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Colorado jury convicts a white police officer in the 2019 death of Elijah McClain

A MARTÍNEZ, HOST:

A Colorado jury has convicted a white police officer of negligent homicide four years after the death of Elijah McClain, who was Black.

LEILA FADEL, HOST:

Here's Colorado Attorney General Phil Weiser speaking after yesterday's verdict.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

PHIL WEISER: We are here today because Elijah McClain mattered. He was only 23 years old. When he died, he had his whole life ahead of him.

FADEL: McClain died in 2019 as a result of his arrest.

MARTÍNEZ: Colorado Public Radio's Allison Sherry was in the courtroom. She's with us now. Allison, Elijah McClain died after his encounter with police. That was in Aurora, Colo., in 2019. No prosecution until 2021. That was after protests erupted over the death of George Floyd. Take us back to what exactly happened to McClain.

ALLISON SHERRY, BYLINE: Yeah. You know, McClain was doing nothing illegal when police contacted him on a street after a passing motorist called 911 and reported there was somebody walking who looked sketchy. He was just walking home from a convenience store after buying some iced tea. When the police got there, they went hands-on within about eight seconds and put him in a carotid chokehold. McClain cried out seven times that he couldn't breathe. Paramedics who arrived on scene later gave McClain a shot of the drug ketamine. And shortly after he was loaded onto an ambulance, he lost his pulse. He was revived, but he suffered a heart attack and died in the hospital a few days later.

MARTÍNEZ: And the local district attorney declined to press any charges - right? - against police or even paramedics.

SHERRY: Yeah, that's correct. The officers were back on the job, and the case was basically closed. The following spring, though, as protests were raging over the death of George Floyd at the hands of police in Minnesota, McClain's death got renewed attention, even across the world, and Colorado Governor Jared Polis reopened the case and appointed a special prosecutor.

MARTÍNEZ: Now, a second police officer, who was also there when McClain was arrested, was acquitted of all charges. Does that mean that this is just done and over with now?

SHERRY: No, there will be more legal proceedings in this case. Let's start with the Aurora police officer, Randy Roedema. He's the one who was convicted yesterday of criminally negligent homicide and third-degree assault. He'll be sentenced in January and faces up to three years in prison, though I'll note that these are probation-eligible crimes in Colorado, so it's possible that he won't be incarcerated at all. The second officer on trial, though, Jason Rosenblatt, as you said, A, was indeed acquitted. But that's just the beginning.

Jury selection for another trial in this case is starting today. That's for Nathan Woodyard. He was the first officer on the scene, and he locked McClain in the chokehold. And then there's another trial after that scheduled for the paramedics who administered the ketamine. So this is far from over. And I also will note that prior to these criminal trials, the city of Aurora paid a $15 million settlement to McClain's family and their lawyers. And so far, it's one of the very biggest settlements for police violence ever in Colorado.

MARTÍNEZ: How are people in Aurora responding to all this?

SHERRY: Yeah. You know, it's still pretty early. The verdict was read right at 5 p.m. Thursday, you know, so people were just learning about it last night. There was a small vigil at the site where he was detained on Thursday, and I think a larger one is planned for the weekend. I spoke to McClain's mother outside the courthouse, though, and she's really angry. She said, quote, "this is the divided states of America, and that's what happens."

MARTÍNEZ: That's Colorado Public Radio's Allison Sherry. Allison, thanks a lot.

SHERRY: Thank you.

(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC) Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

NPR transcripts are created on a rush deadline by an NPR contractor. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Accuracy and availability may vary. The authoritative record of NPR’s programming is the audio record.

Allison Sherry