DENVER (Reuters) -Three Colorado police officers and two paramedics have been criminally charged in the death of Elijah McClain, a Black man who died in 2019 after he was subdued and injected with a sedative, the state attorney general said on Wednesday.
A state grand jury handed up a 32-count indictment, Attorney General Phil Weiser said at a news conference. All five defendants are charged with manslaughter and criminally negligent homicide.
McClain, 23, was walking home from a convenience store when he was confronted by police in the Denver suburb of Aurora on reports he was acting suspiciously, although he was not suspected of a crime.
Police placed McClain in a carotid neck hold and was later injected by paramedics with ketamine, a powerful sedative. He went into cardiac arrest and died days later at a hospital.
The case drew national attention after George Floyd, a Black man, died in May 2020 when a Minneapolis police officer knelt on his neck. That case, which resulted in a murder conviction and a 22 1/2-year sentence for Derek Chauvin, galvanized a protest movement against the unjust deaths of Black people at the hands of law enforcement.
“Nothing will bring back my son, but I am thankful that his killers will finally be held accountable,” McClain’s father, LaWayne Mosley, said in a statement after the indictments were announced.
“We recognize that this case will be difficult to prosecute,” Weiser said at the news conference.
The police officers charged are Nathan Woodyard and Randy Roedema, who are both still on the force, and Jason Rosenblatt, who was fired after he responded “Haha” to photos taken by uninvolved officers mocking the death of McClain.
The two paramedics under indictment are Jeremy Cooper and Peter Cichuniec, who also face assault charges for the drug injection.
In a statement on its Facebook page, the Aurora Police Association called the indictments a “hysterical overreaction” and noted that the initial investigation cleared the officers of wrongdoing.
“Sadly, Mr. McClain died due to a combination of exertion due to his decision to violently resist arrest and a pre-existing heart condition,” the statement said. “There is no evidence that APD officers caused his death.”
The city said the four defendants it still employed were suspended immediately and indefinitely without pay.
Initial internal investigations determined that the officers and paramedics had not violated policy and the local district attorney declined to file criminal charges, citing an autopsy that listed the cause of death as undetermined.
Weiser took over the case after Governor Jared Polis appointed him as a special prosecutor last year, and in January announced that a state grand jury was convened to review the case.
An independent panel hired by Aurora’s City Council found that police officers who stopped McClain had no apparent reason to suspect a crime was being committed and that a subsequent internal police investigation of the incident was flawed.
The family has filed a federal wrongful death lawsuit against the city of Aurora, the police department and paramedics.
(Reporting By Keith Coffman in Denver; Editing by Chizu Nomiyama and Howard Goller)