Elijah McClain died of ketamine toxicity, newly updated autopsy report says

The Adams County Coroner’s Office changed Elijah McClain’s cause of death from “undetermined” to complications from the sedative ketamine after reviewing additional evidence during the grand jury investigation into his death, according to an updated autopsy report released Friday.

McClain was given a too-large dose of ketamine for his weight and he overdosed after being forcibly arrested by Aurora police officers, forensic pathology consultant Stephen Cina wrote in the updated autopsy report.

“I believe that Mr. McClain would most likely be alive but for the administration of ketamine,” Cina wrote.

The manner of McClain’s death — such rulings can include homicide, accidental or natural — remains undetermined.

McClain, 23, died in 2019 after three Aurora police officers violently arrested him — though he had committed no crime — and two paramedics injected him with the powerful sedative.

Former Adams County District Attorney Dave Young declined to charge the officers and paramedics in connection with McClain’s death, citing in part the autopsy’s finding that the cause and manner of death were undetermined. But a statewide grand jury in 2021 indicted the five men on 32 charges — including criminally negligent homicide — following intense scrutiny during the 2020 police brutality protests.

Cina could not determine whether the carotid hold applied by one of the police officers contributed to McClain’s death, according to the amended autopsy report. A carotid hold is a chokehold that blocks blood flow to the brain.

“I have seen no evidence that injuries inflicted by the police contributed to death,” Cina wrote.

The amended autopsy report states that since the original autopsy signed Nov. 7, 2019, the coroner’s office reviewed evidence not available at that time, including body camera footage and witness statements.

“It is worth noting that these materials had been requested prior to release of the initial autopsy report but the material was either not provided to us or not provided to us in their entirety,” Cina wrote in the amended report, which was finalized July 1.

The five officers and paramedics — Peter Cichuniec, Jeremy Cooper, Nathan Woodyard, Randy Roedema and Jason Rosenblatt — are scheduled for arraignment Nov. 4.

Adams County Coroner Monica Broncucia-Jordan released the updated autopsy Friday after a lawsuit filed by Colorado Public Radio and other local news outlets. She initially denied a request for the autopsy because it included information from the grand jury that is not public record.

Two judges weighed in on the matter and ruled she could release the information.

“Openness and transparency are at the heart of good government,” Broncucia-Jordan said in a news release. “I believe in the public’s right to information and want to be transparent about the work done in my office. I also respect the rule of law and want to ensure nothing is released that will violate any court order or potentially jeopardize the prosecutions in this case. That is why it was imperative to have the Denver District Court weigh in.”

This is a developing story that will be updated.

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