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Elijah McClain; Victim Died Due to Sedative, Restraint; Autopsy Amended – According to an amended autopsy report that was made public on Friday, September 23, 2022, a man passed away after an encounter with police in a Denver suburb in 2019. The cause of death was an injection of a powerful sedative that was administered after the man was forcibly restrained.
According to the report, the cause of death of massage therapist Elijah McClain, who was 23 years old, was still listed as undetermined, and it was not considered a homicide, despite the finding. After being detained by police in Aurora for “acting suspiciously,” McClain was subjected to a neck hold and given ketamine before being taken into custody. He was defenseless.
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The initial autopsy report that was written soon after his death in August 2019 did not reach a conclusion regarding how he died or what type of death it was, such as whether it was a natural death, an accidental death, or a homicide. Instead, the report stated that further investigation was necessary. That was a significant factor in the decision that led prosecutors to drop the charges in the beginning.
However, in 2019, a state grand jury decided to indict five people—three police officers and two paramedics—on charges of manslaughter and reckless homicide in connection with McClain’s death. This decision came after the case received renewed attention after George Floyd was killed in 2020. During the national reckoning that took place over issues of racism and police brutality, it became a rallying cry.
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The five individuals who are being accused have not yet entered pleas, and their attorneys have refrained from making any public statements regarding the allegations.
The findings of the amended autopsy report, which were updated in July 2021, echo an opinion that was included in the grand jury indictment that was handed down approximately two months later from an unspecified pathologist. This pathologist came to the conclusion that McClain died as a result of complications caused by being injected with ketamine, which is a sedative, while being violently subdued and restrained by law enforcement and emergency responders. The indictment was handed down about two months after the It is not entirely clear whether the same pathologist, Dr. Stephen Cina, was responsible for both the initial autopsy report and the updated one. However, it is possible that he was.
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Although McClain’s blood ketamine level was consistent with a ‘therapeutic’ blood concentration, Cina came to the conclusion in the updated report that the ketamine dosage that was administered to him was “too much for this individual and it resulted in an overdose.” This was the case despite the fact that the dosage was higher than what was recommended for someone of his size.
He stated that he could not rule out the possibility that changes in McClain’s blood chemistry, such as an increase in lactic acid, due to his exertion while being restrained by police contributed to his death, but he came to the conclusion that there was no evidence that injuries inflicted by police caused his death. He said that he could not rule out the possibility that changes in McClain’s blood chemistry, such as an increase in lactic acid, contributed to
“I believe that Mr. McClain would most likely still be alive but for the administration of ketamine,” said Cina, who pointed out that footage from the body camera shows McClain becoming “extremely sedated” within a few minutes of being given the drug. “I believe that Mr. McClain would most likely still be alive but for the administration of ketamine,” said Cina.
Cina acknowledged that other reasonable pathologists with different experience and training may have classified such a death as an accident or a homicide while the individual was in the custody of the police; however, he believes that the correct classification is undetermined.
In response to a request for comment, the attorney representing McClain’s mother, Sheneen McClain, Qusair Mohamedbhai, declined to comment.
Dr. Carl Wigren, a forensic pathologist in Washington state, questioned the report’s focus on ketamine. He stated that all of the available evidence — including a highly critical independent review of McClain’s death commissioned by Aurora last year — point to McClain dying as a result of compressional asphyxia, a type of suffocation, from officers putting pressure on his body while restraining him. This review was commissioned by Aurora last year. A passage in the city’s review that cited the ambulance company’s report that its crew found McClain lying on the ground on his stomach with his arms handcuffed behind his back, his torso and legs held down, and at least three officers on top of him struck him as particularly striking.
The report stated that the footage from the officers’ body cameras did not capture that scene, but it also stated that much of what occurred between police was not captured because the cameras were turned off shortly after McClain was approached. The cameras did continue recording after they were knocked over, and they captured people having conversations.
According to Wigren, the fact that McClain, who claimed he couldn’t breathe, could be heard making some statements on the footage does not mean that he was able to fully breathe at any point during the incident. Wigren believes that ketamine, which has the effect of slowing breathing, merely exacerbated McClain’s condition and was not the primary factor in causing his death.
Dr. Deborah G. Johnson of Colorado, an additional pathologist, stated that McClain’s rapid reaction to ketamine suggests that it was a cause of McClain’s death; however, she stated that the use of ketamine cannot be separated from the impact that the police restraint may have had. According to her, McClain may have had difficulty breathing due to the restraint, and having less oxygen in your system would cause the sedative to take effect more rapidly.
Both parties believed that the death could have been classified as a homicide, which is defined as a death that was brought about by the actions of another person. However, they emphasized that this determination should not be confused with the question of whether or not someone should be charged with a crime for causing the death.
Johnson stated that McClain had gotten an overdose of ketamine, noting that the paramedics were working at night, when it is difficult to judge someone’s weight based on their appearance.
Is it possible that sending someone to jail for that was a mistake? She responded with, “I don’t believe that.”
The updated autopsy was made public on Friday as a result of a court order that was issued in connection with a lawsuit that was initially filed by Colorado Public Radio and later joined by other media organizations, including The Associated Press. After discovering that the report had been amended, Colorado Public Radio filed a lawsuit demanding that the coroner release it, arguing that it should be made available in accordance with the state’s public records law.
The coroner, Monica Broncucia-Jordan, stated that she was unable to release it because it contained information that was considered confidential by the grand jury and that releasing it would be a violation of the oath she took not to share it when she first obtained it a year ago.
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