Amended autopsy: Black man died from sedation and restraint

DENVER (AP) — A black man died after an encounter with police in a Denver suburb in 2019 because he was injected with a powerful sedative after being forcibly restrained, according to an amended autopsy report released Friday. .

Despite the discovery, the death of Elijah McClain, a 23-year-old massage therapist, was still listed as indeterminate, and not a homicide, according to the report. McClain was put in a neck hold and injected with ketamine after being arrested by police in Aurora for “being suspicious”. He was unarmed.

The original autopsy report which was written shortly after his death in August 2019 did not reach a conclusion on how he died or what type of death such as whether it was natural, accidental or a homicide. This was one of the main reasons prosecutors initially decided not to press charges.

But last year a state grand jury indicted three officers and two paramedics with manslaughter and reckless homicide in McClain’s death after the case drew renewed attention following the 2020 killing of George Floyd. It became a rallying cry during the national judgment on racism and the police. brutality.

The five defendants have yet to plead and their attorneys have not publicly commented on the charges.

The findings of the amended autopsy report, updated in July 2021, echo an opinion included in the grand jury indictment issued about two months later by an unspecified pathologist who concluded that McClain was deceased. following an injection of ketamine, a sedative, while being violently subdued and restrained by law enforcement and emergency responders. It is unclear if this pathologist is the same, Dr. Stephen Cina, who updated the autopsy report.

In the updated report, Cina concluded that the dose of ketamine given to McClain, which was higher than recommended for someone his size, “was too high for this individual and it resulted in an overdose, even though his Blood ketamine levels were consistent with a ‘therapeutic blood level’.

He also said he could not rule out that metabolic changes in McClain’s blood from exertion while restrained contributed to his death, and that there was no evidence that injuries inflicted by the police caused his death.

“I think Mr. McClain would most likely be alive without the administration of ketamine,” said Cina, who noted that body camera footage shows McClain becoming “extremely sedated” minutes after receiving the drug. .

Cina acknowledged that other reasonable pathologists with different experience and training may have characterized such a death, while in police custody, as homicide or an accident, but that he believes the proper classification is undetermined.

Qusair Mohamedbhai, attorney for McClain’s mother, Sheneen McClain, declined a request for comment.

The updated autopsy was released Friday under a court order in a lawsuit filed by Colorado Public Radio, joined by other news outlets including the Associated Press. Colorado Public Radio sued the coroner for releasing the report after learning it had been updated, arguing it should be made available under state 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 the oath she took 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 Thursday that the grand jury information had not been redacted from the updated report.

McClain’s death fueled scrutiny of ketamine use and led the Colorado Department of Health to issue a new rule limiting when first aiders can use it.

Last year, the city of Aurora agreed to pay $15 million to settle a lawsuit filed by McClain’s parents. The lawsuit alleged that the force used by the officers against McClain and his struggle to survive it had dramatically increased the amount of lactic acid in his system, leading to his death, possibly with the high dose of ketamine he had been given.

A city-commissioned outside investigation blamed the police investigation into McClain’s arrest for not pushing for answers about how officers treated him. He found there was no evidence to support the officers’ decision to arrest McClain, who had been flagged as a suspect for wearing a ski mask as he walked down the street waving his hands. He was not charged with breaking any law.

Police reform campaigner Candice Bailey had mixed emotions about having the autopsy changed.

“I believe this brings us closer to all that is some semblance of justice,” said Bailey, an Aurora town activist who has led protests over McClain’s death.

But Bailey added that she is “extremely saddened that there is still controversy about whether paramedics and officers should be held accountable for what they have done, and whether whether or not it was murder.”


Associated Press reporter Jesse Bedayn contributed to this report. Bedayn is a member of the Associated Press/Report for America Statehouse News Initiative. Report for America is a nonprofit national service program that places reporters in local newsrooms to report on underreported issues.

Colleen Slevin, Associated Press


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