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US first responders plead not guilty in chokehold-ketamine death of Black man

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Elijah McClain's death in the western United States occurred months before the killing of George Floyd in Minneapolis in May 2020 triggered mass protests over police brutality against minorities, especially Black Americans./AFP
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Jan 23, 2023 - 01:48 AM

LOS ANGELES — Three US police officers and two paramedics on Friday pleaded not guilty to the manslaughter of a young Black man who died after he was put in a chokehold and injected with ketamine.

Elijah McClain was detained by the first responders in August 2019 after law enforcement in Aurora, Colorado responded to a call about a “suspicious” Black man “acting weird” in the street and wearing a ski mask.

One officer said McClain, who was unarmed, had reached for another officer’s gun.

They restrained him in a chokehold during their arrest, and paramedics administered ketamine to sedate him.

McClain died three days later. He had suffered cardiac arrest.

His family later told media he had been out buying iced tea, and often wore the mask to stay warm because he suffered from anemia.

The 23-year-old’s death did not initially receive much media attention in the United States.

But the story gained prominence after the murder by officers of George Floyd the following year, an episode that triggered a nationwide reckoning over racism and police brutality.

Public pressure, including from celebrities such as Ellen DeGeneres, led to a 2020 probe by Colorado’s attorney general.

In 2021, officers Nathan Woodyard and Randy Roedema, former officer Jason Rosenblatt and paramedics Jeremy Cooper and Peter Cichuniec were charged with 32 counts, including one each of manslaughter and criminally negligent homicide.

On Friday, all five pleaded not guilty when they appeared in an Adams County court, the Denver Post reported.

Woodyard, who put McClain in the chokehold, was ordered to appear in court on September 18.

The other two officers will be tried together, beginning July 11, while the paramedics will face trial on August 7.

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