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Family of Colo. man who died after police stop sues officers, medics who administered ketamine

The family of Elijah McClain filed a federal lawsuit saying paramedics should not have administered ketamine or used such a large dosage


Demonstrators carry a placard during a rally and march over the death of Elijah McClain outside the police department in Aurora, Colo. The parents of McClain have filed a federal lawsuit against the officers who stopped McClain and the paramedics who administered ketamine during the stop.

AP Photo/David Zalubowski, File

Elise Schmelzer
The Denver Post

AURORA, Colo. — Elijah McClain‘s parents on Tuesday filed a federal lawsuit alleging the Aurora police officers and paramedics involved in his death violated his constitutional rights and that McClain’s death is yet another example of how systemic racism in the police department harms the city’s Black residents.

According to the lawsuit, Aurora police officers never should have stopped McClain, they never should have tackled and choked him, and paramedics never should have injected him with ketamine or used such a large dosage.

“Plaintiffs bring this action seeking both accountability for the profound loss of a beautiful soul, and to ensure that Elijah did not die in vain by sending a resounding message that racism and brutality have no place in American law enforcement,” the lawsuit states.

The lawsuit names as defendants the city of Aurora, the three Aurora officers who stopped him — Nathan Woodyard, Randy Roedema and Jason Rosenblatt — as well as 10 other officers present on scene, a paramedic and the doctor who oversees Aurora Fire Rescue’s ketamine program. Two of the officers who responded to the scene the night of McClain’s detainment later returned to the area, now a memorial, and took smiling photos re-enacting the choke officers used on McClain.

Michael Bryant, a spokesman for Aurora, said Tuesday that the city is reviewing the lawsuit and could not comment until the review was complete.

Aurora police officers stopped McClain on Aug. 24 after a report of a suspicious person. The officers decided to detain McClain and violently forced him to the ground and handcuffed him before a paramedic injected McClain with ketamine. McClain suffered cardiac arrest on the way to the hospital, where he was later declared braindead. He died Aug. 30.

The lawsuit, nearly a year in the making, comes after months of protests of police brutality in Colorado and across the nation brought increased attention to the case. Pressure by the public and city leaders have led to multiple outside investigaitons into McClain’s death.

But McClain’s case is not the only instance in which Aurora police used excessive force against Black residents. The lawsuit alleges that McClain’s death is part of a pattern of such incidents caused by systemic racism in the Aurora Police Department.

“Aurora’s unconstitutional conduct on the night of Aug. 24, 2019, is part of a larger custom, policy, and practice of racism and brutality, as reflected by its conduct both before and after its murder of Elijah McClain, a young Black man,” the lawsuit states.

The lawsuit begins with a transcript of some of McClain’s last words, recorded on the officers’ body cameras.

“I can’t breathe correctly because …. Ok, ok…I can’t sense myself. Ow! Ah! Ow! Stop please!… I’m trying…. Please help me,” McClain said, while vomiting.

While McClain pleaded for the officers to stop, they continued to choke and restrain him, the lawsuit states.

“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 eighteen minutes—fifteen of which Elijah was handcuffed and lying on the ground,” attorney Mari Newman said Tuesday in a statement. “The force that APD officers used against Elijah included compressing his neck and the blood flow to his brain with two consecutive carotid holds, cranking his left shoulder with an armbar hammerlock that caused it to repeatedly pop, and, even after he was handcuffed with his hands behind his back, continuing to crush him under the weight of their bodies and repeatedly slamming him to ground.”

While the officers later said that they responded with such overwhelming force because they though McClain had grabbed at one of their guns, the officers gave contradicting statements as to which of the officers’ guns McClain reached for, according to the lawsuit.

The lawsuit also lays out evidence that the Aurora Fire Rescue paramedics who injected McClain with ketamine did so without regard to giving him the proper dosage. Two paramedics greatly overestimated how much McClain weighed — they guessed the 143-pound man weighed 187 or 220 pounds. Aurora Fire Rescue protocol states paramedics should use five milligrams of the drug per kilogram of bodyweight, meaning a correct dosage for McClain would have been approximately 325 milligrams. Instead, paramedics injected him with 500 milligrams of the drug.

A records request by the law firm representing the McClain family, Killmer, Lane and Newman, found that on nine instances Aurora Fire Rescue injected someone with 500 mg of ketamine, despite not noting the person’s weight in reports.

“Both AFR Defendants also later claimed that although they were aware that the AFR protocol required a specific weight-based dosage, they had received training to ignore that protocol in favor of a highly dangerous set of informal guidelines: 500 milligrams of ketamine for “large” patients, 400 milligrams of ketamine for “medium” patients, and 300 milligrams of ketamine for “small” patients,” the lawsuit states.

The lawsuit lays out nearly two decades worth of instances where Black residents said Aurora police used excessive force against them, including the Aug. 2 incident where officers detained four children at gunpoint after bungling a stolen vehicle report. The city has paid more than $4.6 million to settle some of the 27 claims listed in the lawsuit, though many cases are ongoing.

McClain’s death, the other incidents and the decision by several Aurora police officers to take selfies at McClain’s memorial site are all evidence the department tolerates racism.

“The actions of Defendants Dittrich and Marrero, along with APD Officer Jaron Jones, in creating and distributing smiling photos of themselves reenacting the chokehold that killed Elijah at the site of his killing by APD officers, demonstrate that rank-and-file APD officers operate under the assumption that racist behavior will be tolerated or approved of by their colleagues,” the lawsuit states.

Attorneys also reference data that shows Aurora police use a disproportionate amount of force against Black people. Nearly half of the people Aurora police officers used force against in 2019 were Black, though Black people make up 16% of the city’s population.


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