A Colorado court found Aurora police officer Nathan Woodyard not guilty for recklessly contributing to the death of Elijah McClain, an unarmed black man who who died following a 2019 interaction with the cops.
The jury deliberated for one day before announcing the verdict, apparently buying Woodyard’s own defense of himself, which was that he did what he was trained to do during the encounter with McClain.
Prosecutors argued that Woodyard placed the 23-year-old in a carotid hold and failed to provide proper follow up care as the young man lay, detained, on the ground, unable to breathe.
A carotid hold is a police maneuver that cuts off blood flow to the brain, briefly causing unconsciousness.
Police Officer Nathan Woodyard became the second officer to be acquitted for his role in the 2019 death of Elijah McClain
Elijah McClain was fatally-injured while being arrested in Aurora, Colorado, in August 2019. He died days following the encounter with police
Woodyard said under oath that he trusted officers and paramedics to care for McClain as he (the officer) composed himself following the encounter.
He is the second officer in a number of weeks to be acquitted following a trial pertaining to the August 2019 death.
One officer, Randy Roedema, was convicted in October of criminally negligent homicide in McClain’s death.
The death of the introverted young man who was walking home from his job on the evening he was stopped by police, sparked statewide police reform that eventually led to a ban on carotid holds.
Over the course of a three week trial, prosecutors failed to prove that Woodyard was trained to handle McClain any differently than he did that summer night.
They argued that Woodyard, who had at that time been on the police force for about two years, ignored Aurora Police Department policies that instruct officers to approach members of the public with empathy. He additionally, they said, failed to de-escalate the situation.
State attorney Jason Slothouber said of Woodyard: ‘Four years later he has empathy.’
‘But the version of the defendant that Elijah McClain got is the one who caused his death by ignoring his training, ignoring Elijah’s claims and pleas for help, that he can’t breathe and that is exactly the story he was trained to avoid. That is why he’s guilty.’
Woodyard’s attorneys signaled their sympathy for the victim, saying during closing arguments that ‘Elijah McClain matters,’ but that he was killed by an overdose of ketamine administered by paramedics and not by their clients’ actions.
‘There are people guilty of killing Elijah McClain but they are not here today. Nathan Woodyard did not kill Elijah McClain,’ said Andrew Ho, Woodyard’s attorney.
The forensic pathologist who conducted McClain’s autopsy said he died of complications from ketamine following forcible restrains by police.
Elijah McClain left, and right in hospital after he was fatally-injured while being arrested in Aurora, Colorado, in August 2019. He died days later of his injuries
McClain’s case gained widespread attention in the wake of the killing of George Floyd in 2020.
Body camera footage of the massage therapist’s final moments resonated across the country as he said, terrified: ‘I’m an introvert,’ and ‘I’m different.’
In 2020, Colorado Governor Jared Polis ordered the state Attorney General’s office to re-open the case of McClain’s death. In 2021, the officers and paramedics were indicted by a grand jury.
The officers did not testify in their own defense at trial. Their attorneys argued that McClain’s death was the fault of the paramedics for injecting him with ketamine, which doctors said is what ultimately killed him.
McClain was stopped August 24, 2019, while walking home from a convenience store on a summer night, listening to music and wearing a mask that covered most of his face.
A 911 caller reported him as suspicious, and the police stop quickly became physical after McClain, seemingly caught off guard, asked to be left alone. He had not been accused of committing any crime.
A makeshift memorial stood at a site across the street from where Elijah McClain was stopped by Aurora, Colorado
The encounter quickly escalated, with Officers Nathan Woodyard, Randy Roedema and Jason Rosenblatt taking McClain to the ground, and Woodyard putting him in a neck hold and pressing against his carotid artery, temporarily rendering him unconscious.
The officers told investigators they took McClain down after hearing Roedema say, ‘He grabbed your gun dude.’
Paramedics injected McClain with ketamine as Roedema and another officer who was not charged held him on the ground. He went into cardiac arrest en route to the hospital and died days later.