he might be a good person or a bad person,” according to the suit.

“The caller assured the 911 operator that he had not seen Elijah with any weapons, and that neither he nor anyone else was in danger,” the suit said.

Officers Nathan Woodyard, Jason Rosenblatt and Randy Roedema stopped McClain on his way home, and one of the officers is heard in a body camera footage telling him that he was “being suspicious.” McClain told the officers he was going home and they grabbed him.

“Upon seeing Elijah, they observed that he was Black, and although he exhibited no suspicious behavior, the officers nonetheless elected to contact him and almost immediately decided to use force against him,” the lawsuit said.

The suit contends that the officers threw McClain against a brick wall even though he wasn’t aggressive toward them. Woodyard and Rosenblatt placed McClain’s neck in a carotid hold, and he began to vomit. The officers ultimately handcuffed him and waited for other officers and paramedics to arrive.

Aurora Fire Rescue paramedic Jeremy Cooper and Lt. Peter Cichuniec injected McClain with ketamine to calm him down without properly vetting his condition, the suit contends.

“AFR Defendants compounded Elijah’s worsening medical condition by giving him a dangerous overdose of ketamine, which, combined with the acidosis caused by the excessive force, caused Elijah’s death,” the suit said.

The suit also charges the city with suppressing public protests against the police in light of McClain’s death. Attorneys cited a June 27 incident in which officers in riot gear deployed pepper spray and used batons on people holding a “violin vigil” in honor of McClain, who played the instrument.

No charges were brought against the officers involved in the incident, but they were placed on administrative leave. Colorado Gov. Jared Polis appointed state Attorney General Phil Weiser as a special prosecutor in June to investigate Elijah McClain’s death.

Three of the officers who took and shared the photos at the memorial site were fired in July. The fourth officer resigned.

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