A former police officer from Aurora, Colorado, has been sentenced to 14 months in jail for his role in the death of Elijah McClain, a young Black man who was stopped by police while walking home from a convenience store in 2019. Randy Roedema, who was convicted of criminally negligent homicide and third-degree assault, was the only officer found guilty in the case.
McClain’s mother calls Roedema a ‘bully with a badge’
Before the judge handed down the sentence, McClain’s mother, Sheneen McClain, delivered a powerful statement in which she called Roedema a “bully with a badge” who “stole my son’s life”. She said that Roedema showed no compassion or remorse for his actions, and that he will always have blood on his hands.
“Randy Roedema has stolen my son’s life. All the belated apologies in the world cannot remove my son’s blood from Randy Roedema’s hands,” she said. “Protecting the community was the furthest thing from his mind that night.”
She also said that her son, who was 23 years old when he died, had his whole life ahead of him. He was a massage therapist, a violinist, and a vegetarian who loved animals. He had no criminal record or history of violence.
“My son will never be a dad, an uncle, or a grandfather. He will never get to see his nieces and nephews grow up. He will never get to fulfill his dreams,” she said.
Roedema expresses sadness but not apology
Roedema, who was a U.S. Marine veteran who served in Iraq, also spoke at the hearing. He expressed sadness for the McClain family, but did not apologize or admit any wrongdoing. He asked for the minimum sentence, citing his lack of criminal history, his satisfactory performance as a police officer, and his efforts to improve himself through counseling and church.
“I know that I would be devastated if I lost any of my children. And I hate that the McClain family has to go through this,” he said. “At the same time, I do not think there is anything that I can say that will make this okay.”
He also said that he acted according to his training and experience, and that he did not intend to harm McClain.
“I did not go out there that night to hurt anybody. I went out there to do my job and to help people,” he said.
Judge criticizes Roedema’s indifference and violence
The judge, Mark Warner, said that he was shocked by Roedema’s indifference and violence towards McClain, who was clearly in distress and in custody. He said that Roedema picked up McClain, slammed him down, and dug his knee into his back, even after McClain vomited and struggled to breathe.
“The court was shocked by what appeared to be, really, indifference to Elijah McClain’s suffering after he was clearly in custody and in handcuffs,” he said.
He also said that Roedema’s actions were not consistent with the compassion and care that his friends and family described in their letters of support.
“I don’t know why that compassion and that care that his friends and his family, the people who served with him, talk about, was not there for Elijah McClain. But it clearly wasn’t,” he said.
The judge sentenced Roedema to 14 months in jail for the third-degree assault charge, with authorized work release. He also sentenced him to 90 days in jail for the criminally negligent homicide charge, to be served concurrently. He said that the law did not consider criminally negligent homicide a violent crime, despite his personal opinion.
In addition, the judge ordered Roedema to serve four years of probation and 200 hours of community service.
McClain’s death sparked nationwide protests and reforms
McClain’s death on Aug. 24, 2019, received little attention at the time, but gained renewed interest in 2020 as mass protests swept the nation over the murder of George Floyd by Minneapolis police. McClain’s death became a rallying cry for critics of racial injustice and police brutality.
McClain was walking home from a convenience store, wearing a ski mask and listening to music, when he was stopped by three Aurora police officers who said he looked suspicious. The officers tackled him to the ground, put him in a chokehold, and called for paramedics. The paramedics injected him with a large dose of ketamine, a powerful sedative, to calm him down. McClain suffered a cardiac arrest on the way to the hospital and died six days later.
The officers involved in the incident were not charged by the local district attorney, who said there was not enough evidence to prove that they caused McClain’s death. However, after public outcry and pressure from state officials, a special grand jury was convened to review the case.
In September 2021, the grand jury indicted Roedema, Jason Rosenblatt, and Nathan Woodyard, the three officers who stopped McClain, as well as Jeremy Cooper and Peter Cichuniec, the two paramedics who administered ketamine. They were charged with various counts of manslaughter, homicide, and assault.
In October 2021, Roedema was found guilty of criminally negligent homicide and third-degree assault, while Rosenblatt was acquitted of all charges. Woodyard’s trial is scheduled for February 2022. Cooper and Cichuniec were found guilty of manslaughter and criminally negligent homicide in December 2021. They will be sentenced in March 2022.
McClain’s death also prompted several reforms and investigations at the local and state level. The city of Aurora banned the use of chokeholds and ketamine by police and paramedics, and launched an independent review of the police department’s policies and practices. The state of Colorado passed a law that limits the use of force and requires body cameras for all officers, and created a task force to examine the use of ketamine in medical settings. The U.S. Department of Justice and the FBI are also conducting a civil rights investigation into McClain’s death.