The three Aurora cops who, among them, stopped and tackled and choked Elijah McClain while ignoring the 23-year-old’s pleas that he couldn’t breathe, have now all been tried in a court of law, four years after the violent confrontation that would lead to McClain’s death and to mass demonstrations demanding justice.

But, sadly, if you were among those who had hoped justice would be done, you would have hoped, mostly anyway, in vain. 

As you probably know by now, two of the cops have been found not guilty of all charges, including Nathan Woodyard, who was acquitted on Monday of reckless manslaughter and criminally negligent homicide.

And in the first trial, one cop, Jason Rosenblatt, was found not guilty of all charges, while the other, Randy Roedema, was found guilty only of a single lesser charge, for which he may not even do prison time. 

It’s a crime.

Oh, wait. It apparently wasn’t a crime — or if it was, only a lesser crime for only one cop. It was, however, a major miscarriage of justice.

And so McClain, who had done absolutely nothing wrong, who had not been accused of doing anything wrong, who was simply walking home from a convenience store, who was wearing a ski mask because he often wore a ski mask, who did not deserve to die, who didn’t even deserve to be stopped by the cops, who should be alive and happy today, didn’t get the justice he deserved.

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It was heartbreaking to see Sheneen McClain, Elijah’s mother, who has spent years seeking justice for her child, once again wiping away tears in an Adams County courtroom, which she left with a fist raised in protest.

The raised fist was fitting, since protests following the police killing of George Floyd would lead to protests in the death of Elijah McClain, who had been killed a year earlier. It would lead to a $15 million settlement paid to the McClain family by the city of Aurora. It would lead to a 157-page document, ordered by the Aurora city council, that would put the blame on the Aurora cops who tackled McClain, on those Aurora cops who investigated the cops, on the DA who wouldn’t bring a case to trial, on the paramedics who ignored all protocols in delivering the fatal dose of ketamine.

It wasn’t just that McClain died for no reason. It wasn’t just that the 911 caller who alerted police about McClain said only that he looked “sketchy.” No mention of a crime, of a weapon, of anything but looking strange. 

After reading the report, the inarguable conclusion is that the only innocent person involved was McClain, whose great crime, it turned out, was Walking While Black.

In any case, there’s justice and there’s justice. And here are some points to consider in the trials of the three Aurora cops.

Woodyard was the first cop to approach McClain, stopping him without identifying himself or explaining why he was putting hands on McClain. He was the cop who told McClain to “relax, or I’m going to have to change this situation,” as McClain tried to break from Woodyard’s grip.

And, yes, Woodyard was the cop who would put McClain in a carotid restraint hold — a controversial neck hold that stops flow of blood to the brain and temporarily renders the choked person unconscious. The use of the chokehold has since been banned in Colorado and other states. 

In explaining why he used the carotid hold, Woodyard testified that he heard one of the cops say, “He just grabbed your gun, dude,” and said he feared for his life. Roedema did warn about the gun, but there’s no body cam evidence from the shadowy video that McClain actually went for anyone’s gun. From what we have learned about McClain as a person, there’s every chance, as we heard him begging to be let go and to be left alone, that he wasn’t the type to go for anyone’s gun.

But McClain couldn’t testify because, well, you know. But here’s a guess: If he could have, I’m guessing he might have said he was the one who rightfully feared for his life.

What we do know is that if Woodyard had made a friendly approach to McClain — who was stopped because a 911 call said he looked strange, but not criminal — instead of grabbing him, McClain would probably not be dead.

If Woodyard had asked McClain what he was doing (going home), what was in his bag (iced tea), why he was wearing a mask (his sister said it was because he had anemia), McClain would probably not be dead.

If Woodyard, as he admitted on the stand, had done anything to deescalate the situation, the cops would never have tackled McClain, there would have been no ketamine and McClain would probably not be dead.

If Woodyard hadn’t applied the carotid hold, as one doctor testified, McClain would probably not be dead.

If the cops had treated McClain’s claim that he couldn’t breathe — having choked on his own vomit — as a medical emergency, as they’re trained to do, McClain would probably not be dead.

If they did the routine follow-up care following a carotid hold, as they are trained to do, McClain would probably not be dead.

If the cops hadn’t decided, with little cause, that McClain was displaying “excited delirium” — a controversial call often reserved for Black men showing “superhuman” strength — then the paramedics wouldn’t have used ketamine, and McClain would probably not be dead.

Of course, if the paramedics had not ignored nearly all their training in giving McClain the wrong dose of ketamine without any investigation on their part, McClain almost certainly wouldn’t be dead. And it’s fair to guess that the two paramedics who are going to trial at the end of the month may take the brunt of the legal blame for McClain’s death.

After leaving the courtroom, Sheneen McClain told 9News how she felt about the latest verdict in her son’s death.

“I wanted to hit somebody, she said. “I wanted to kick something. I wanted to take out my vengeance on the ones that murdered my son, because there is no accountability within the justice system, and today proves it once again.”

The logic — if not the law, as determined by two separate juries — insists that justice wasn’t done as it applied to the three cops.

In fact, the logic, and also the heart, insist that justice, in this case, hardly applied at all.

Mike Littwin has been a columnist for too many years to count. He has covered Dr. J, four presidential inaugurations, six national conventions and countless brain-numbing speeches in the New Hampshire and Iowa snow. Sign up for Mike’s newsletter.

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