An amended autopsy released Friday found 23-year-old Black man Elijah McClain died of an overdose of ketamine, which was administered to him by paramedics trying to sedate him after police restrained him, the Washington Post reports.
On August 24, 2019 in Aurora, Colorado, police were called to a man wearing a ski mask waving his arms as he walked down the street; the caller told police he didn’t believe the person was armed or harassing anyone. McClain was known to wear heavier clothing and even a ski mask in summer because he had a blood circulation disorder that made him feel cold.
Police found McClain, a massage therapist, dancing in the street and attempted to question him but, they say, McClain resisted. At one point, according to some of the officers’ reports, McClain reached for one of the officers’ guns, but which specific officer’s gun differs according to each officer’s account. No body camera video exists, but audio was recorded because the officers claimed McClain ripped them off the officers’ uniforms; they were found on the ground in the investigation.
Three police officers restrained McClain, one of whom put McClain in a neck hold, leading to McClain briefly losing consciousness. McClain can be heard on the bodycam audio in obvious distress, crying and telling the officers, “I can’t breathe” repeatedly. Police held him on the ground for 15 minutes.
Called to the scene for the original call to 9-1-1 and without examining or questioning McClain, paramedics injected McClain with 500 mg of ketamine, far more than recommended for someone of McClain’s 5’6″ tall, 140-pound stature with pre-existing medical conditions. McClain again fell unconscious; he died three days later at a local hospital.
After multiple investigations, the officers and paramedics involved were all fired or internally disciplined. Some of them are facing possible charges, according to local and state officials. Police officials later admitted officers had no reason to detain McClain that night.
After an initial autopsy, the coroner could not identify a specific cause of death. However, the amended autopsy released Friday considered other than the physical examination of the body; the coroner who conducted the original autopsy did not receive the requested other information, like bodycam footage and other police records that was later made available.
Although the revised autopsy still lists McClain’s cause of death as “undetermined,” as opposed to accident or homicide, the fact that it acknowledges the connection of the ketamine injection to the death will influence if and what prosecutors will charge those involved.