Elijah McClain's death: Cop acquitted in 2nd trial of police officers

Nathan Woodyard was charged with manslaughter and criminally negligent homicide.

November 6, 2023, 6:32 PM

A jury on Monday acquitted Nathan Woodyard on charges of reckless manslaughter and criminally negligent homicide in the second trial concerning the death of 23-year-old Elijah McClain following an altercation with Aurora, Colorado, police.

Woodyard was the first police officer on the scene in August 2019 and put McClain in a carotid hold. He pleaded not guilty.

"We are respectful of the process in what is a very difficult case," Woodyard's lawyers, Megan Downing and Andrew Ho, said in a statement following the verdict. "We have never disregarded the tragic circumstances, but are relieved for what we believe is the just outcome for our client."

"Today's verdict is not the one we hoped for, but we respect the jury system and accept this outcome," Colorado Attorney General Phil Weiser said, in part, in a statement. "I thank the jurors for serving and performing their civic duty."

"We remain undeterred in our pursuit of accountability and justice for Elijah McClain and his family and friends," Weiser added.

PHOTO: Aurora Police officer Nathan Woodyard during an arraignment in the Adams County district court at the Adams County Justice Center, on Jan. 20, 2023.
Aurora Police officer Nathan Woodyard during an arraignment in the Adams County district court at the Adams County Justice Center, on Jan. 20, 2023.
Andy Cross/MediaNews Group/The Denver Post via Getty Images, FILE

In closing arguments, the prosecution argued the carotid hold that Woodyard placed McClain in had contributed to McClain's death. The prosecution also argued that if Woodyard had followed what he was taught in training, he would have known how to respond to McClain's pleas for help.

McClain told officers during their encounter that he was having trouble breathing, and he later choked on his vomit while he was restrained, the previous trial revealed.

"This trial is about the defendant and his teammates doing nothing to help Elijah McClain. This trial is about their continued callousness and indifference to Mr. McClain's suffering," Assistant Attorney General Ann Joyce said during opening arguments.

The defense argued the ketamine administered by the EMTs that night was responsible for McClain's death.

"The evidence cannot leave the real possibility that Nathan did not know that the paramedics would come in and overdose," defense attorney Andrew Ho said.

McClain was stopped by police on his way home from a convenience store on Aug. 24, 2019. A passerby called 911 to report McClain as acting "sketchy" with a ski mask on; however, the caller said there was no weapon and that no one was in danger at the time.

McClain was wearing a ski mask at the time because, according to his family, he had anemia, a blood condition that can make people feel cold more easily.

When officers arrived on the scene, they told McClain they had a right to stop him because he was "being suspicious."

In police body camera footage, McClain can be heard telling police he was going home, and that "I have a right to go where I am going."

Woodyard placed McClain in a carotid hold and he and the other two officers on the scene moved McClain by force to the grass and restrained him.

McClain can be heard pleading with officers in police body camera footage, saying he can't breathe correctly.

"I'm so sorry. I have no gun, I don't do that stuff. I don't do fighting. Why are you taking me?" McClain can be heard saying in body camera footage.

PHOTO: Elijah McClain in an undated photo.
Elijah McClain in an undated photo.
McClain Family Photo

"I can't breathe," McClain said, according to the body camera footage. He echoed these words several times.

When EMTs arrived at the scene, McClain was given a shot of 500 milligrams of ketamine for "rapid tranquilization in order to minimize time struggling," according to department policy, and was loaded into an ambulance where he had a heart attack, according to investigators.

McClain was declared brain-dead days later and died on Aug. 30, 2019.

McClain's cause of death, which was previously listed as "undetermined," was listed in an amended autopsy report as "complications of ketamine administration following forcible restraint." The manner of death remained listed as "undetermined" as it was in the initial report.

Woodyard's employment by the police force is subject to a city charter pending the outcome of his trial.

In the first trial in connection with McClain's death, officer Randy Roedema was found guilty on Oct. 12 of criminally negligent homicide and assault in the third degree. He will be sentenced in January and could face up to five years in prison and be fined more than $100,000. His employment with the police force was terminated following his conviction last month.

Another officer, Jason Rosenblatt, was found not guilty on charges of reckless manslaughter, assault in the second degree and criminally negligent homicide. His employment with the police force was terminated in 2020.

ABC News' Aisha Frazier contributed to this report.