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2nd Colorado police officer has been found not guilty in Elijah McClain's death

MICHEL MARTIN, HOST:

A jury in Colorado has acquitted a second Aurora police officer in the death of Elijah McClain. McClain, a slender, young, Black man, died after being tackled by police and injected with ketamine by paramedics. He had no weapons. Colorado Public Radio's Allison Sherry has this report.

ALLISON SHERRY, BYLINE: Officer Nathan Woodyard was the first on the scene when McClain was walking home from a convenience store after buying iced tea. He grabbed McClain within the first few seconds.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

NATHAN WOODYARD: Hey, stop right there. Stop. Stop. Stop. I have a right to stop you 'cause you're being suspicious.

ELIJAH MCCLAIN: Well, OK.

WOODYARD: Turn around.

E MCCLAIN: I'm going home.

WOODYARD: Relax, or I'm going to have to...

E MCCLAIN: Leave me alone.

WOODYARD: ...Change this situation.

SHERRY: Woodyard did indeed change the situation. Prosecutors say his actions and failure to follow his own policing rules directly led to McClain's death, but the jury disagreed.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

UNIDENTIFIED PERSON #1: People of the state of Colorado v. Nathan Woodyard. We, the jury, find the defendant not guilty of manslaughter, reckless and the lesser included offense of criminally negligent homicide.

SHERRY: Woodyard was one of three officers who stopped McClain on a 911 call of a suspicious person four years ago. The 23-year-old massage therapist had not committed any crimes and didn't have any weapon. Police forcibly detained him and then medics gave him a strong sedative. He died a few days later. Officer Woodyard was charged with reckless manslaughter in McClain's death. When Woodyard used a carotid hold on McClain, he did not follow rules for caring for someone after they received that hold. State prosecutor Ann Joyce.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

ANN JOYCE: They did not listen to him when he said I can't breathe. They did not listen to him when he started to drown in his own vomit.

SHERRY: Officer Woodyard testified, tearfully at times, that he regretted what happened and that he wished he could do everything over. He said he truly believed other officers and paramedics on the scene were caring for McClain.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

WOODYARD: When I walked away, I thought he was safe.

UNIDENTIFIED PERSON #2: Did you trust other officers would take care of him?

WOODYARD: I did.

UNIDENTIFIED PERSON #2: Did they?

WOODYARD: No. I know that now.

SHERRY: McClain's mother, Sheneen, walked out of the courtroom silently with her fist in the air. During this trial, she has expressed frustration with the lack of accountability.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

SHENEEN MCCLAIN: All of them are guilty of putting their hands on my son. They all went against their own police department protocol. They're all guilty.

SHERRY: One former Aurora officer has already been convicted of criminally negligent homicide in McClain's death. Another was acquitted. A trial for the paramedics who gave McClain an overdose of ketamine starts in a couple of weeks. For NPR News, I'm Allison Sherry in Denver.

(SOUNDBITE OF BREMER/MCCOY'S "OP") 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