A Colorado jury Thursday convicted one of two officers charged in the 2019 death of Elijah McClain, a Black pedestrian who was put in a chokehold and injected with a powerful sedative, and it acquitted the other officer.
The jury convicted Aurora Police Officer Randy Roedema of criminally negligent homicide and third-degree assault.
Former Aurora officer Jason Rosenblatt was acquitted. Both had been charged with reckless manslaughter, as well as the lesser charges of criminally negligent homicide and assault.
Sentencing was set for 1:30 p.m. Jan. 5.
Colorado Attorney General Phil Weiser, whose office was appointed as the special prosecutors in the case, said more work must be done to make policing safer.
“Today’s verdict is about accountability; everyone is accountable and equal under the law,” he said in a statement. “And hopefully today’s verdict is another step in the healing process for the Aurora community and the state.”
Roedema had been suspended without pay, while Rosenblatt was fired in 2020 after he responded “ha ha” to a picture texted to him by other officers, one of whom appeared to be administering a chokehold near a memorial for McClain.
McClain, 23, had just bought iced tea from a corner store in Aurora on the night of Aug. 24, 2019, when police stopped him. Officers were responding to a report of a suspicious person wearing a ski mask and waving his arms.
McClain regularly wore a mask because of a blood disorder that made him feel cold, his family has said.
When officers told McClain to stop, he said he was an introvert and asked them to “please respect the boundaries that I am speaking,” bodycam video of the confrontation showed.
Officers questioned McClain before they tackled him, believing he was reaching for one of their guns, police said. There has been no evidence showing McClain, who was not armed, tried take one of the guns.
Officer Nathan Woodyard, set to go on trial this week, then put McClain in a chokehold that forced him into unconsciousness, prosecutors have said. He was fired.
A pair of responding paramedics, also set for trial this year, injected McClain with ketamine to sedate him after police video showed him writhing on the ground, saying, “I can’t breathe, please,” and throwing up. He apologized for vomiting.
Minutes later, McClain was found to have no pulse in the ambulance and went into cardiac arrest, according to a report released in fall 2019 by a local prosecutor, Dave Young.
McClain was revived but later declared brain dead and then taken off life support. He died Aug. 30.
Aurora Police Chief Art Acevedo, who was hired in November and who was not chief when McClain died, said in a statement Thursday that many in the community had been waiting for the trial.
“As a nation, we must be committed to the rule of law. As such, we hold the American judicial process in high regard,” Acevedo said. “We respect the verdict handed down by the jury, and thank the members of the jury for their thoughtful deliberation and service.”
The deadly confrontation sparked months of protests against police brutality in Colorado, before the national demonstrations that erupted in response to the police killing of George Floyd in Minneapolis on May 25, 2020.
Adams County prosecutors initially opted against charging the police officers and the paramedics, but the state attorney general intervened and secured indictments.
An independent probe commissioned by the city released in 2021 found that officers had no legal basis for detaining McClain and that paramedics on the scene sedated McClain, who was 5-foot-6 and weighed 140 pounds, “without conducting anything more than a brief visual observation.”
Deon J. Hampton is a national reporter for NBC News.
David K. Li is a senior breaking news reporter for NBC News Digital.
Phil Helsel is a reporter for NBC News.