DENVER (KDVR) – The three current and former Aurora police officers indicted in Elijah McClain’s death had training on the now-banned carotid control hold in the weeks — and for one former officer, the day — before they used the technique on the 23-year-old.
The officers face manslaughter and criminally negligent homicide charges in McClain’s death after they restrained him, including through a carotid hold and when paramedics gave him ketamine.
“(Jason) Rosenblatt had taken an in-service training that covered the carotid control hold on August 23, 2019,” court documents stated. “(Nathan) Woodyard took the training on August 14, 2019, and (Randy) Roedema took the training on August 13, 2019.”
During the altercation with McClain, Rosenblatt and Woodyard reported attempting a carotid control hold — which cuts off blood flow to a person’s brain, causing temporary unconsciousness — but Rosenblatt told investigators his attempt was unsuccessful.
“I attempted a carotid hold, and then somehow, right after, I realized the hold wasn’t going to be effective in the position that I was in, so I released,” he told investigators during a video-recorded interview obtained by the Problem Solvers.
“Somehow, (McClain) ended up on his right side, so he was laying sideways — almost like a recovery position,” Rosenblatt said, “but now, Woodyard’s behind him, and he’s in a better spot to get a carotid hold on him.”
Woodyard said he attempted his successful hold because he heard another officer say McClain had reached for someone’s duty weapon.
At the same time, Roedema said he put Woodyard in a “bar hammerlock” — another restraint compliance technique.
“I started to see his head kind of go back. I see his eyes start to roll back, not completely. And at that point, I gained further control of the arm bar. I told Officer Woodyard, ‘Let go! Let go. He’s good. He’s good. He’s good!’” Roedema said in a 2019 recorded video interview with investigators.
“McClain was rendered unconscious, suffered hypoxia, and his physical and mental condition were impaired,” court records say. The risk of hypoxia and cerebral hypoxia was “exacerbated by applying two carotid control holds.”
Both conditions involve low oxygen to the brain or the body.
“I don’t necessarily think just because they were trained the day before that officers all of a sudden said, ‘Oh, boy! Here’s a new technique, and the department says it’s OK,’” associate criminology professor James Ponzi said. Ponzi retired as a lieutenant from the Denver Police Department after serving for 35 years.
During his approximately 10 years as a patrol officer, he said he used the carotid hold about 10-15 times.
“As far as if (officers) would use it more often after the training, I think that would depend on how the training was presented,” Ponzi said. “The effect of the training is to make sure they do it properly. Every technique has upsides and downsides.”
A 2020 Colorado law banned the use of a chokehold or a carotid hold in Colorado.
The Aurora Police Department was unable to provide more details on the type of training each officer received prior to the altercation.