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A photo of Elijah McClain who died in a hospital after an August 24 incident involving Aurora police.
See the police encounter that led to Elijah McClain's death
02:46 - Source: CNN
CNN  — 

Jury deliberations will continue Wednesday in the trial of two Colorado police officers who arrested Elijah McClain, an unarmed 23-year-old Black man who died in 2019 after being subdued by police and injected by paramedics with ketamine.

In closing arguments of the weekslong trial on Tuesday, prosecutors said Aurora police officers Randy Roedema and Jason Rosenblatt used excessive force, failed to follow their training and misled paramedics about his health status. The defendants face charges including reckless manslaughter and have pleaded not guilty.

“They were trained. They were told what to do. They were given instructions. They had opportunities, and they failed to choose to de-esclate violence when they needed to, they failed to listen to Mr. McClain when they needed to, and they failed Mr. McClain,” prosecutor Duane Lyons said in court.

Rosenblatt was fired by the police department in 2020 and Roedema remains suspended. Roedema and Rosenblatt have pleaded not guilty to charges of reckless manslaughter, criminally negligent homicide and assault causing serious bodily injury in connection with McClain’s death.

Jury deliberations began Tuesday after closing arguments.

The case focuses on the events of August 24, 2019, when officers responded to a call about a “suspicious person” wearing a ski mask, according to the indictment. The officers confronted McClain, a 23-year-old  massage therapist, musician and animal lover who was walking home from a convenience store carrying a plastic bag with iced tea.

In an interaction captured on body camera footage, police wrestled McClain to the ground and placed him in a carotid hold, and paramedics later injected him with the powerful sedative ketamine. He suffered a heart attack on the way to a hospital and was pronounced dead three days later.

Prosecutors initially declined to bring charges, but the case received renewed scrutiny following the nationwide Black Lives Matter protests in spring 2020. Colorado Gov. Jared Polis appointed a special prosecutor to reexamine the case, and in 2021 a grand jury indicted three officers and two paramedics in McClain’s death.

The prosecution played body-camera footage of the arrest during closing arguments and said the footage showed officers used excessive force for no reason. McClain also repeatedly said he couldn’t breathe, yet the officers did not tell that to anyone on the scene.

“His name was Elijah McClain, and he was going home. He was somebody. He mattered,” Lyons, the prosecutor, began his argument Tuesday afternoon.

Officers “chose force at every opportunity,” instead of trying to de-escalate the situation, as they’re trained, he said.

Attorneys for Roedema and Rosenblatt have pinned McClain’s death squarely on the paramedics who responded, Jeremy Cooper and Peter Cichuniec, arguing in part they were responsible for evaluating McClain’s medical condition. The defense attorneys also have argued the paramedics injected McClain with a dose of ketamine too large for his size.

The two paramedics are set to be tried jointly over their alleged roles in McClain’s death in November. Both have pleaded not guilty to their charges.

Former Aurora Police officer Jason Rosenblatt, left, and Aurora Police officer Randy Roedema.

Roedema’s attorney Don Sisson also argued that the officer was justified in using force to subdue McClain after McClain resisted arrest despite multiple verbal commands. Meanwhile, Rosenblatt’s attorney Harvey Steinberg painted his client as a “scapegoat,” saying the state was looking for someone to blame.

Prosecutor Jason Slothouber told the court that while the officers did not inject McClain with the ketamine, their failure to protect McClain’s airway allowed him to become hypoxic then acidotic, and that’s what made the ketamine so dangerous to McClain.

Officers didn’t provide accurate information to the paramedics when they arrived on scene, and in doing so they “failed Elijah McClain,” Slothouber added.

The trial began last month and featured testimony from Aurora law enforcement officers who responded to the scene as well as from doctors who analyzed how McClain died. The defense did not call any witnesses.

The jury heard from a pulmonary critical care physician who testified that he believed the young man would not have died if the paramedics had recognized his issues and intervened.

Dr. Robert Mitchell Jr., a forensic pathologist who reviewed McClain’s autopsy, testified the cause of death was “complications following acute ketamine administration during violent subdual and restraint by law enforcement, emergency response personnel.” He testified there was a “direct causal link” between the officers’ actions and McClain’s death.

Meanwhile, defense attorneys argued there was no evidence the officers’ actions led to his death, and instead pointed to the ketamine injection.

Though an initial autopsy report said the cause of death was undetermined, an amended report publicly released in 2022 listed “complications of ketamine administration following forcible restraint” as the cause of death. The manner of death was undetermined.

Dr. Stephen Cina, the pathologist who signed the autopsy report, wrote that he saw no evidence that injuries inflicted by police contributed to McClain’s death, and that McClain “would most likely be alive but for the administration of ketamine.”