DENVER, CO – According to a newly released autopsy report pertaining to the 2019 death of 23-year-old Elijah McClain, the pathologist behind the amended autopsy found that McClain died as a result of a ketamine overdose that paramedics administered on-site when he was in police custody.
However, the newly revealed details in the amended report have yet to alter the charges placed against the officers involved in McClain’s detainment prior to his death.
On August 24th of 2019, Aurora Police officers responded to a call about a “sketchy” individual walking with a ski mask on, leading to three officers, identified as Nathan Woodyard, Jason Rosenblatt, and Randy Roedema, encountering McClain.
McClain had apparently been walking home from a convenience store at the time he was stopped by officers, and a physical struggle ensued between the officers and McClain after officers said the man was non-compliant with rendered orders. Twice during the struggle, McClain was reportedly placed in “a carotid control hold” and was later placed in cuffs as officers held him to the ground.
Aurora Fire paramedics Jeremy Cooper and Peter Cichuniec responded to the scene after McClain was placed in cuffs, with the two paramedics believed McClain was experiencing “excited delirium” and proceeded to administer ketamine as a sedative.
Shortly after the ketamine was administered, McClain reportedly became “limp, and had visible vomit coming from his nose and mouth,” with paramedics then finding he no longer had a pulse. The young man was declared brain-dead three days later and was taken off of life support on August 30th, 2019.
Nearly two years to the day following McClain’s death, a grand jury returned a 32-count indictment on September 1st, 2021, against the three officers and the two paramedics involved in the incident, with all involved being charged with manslaughter and criminally negligent homicide.
The initial autopsy report in the case didn’t determine a specific cause of death, merely citing that “intense physical exertion and a narrow left coronary artery” were likely contributing factors and finding the ketamine administered to McClain was consistent with a therapeutic dose.
But an amended autopsy released on September 23rd provides a new perspective on the case, one where the cause of McClain’s death ostensibly rests on the actions of the paramedics and not on the officers.
Forensic pathologist Stephen Cina was the individual behind the amended autopsy report and believes that what killed McClain was an excessive dose of ketamine which was administered after he was taken into police custody.
Cina had reportedly obtained bodycam footage from the August 24th, 2019, incident that was not previously available to the first pathologist who drafted the initial report. This footage leads Cina to believe that it was the ketamine that killed the young man.
While officers did place McClain in a carotid hold during the incident, Cina noted that there was nothing on McClain’s neck that suggested he died due to asphyxiation while additionally pointing out he was able to speak after officers let him up and before the ketamine was administered.
But within minutes of the paramedics injecting McClain with the ketamine, Cina stated the young man appeared “extremely sedated” and showed signs that respiratory arrest was “imminent.”
In short, Cina concluded, “Simply put, this dosage of ketamine was too much for this individual, and it resulted in an overdose, even though his blood ketamine level was consistent with a ‘therapeutic’ blood concentration. I believe that Mr. McClain would most likely be alive but for the administration of ketamine.”
Following numerous postponements, the five defendants in the case are expected to enter their respective pleas on their arraignment slated for early November.