DENVER (KDVR) — The final witness in the trial of Aurora Police Officer Nathan Woodyard testified Friday that the manner of Elijah McClain’s death was “homicide.”
Forensic pathologist Dr. Roger Mitchell also answered “yes” when asked if the injuries that McClain suffered at the hands of law enforcement contributed to his death.
Woodyard, who is suspended from the force, is on trial for the charge of reckless manslaughter for the 2019 death of McClain, who was 23 years old.
McClain was stopped while walking home from a convenience store after a 911 caller notified police of a man who appeared suspicious because he was walking with a runner’s mask on his face.
Woodyard’s defense team wants the jury to assign blame to paramedics since an autopsy found McClain was given a fatal dose of the sedative ketamine.
But prosecutors used Mitchell’s testimony to say McClain’s death was set in motion by Woodyard’s carotid neck hold, along with the physical force he and other officers used to hold McClain in a prone position that restricted his breathing, all before he was given ketamine.
Mitchell testified that McClain was in obvious distress and needed emergency medical care before he was given ketamine, because body camera video showed he was having trouble breathing and appeared to be choking on his vomit.
While an officer can be heard on video from a bodyworn camera saying that McClain “can breathe,” Mitchell said that wasn’t entirely accurate, because McClain was struggling to breathe and reached a point where he was unable to respond when an officer asked McClain if he was alright.
“The lack of response to me as a medical professional suggests that he’s not alright,” Mitchell testified.
Yet 4 minutes and 51 seconds after McClain could no longer respond or stand on his own, bodyworn camera footage shows he was administered ketamine.
At the time, officers suggested McClain was fighting with them and exhibiting super-human strength or “excited delirium,” a diagnosis that has been discredited by many medical professionals.
Prosecutors asked Mitchell if he saw signs of excited delirium or if he saw McClain attacking people in the video, to which he responded no. He also testified that he didn’t see a reason in the video to “medically restrain” McClain.
Woodyard’s defense attorney pointed out that the only direct cause of death found in the autopsy was a ketamine overdose and that Woodyard’s carotid neck hold did not cause the injection of ketamine.
The defense attorney also reminded Mitchell that at the time McClain was placed in a carotid neck hold, he was not yet in handcuffs.
Closing statements in Woodyard’s trial will take place next week.