Colorado handed down criminal charges including manslaughter to three police officers and two paramedics over the 2019 death of a young Black man put in a police chokehold and injected with ketamine, prosecutors said on Wednesday.
A grand jury returned a 32-count indictment over the death of Elijah McClain, after the western US state’s governor opened a special investigation last year amid a groundswell of public outrage including a celebrity-backed online petition calling for justice.
“Each of the five defendants faces one count of manslaughter and one count of criminally negligent homicide,” said Colorado attorney general Phil Weiser, who headed the investigation.
Four of the accused face further assault charges, including the two paramedics over their use of a powerful sedative on McClain without consent.
“We’re here today because Elijah McClain is not here, and he should be,” said Weiser.
McClain’s death in the western United States occurred months before the killing of another Black man, George Floyd, in Minneapolis in May 2020 triggered a nationwide reckoning over racism and police brutality.
McClain died in August 2019 in Aurora, near Denver, three days after he was put in a chokehold by police, injected with ketamine to sedate him and suffered cardiac arrest.
Police had responded to a call about a “suspicious” Black male “acting weird” in the street and wearing a ski mask.
One officer said McClain, who was unarmed, had reached for another officer’s gun.
McClain’s family told media he had been out buying iced tea, and often wore the mask to stay warm because he suffered from anemia.
Governor Jared Polis appointed Colorado’s attorney general to probe the case in June 2020, saying at the time he had been “moved” after speaking with the victim’s mother Sheneen.
“He was a son, a nephew, a brother and a friend. When he died, he was only 23 years old. He had his whole life ahead of him,” said Weiser on Wednesday.
TV host Ellen DeGeneres was among celebrities who backed the probe last year, using the hashtag #JusticeForElijahMcClain.
McClain’s name was trending on Twitter again Wednesday following the announcement of charges.