Elijah McClain died of complications from ketamine injection after restraint, coroner says in revised autopsy report


The autopsy report of Elijah McClain, an unarmed black man who died in police custody in Colorado three years ago, has updated the cause of death from “undetermined” to “complications of enforced restraint following ketamine administration,” Adams County Chief Coroner said Monica Brancusia-Jordan said Friday.

In August 2019, while walking home from a store, 23-year-old massage therapist McClain was arrested by Aurora police while answering a call from a “suspicious person.” McClain refused, and he was locked in the carotid artery, police said.

Paramedics diagnosed McLean with “excited delirium” and took the powerful sedative ketamine. He had a heart attack on his way to the hospital. Three days later, he was declared brain dead.

The initial autopsy report listed McClain’s cause of death as “undetermined”.

The coroner’s office received body camera footage, witness statements and other records that were not available until an autopsy was conducted as part of a grand jury investigation. Stephen Cena wrote in a revised autopsy report.

Man sedated during police stop calls for practice ban

“Simply put, this dose of ketamine was too much for the person, and it resulted in an overdose, even though blood levels of ketamine were consistent with ‘therapeutic’ concentrations,” CINa wrote. “I believe Mr. McClain would probably still be alive if he hadn’t taken ketamine.”

Cina, who performed the autopsy with the assistance of Broncucia-Jordan, wrote that based on his training and experience, he still believes the mode of death is “undetermined.”

The pathologist added: “I acknowledge that other reasonable forensic pathologists trained elsewhere may have their own views on deaths in custody, and they may believe that the manner of death in such cases is either homicide, or an accident.”

He added that Cina was unable to determine whether the blockage in the carotid artery contributed to McClain’s death.

But “I have seen no evidence that police-inflicted injuries resulted in death,” he wrote.

Revised autopsy report signed in July 2021. The report was released Friday after a Denver District Court judge granted the coroner’s emergency motion.

McClain, who died within days of interacting with police, revisited the use of carotid stents and ketamine during law enforcement. After the killings of George Floyd and Breonna Taylor by police, his case has gained new attention amid Black Lives Matter protests.

Last year, a grand jury indicted three police officers and two paramedics in the McClain case. They face manslaughter, manslaughter and other charges.

In 2021, the city settled a civil rights lawsuit with the McClains for $15 million, and the Aurora police and fire departments agreed to a consent decree to address patterns of racial bias uncovered by a state investigation.

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