Jury selection to continue in trial of two Aurora police officers
BY JULIA CARDI firstname.lastname@example.org
The Gazette, Colorado Springs
LOCAL & STATE
Jury selection will continue Tuesday in the trial of two Aurora police officers facing charges over the 2019 death of Elijah Mcclain in Aurora. Prosecutors and attorneys for the officers will question potential jury members to decide who they believe can or cannot return an impartial verdict. The trial for Randy Roedema and Jason Rosenblatt is the first of three for the police officers and two paramedics charged in Mcclain’s death. Mcclain, a 23-year-old Black man, died in August 2019 after the officers subdued him and one of the paramedics injected him with 500 milligrams of the sedative ketamine. Roedema and Rosenblatt each face charges of criminally negligent homicide, manslaughter and second-degree assault. District Court Judge Mark Warner and the attorneys whittled down the pool, which originally numbered 250, by a few dozen Monday. About 25 were dismissed Friday based on questionnaires they all filled out, which asked questions such as whether each potential juror believes they can make a fair and impartial decision. The trial could take as long as about four weeks, Warner said. Views of police officers held by a few potential jurors came into focus during Warner’s questioning and attorneys’ requests to excuse members of the pool. Prosecutors and attorneys for the officers agreed unanimously to excuse a woman who said she had a few family members working in law enforcement and did not think she could be impartial, but also added she wanted to serve on the jury. She emphatically said a few times she had “strong opinions” about the profession. Warner also agreed with the defense attorneys’ request to excuse a man who reportedly said on his questionnaire he already had opinions about the case in favor of Mcclain. But Warner decided to keep a man who said he participated in the Denver Police Department’s Explorer Program and knows several people working in law enforcement. He said he would find it “difficult to be fair,” but told Warner he believed he could be. “Justice does not occur unless everybody does their job,” Warner told the pool. “That includes, most importantly, the jurors.” Attorneys can make unlimited challenges to potential jurors for cause, which means they have a specific reason they believe a person would not be impartial. Warner granted each side 10 peremptory challenges, which means attorneys can object to a potential juror without needing to give a reason. Several possible jurors were excused for “hardship” because they could not take four weeks away from work or because they are full-time caregivers for family members. Donald Sisson and Reid Elkus of Elkus & Sisson represented Roedema in Monday’s proceedings. Harvey Steinberg of Springer & Steinberg represented Rosenblatt. The Colorado attorney general’s office is prosecuting the case, and Jason Slothouber argued for the state. The Aurora police officers responded to a call on Aug. 24, 2019 of a suspicious person by someone who saw McClain walking home from a convenience store. Though Mcclain was not suspected of any crime, the officers tackled him, handcuffed him and put Mcclain into a type of neck hold intended to gain control over a person known as a carotid hold, according to the indictment of the officers and paramedics. Roedema at one point told the third officer also now facing trial, Nathan Woodyard, that Mcclain tried to grab Woodyard’s gun. The Associated Press reported this has never been corroborated. Aurora Fire Rescue paramedics called to the scene diagnosed Mcclain with “excited delirium” before one injected him with ketamine, which the National Library of Medicine describes as including a sudden onset of aggressive behavior or physical strength. Mcclain went into cardiac arrest on the way to the hospital and never regained consciousness. He was taken off life support Aug. 30. Records obtained by The Denver Gazette last year show several medical experts testified to the grand jury that ultimately indicted the officers and paramedics that Mcclain died of the 500-milligram dose of ketamine administered by paramedic Jeremy Cooper, and the effects of the carotid hold a police officer subjected him to did not cause his death. The first autopsy report for Mcclain’s death, prepared by Dr. Stephen Cina, said Mcclain showed “agitated behavior and enhanced strength” during the struggle on the night of Aug. 24 that were characteristic of excited delirium. However, the National Library of Medicine notes neither the American Psychiatric Association nor the World Health Organization recognize excited delirium as a medical or psychiatric diagnosis. The American Medical Association said in 2021 it had adopted a policy opposing it as a diagnosis, saying excited delirium is “disproportionately cited in cases where Black men die in law enforcement custody.” Footage from the encounter captured Mcclain asking the police to respect his space, apologizing to the officers, crying out in pain and saying, “I’m an introvert and I’m different.” Roedema was the senior officer at the scene, responsible for directing other officers, according to the indictment. Among the accusations, he and Rosenblatt held Mcclain down, and, at one point, Roedema shoved his torso into the ground. The indictment said Officer Nathan Woodyard was the first officer to stop Mcclain. Woodyard, Cooper and fellow paramedic Peter Cichuniec are scheduled to go to trial separately in October and November.