Autopsy shows Elijah McClain died of ketamine injection, by paramedics, during police encounter

A black man died after a police encounter in a Denver suburb in 2019 after being injected with a potent sedative after being forcibly restrained, according to an amended autopsy report made public Friday.

Despite the finding, the death of Elijah McClain, a 23-year-old massage therapist, was still listed as undetermined, not a homicide, the report shows. McClain was held in the neck and injected with ketamine after being detained by police in Aurora for being “suspicious”. He was unarmed.

The original autopsy report written shortly after his death in August 2019 did not reach a conclusion as to how he died or whether it was a natural death, accident or murder. That was a major reason why prosecutors initially decided not to pursue the charges.

But last year, a state jury charged three officers and two paramedics with manslaughter and reckless manslaughter in the death of McClain after the case attracted renewed attention following the murder of George Floyd in 2020. It became a rallying cry during the national reckoning over racism and police brutality. .

The five accused have not yet presented oral argument and their lawyers have not publicly commented on the allegations.

McClain is seen with a relative in Aurora, Colorado, in this undated photo. (Submitted by family/Reuters)

In the updated report, Dr. Stephen Cina that the dose of ketamine given to McClain, which was higher than recommended for someone his height, “was too much for this person and resulted in an overdose.”

“I believe Mr. McClain would most likely still be alive without the administration of ketamine,” said Cina, who also noted that on body camera images, McClain became “extremely sedated” within minutes of receiving the drug.

The findings of the modified autopsy report, updated in July 2021 but hidden from the public until Friday, reflect an opinion contained in the grand jury indictment handed down about two months later by an unspecified pathologist who concluded that McClain died. from complications of a ketamine injection while being violently suppressed and stopped by law enforcement and emergency services. It’s not clear if that pathologist was Dr. Cina.

Cina’s updated report states that there is no evidence that the injuries inflicted by the police caused his death.

One person wears a shirt with photos of Aurora police officers involved in the incident that led to McClain’s death in Aurora in July 2020. (David Zalubowski/The Associated Press)

According to the indictment, Peter Cichuniec, who oversaw the paramedic team, ordered ketamine from an ambulance and Jeremy Cooper injected it into McClain. Cooper’s attorney, Mike Pellow, did not immediately return a phone message asking for comment. A message left for Cichuniec’s lawyers, David Goddard and Michael Lowe, was not immediately answered.

Cina acknowledged that other reasonable pathologists with different experience and training may have labeled such a death while in custody as homicide or accident, but he believes the correct classification is undetermined.

Qusair Mohamedbhai, lawyer for McClain’s mother, Sheneen McClain, declined a request for comment.

Elijah’s mother Sheneen McClain, left, exits the Adams County Justice Center with her attorney Quasar Mohamedbhai in Brighton, Colorado, on April 15. (Kevin Mohatt/Reuters)

The updated autopsy was released Friday under a court order in a lawsuit filed by Colorado Public Radio, along with other media organizations, including The Associated Press. Colorado Public Radio sued the coroner to release the report after learning it had been updated, arguing it should be made available under the state’s public records law.

Coroner Monica Broncucia-Jordan said she could not release it because it contained confidential grand jury information and that releasing it would violate an oath she took not to share when she received it last year.

But Adams County District Judge Kyle Seedorf ordered the coroner to release the updated report before Friday, and a Denver judge who oversees the proceedings of the state’s Grand Jury, Christopher Baumann, ruled Thursday that the information from the Grand Jury had not been redacted.

McClain’s death sparked renewed research into the use of ketamine and led the Colorado Department of Health to issue a new rule restricting when first responders can use it.

Last year, the city of Aurora agreed to pay $15 million to settle a lawsuit filed by McClain’s parents. The lawsuit alleged that the coercive officers used against McClain and his struggle to survive dramatically increased the amount of lactic acid in his system, leading to his death, possibly along with the large dose of ketamine he was given.

An outside investigation commissioned by the city criticized the police investigation into McClain’s arrest for not pushing for answers about how officers treated him. It found there was no evidence to justify the officers’ decision to stop McClain, who had been reported as suspicious for wearing a ski mask while walking down the street with his hands. He was not charged with breaking any law.

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