Elijah McClain update: Charges reduced for two Aurora police officers

Prosecutors last week reduced the criminal charges against two Aurora police officers charged with manslaughter in the death of Elijah McClain.

Prosecutors with Colorado Attorney General Phil Weiser’s office on Thursday dropped the sentence enhancement counts against Aurora police Officer Randy Roedema and former officer Jason Rosenblatt in McClain’s 2019 death, court records show.

The pair still face charges of reckless manslaughter, criminally negligent homicide and assault in connection with McClain’s killing, but they no longer face crime-of-violence sentence enhancers on top of those charges. The state’s sentence enhancers carry mandatory minimum prison sentences upon conviction and can significantly increase the amount of time a convicted person must spend behind bars.

Senior Assistant Attorney General Jason Slothouber wrote in a motion to dismiss that the sentence enhancer charges in this case were redundant and legally unnecessary.

“As is often the practice with complex cases such as this, the indictment was overly inclusive with the knowledge that redundant charges could be dismissed closer to trial,” he wrote.

A spokesman for the attorney general’s office, Lawrence Pacheco, declined to comment Monday, as did an attorney for Rosenblatt, Harvey Steinberg. An attorney for Roedema did not immediately return a voicemail seeking comment.

A Thursday order from 17th Judicial  District Court Judge Mark Warner lays out what happened in court that led up to the sentence enhancer charges being dismissed.

Defense attorneys for the two officers asked the judge to compel the prosecution to further explain the facts supporting the sentence enhancer counts. The judge agreed and ordered the prosecution to do so.

“…There was some lack of clarity concerning how the specific acts of these defendants would have caused death,” Warner wrote as he explained why he granted the defense request.

In response, the prosecution filed a motion to dismiss those counts rather than further explaining them, Warner wrote in the order.

“Counsel for these defendants objected, generally asserting that the dismissals sought were a veiled attempt to end-run the Court’s bill of particulars order,” Warner wrote. “…Here, the Court finds the prosecution has wide discretion in deciding the counts that are appropriate to proceed to trial on.”

Slothouber wrote in the motion to dismiss that preparing the bill of particulars helped prosecutors realize the sentence enhancer charges were unnecessary and would not affect the amount of time the officers might spend in prison if convicted.

“The separate crime of violence count is redundant of the underlying offense and not required by law to sentence under the crime of violence statute,” he wrote.

The two men are scheduled for a jury trial on the remaining charges to start Sept. 15.

The criminal charges against the other three people indicted in McClain’s death remain unchanged, court records show. Paramedics Peter Cichuniec and Jeremy Cooper are still facing sentence enhancers on top of the charges of reckless manslaughter, criminally negligent homicide and assault. Aurora police officer Nathan Woodyard never faced crime-of-violence sentence enhancers.

The five men are accused of causing the death of McClain, 23, when the three police officers violently restrained McClain and the two paramedics injected him with the sedative ketamine in 2019. A grand jury indicted the men in 2021 on 32 combined counts and the cases are headed to three separate jury trials.

McClain was walking to a convenience store the night of Aug. 24, 2019, when someone called 911 to report a suspicious person. The three Aurora police officers contacted McClain as he returned home. He was not suspected of any crime.

When McClain refused to stop walking, the officers tackled him to the ground, handcuffed him and used a carotid chokehold to block the flow of blood to his brain. Officers ignored McClain’s pleas to leave him alone. Paramedics injected him with 500 mg of ketamine, a powerful sedative, before taking him to the hospital.

McClain suffered cardiac arrest on the way to the hospital, where he was later declared brain dead. He died Aug. 30, 2019, after being removed from life support.

His death became a rallying cry for police reformers and drew national attention during the summer of 2020, at the height of nationwide protests against police violence.

Rosenblatt and Roedema assisted in restraining McClain and are being tried together. Woodyard, who is accused of putting McClain in the chokehold that caused the 23-year-old to lose consciousness, is scheduled for a separate jury trial to begin in October. And paramedics Cooper and Cichuniec, who injected McClain with ketamine, are scheduled for their own jury trial in November.

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