West News Wire: According to an altered autopsy report made public on Friday, a Black man died during police contact in the US state of Colorado in 2019 because he received an injection of a potent sedative after being forcibly detained.
The study reveals that despite the discovery, the death of 23-year-old massage therapist Elijah McClain was remained labeled as undetermined and not a homicide.
After being detained by police in Aurora, Colorado, a suburb of Denver, for “acting suspicious,” McClain was placed in a neck hold and given ketamine injections. He had no weapons.
When he passed away in August 2019, the initial autopsy report that was prepared shortly afterward did not come to a conclusion regarding how he passed away or what kind of death it was, such as if it was natural, accidental or a homicide. That was a major reason why prosecutors initially decided not to pursue charges.
But a state grand jury last year indicted three officers and two paramedics on manslaughter and reckless homicide charges in McClain’s death after the case drew renewed attention following the killing of George Floyd in 2020.
It became a rallying cry during the reckoning across the United States over racism and police brutality.
The five accused have not yet entered pleas and their lawyers have not commented publicly on the charges.
In the updated report, Dr Stephen Cina concluded that the ketamine dosage given to McClain, which was higher than recommended for someone his size, “was too much for this individual and it resulted in an overdose”.
“I believe that Mr. McClain would most likely be alive but for the administration of ketamine,” said Cina, who also noted that body camera footage shows McClain becoming “extremely sedated” within a few minutes of being given the drug.
The findings of the amended autopsy report, updated in July 2021 but withheld from the public until Friday, echo an opinion included in the grand jury indictment handed down about two months later from an unspecified pathologist.
The pathologist had concluded that McClain died of complications of being injected with ketamine while being violently subdued and restrained by law enforcement and emergency responders. It is not clear whether that pathologist was Dr Cina.
Cina’s updated report said there was no evidence that injuries inflicted by police caused his death.
According to the indictment, Peter Cichuniec, who was supervising the paramedic team, ordered ketamine from an ambulance and Jeremy Cooper injected it into McClain. Cooper’s lawyer, Mike Pellow, did not immediately return a phone message seeking comment. A message left for Cichuniec’s lawyers, David Goddard and Michael Lowe, was not immediately returned.
Cina acknowledged that other reasonable pathologists with different experience and training may have labelled such a death, while in police custody, as a homicide or accident, but that he believes the appropriate classification is undetermined.
Qusair Mohamedbhai, the lawyer for McClain’s mother, Sheneen McClain, declined a request for comment.
The updated autopsy was released on Friday under a court order in a lawsuit brought by Colorado Public Radio, joined by other media organisations including The Associated Press. Colorado Public Radio sued the coroner to release the report after learning it had been updated, arguing that it should be made available under the state’s public records law.
Coroner Monica Broncucia-Jordan said she could not release it because it contained confidential grand jury information and that releasing it would violate an oath she made not to share it when she obtained it last year.
But Adams County District Judge Kyle Seedorf ordered the coroner to release the updated report by Friday, and a Denver judge who oversees state grand jury proceedings, Christopher Baumann, ruled on Thursday that grand jury information did not have to be redacted.
McClain’s death fuelled renewed scrutiny about the use of ketamine and led Colorado’s health department to issue a new rule limiting when emergency workers can use it.
The city of Aurora consented to pay $15 million last year to resolve a lawsuit filed by McClain’s parents.
According to the claim, McClain died as a result of the excessive amount of lactic acid that was produced in his body as a result of the force officers used against him and his effort to survive, potentially in combination with the high dose of ketamine he was administered.
An external inquiry that the city had hired condemned the police investigation into McClain’s detention for not asking for details regarding the officers’ treatment of him. It was determined that there was no proof to support the police’ choice to detain McClain, who had been flagged as suspicious because he was waiving his hands and walking down the street while wearing a ski mask. He wasn’t charged with breaking any rules.