Colorado Attorney General Philip J. Weiser announced Wednesday that five first responders — three police officers, one of whom has already been fired, and two paramedics — will be indicted on 32 counts pertaining to the death of Elijah McClain, an unarmed Black man who was killed in a police encounter on Aug. 24, 2019, in a suburb of Denver.
The indictments were returned last Thursday by a grand jury empaneled by Weiser. They included counts of manslaughter and criminally negligent homicide, as well as counts of second-degree assault and others related to the violent confrontation that resulted in the death of McClain, who was 23.
Weiser had been appointed by the state’s Democratic governor, Jared Polis, as a special prosecutor tasked with discovering any potential offenses related to how and why McClain died. In a press conference, Weiser praised the grand jury for its “careful and thoughtful deliberation,” noting that its work was slowed by the coronavirus pandemic.
The attorney general had earlier relayed news of the indictments to McClain’s father, LaWayne Mosley, who “wept tears of joy at the news,” according to his attorney Mari Newman.
“Nothing will bring back my son, but I am thankful that his killers will finally be held accountable,” Mosley said in a statement to the press.
The killing of McClain was one of several that racial justice protesters cited during the summer of 2020, as the outrage over police brutality turned into a nationwide movement. News of the indictment came as three white vigilantes in Brunswick, Ga., prepare to stand trial for the killing of Ahmaud Arbery, a Black man they chased down and shot as he was jogging on a public street. A judge ruled earlier this week that Arbery’s past arrests were irrelevant to the proceedings against the three men.
Arbery’s killing, alongside those of George Floyd in Minneapolis and Breonna Taylor in Louisville, Ky., galvanized the Black Lives Matter movement in the months leading up to the 2020 election. Joe Biden, then a Democratic presidential candidate, came to adopt progressive positions at odds with some of the positions he had once taken as a U.S. senator.
President Donald Trump, by contrast, insisted that the protests were violent and destructive, and instigated by antifa. He stuck to a law-and-order platform popular with conservatives. Overall, Americans do support police reform, although they do not support some progressives’ push to “defund” police departments.
“For far too long, racist and brutal police across this country have acted as though the law does not apply to them,” Newman said in a statement. “This indictment serves as a powerful reminder to all members of law enforcement that no one is above the law.”
On the night two years ago when he was killed, McClain had been stopped by three officers who thought he was acting strangely. A massage therapist who sometimes played violin to animals at a local shelter, McClain was walking home from a convenience store when the fatal encounter took place.
The officers pinned him to the ground, restricting his breathing. When paramedics arrived, they injected McClain with ketamine instead of offering him assistance, although it is clear from body camera footage that he was in distress.
Paramedics justified their actions by arguing that McClain had been suffering from “excited delirium,” a much-disputed diagnosis that some say is used to justify the use of force, in particular against Black male suspects. The two paramedics face assault charges related to their use of ketamine on McClain, Weiser said on Wednesday.
Last summer, when the killing began to draw national notice, then-Sen. Kamala Harris described what happened to McClain as “absolutely crushing.” Naomi Biden, the granddaughter of Joe Biden, denounced “state sanctioned violence against Black people” in a tweet about the case.
One of the five indicted first responders, Jason Rosenblatt, was subsequently fired from the Aurora Police Department, which has long faced scrutiny for its treatment of Black people.
Other officers had staged what they appeared to think was a humorous re-creation of McClain’s killing on the sidewalk where he died. Rosenblatt was forwarded a photo of that re-creation. “Ha ha,” he responded in a text message.
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