Second Colorado police officer acquitted in death of Elijah McClain

Nathan Woodyard was acquitted on Monday.

DENVER — A Colorado jury on Monday acquitted an Aurora police officer who put Elijah McClain in a neck hold during a 2019 arrest.

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Nathan Woodyard, 34, who was an officer with the Aurora Police Department, was acquitted of reckless manslaughter and criminally negligent homicide by an Adams County jury, The Denver Post reported.

McClain, 23, was put in a neck hold and injected with ketamine after being stopped by police while he was walking home from a convenience store, according to KDVR-TV.

In a first trial, jurors acquitted former officer Jason Rosenblatt on all counts last month, but found officer Randy Roedema guilty of criminally negligent homicide and third-degree assault, which were lesser charges, the Post reported.

McClain’s mother began crying when the verdict was read, The New York Times reported.

Testimony in Woodyard’s trial began on Oct. 17, according to KUSA-TV.

“As previously stated, I know many have been waiting a long time for the involved party to have his day in court,” Aurora Police Department Chief Art Acevedo said in a statement after the verdict was read. “As a nation, we must be committed to the rule of law. As such, we hold the American judicial process in high regard. We respect the verdict handed down by the jury, and thank the members of the jury for their thoughtful deliberation and service. Due to the additional pending trial, the Aurora Police Department is precluded from further comment at this time.”

Woodyard was the first officer to come in contact with McClain after a 911 caller reported that the massage therapist, who was walking home wearing a mask and was dancing to music, appeared to be “sketchy,” the Times reported.

Prosecutors claimed that Woodyard grabbed McClain within eight seconds of exiting his patrol vehicle without explanation, according to the Post.

Prosecutors added that Woodyard, Rosenblatt and Roedema tackled McClain to the ground, with Woodyard allegedly using a carotid hold on the suspect, according to the newspaper. The officer used the neck hold after Roedema claimed that McClain had reached for an officer’s weapon.

McClain died on Aug. 27, 2019.

The carotid hold has since been banned by the Aurora Police Department, but it was a hold officers were trained to use four years ago, according to KDVR.

McClain briefly lost consciousness, the Post reported. Prosecutors stated that it led to a series of events that led to the man’s death, including an overdose of ketamine given to him by Aurora paramedics Peter Cichuniec and Jeremy Cooper.

The joint trial of the two paramedics is expected to begin on Nov. 27, the Times reported.

They are each charged with reckless manslaughter and numerous counts of assault, KUSA reported. Both men are suspended without pay while they await trial.

Redema remains suspended from the Aurora Police Department, but Rosenblatt was fired on July 3, 2020, according to KDVR. Rosenblatt was dismissed for his involvement in a text photo scandal where officers reenacted McClain’s death scene, the television station reported. Two other officers were also fired, and a third officer quit.

The officers allegedly took a photograph showing a chokehold in front of a memorial for McClain.