A judge sentenced a former Colorado police officer convicted of killing Elijah McClain, a Black pedestrian, to 14 months of jail with work release and four years of probation.
With this, former Aurora Police Officer Randy Roedema will be able to serve his sentence with work release, instead of straight jail, following his deadly encounter with McClain on Aug. 24, 2019.
Adams County District Judge Mark Warner, who handed down the sentence Friday, said his ruling was influenced both by the indifference shown by the officer but also his “good character” and the likelihood he can be rehabilitated.
The sentence’s 14 months in county jail with work release are for a third-degree assault charge and the four years’ probation are for a criminally negligent homicide charge, to be served concurrently with the jail sentence. He was also sentenced to 200 hours of community service.
An Adams County jury found Roedema guilty of the two charges in October. That panel had considered a more serious charge of reckless manslaughter against Roedema before opting for the lesser felony.
Roedema was scheduled to report to jail on March 22.
Warner noted his order was for Roedema to serve time in a county facility and not in state prison. Though it was not the zero time requested by the officer’s defense, the sentence reflected the judge’s belief that he has “rehabilitative potential.”
Still, Warner said in handing down the sentence, the victim “really wasn’t much of a threat to anybody.”
McClain, 23, was walking home in the Denver suburb over four years ago when police stopped him for wearing a ski mask and allegedly looking suspicious.
When police told McClain to stop, he said he was an introvert and asked them to “please respect the boundaries that I am speaking,” bodycam video of the confrontation showed.
McClain was eventually wrestled to the ground, handcuffed and injected with the sedative ketamine by paramedics who responded to the scene. He died at the hospital on Aug. 30 from “ketamine toxicity,” an autopsy found.
Colorado Attorney General Phil Weiser said in a statement the sentence is “appropriate and serious” for Roedema, “who, as the judge noted, showed shocking indifference to the life of Elijah McClain.”
“This sentence is necessary to demonstrate that officers who betray their training and their vow to protect members of the community are held accountable,” he said.
Weiser said state law enforcement regulators will begin the process of revoking Roedema’s badge, which is required for felons under Colorado law.
‘Bully with a badge’
McClain’s mother, Sheneen McClain, called the officer “a bully with a badge.”
She told the court on Friday: “That night on Aug. 24, 2019, protecting our community was the furthest thing from Randy Roedema’s mind.”
Following the sentence, she expressed disappointment in the process, starting with jury selection and concluding with Friday’s sentence.
“This is not justice,” she said. “This is not accountability. This is just a slap on the wrist. Because what happened to my son is murder.”
Prosecutors had asked for three years behind bars while the former officer’s attorneys asked for him to walk free on probation.
Roedema had no criminal history and had served his country as a Marine in combat, his lawyers said, making him an ideal candidate for a nonprison sentence.
In addressing the court Friday before the sentencing, Roedema said he grieves McClain’s death.
“I want the McClain family to know the sadness I feel about Elijah being gone,” Roedema said. “He was young.”
He said he thinks often about what happened that night.
“I cannot help but to contemplate all the different scenarios that could have taken place that evening that may have resulted in a different outcome,” Roedema said.
Despite the conviction, Roedema appeared to say he acted lawfully and under his training.
“I wish that bystander would not have made that call,” Roedema said. “Unfortunately, the call was made and we all responded to the incident in way we were trained to do.”
Prosecutor Jason Slothouber used Roedema’s words against the defendant, telling the court they showed lack of remorse.
“No acknowledgement of the gross deviations from his training, in fact quite the opposite, ‘We responded in the way we were trained to do,’” Slothouber said. “No. No they didn’t. The defendant deliberately hurt Elijah McClain.”
The 5-foot-7, 140-pound McClain was given an amount of ketamine appropriate for a 190-pound man, according to an independent probe commissioned by the city of Aurora.
A coroner’s conclusion on McClain’s death said he suffered from “excited delirium,” a term the group Physicians for Human Rights said has no basis in medical science.
His was among multiple “excited delirium” deaths in police custody in recent years that highlighted authorities’ use of the term, which has been banned in California as an official cause of death.
In December, the Colorado Peace Officer Standards and Training board voted to nix the term from its manual.
Officers and paramedics on trial
Roedema was among five first responders to stand trial for McClain’s death.
Paramedics Peter Cichuniec and Jeremy Cooper were found guilty of criminally negligent homicide on Dec. 22.
Aurora Police Officer Nathan Woodyard was acquitted Nov. 6 on charges of reckless manslaughter and criminally negligent homicide. He had been suspended after being indicted, but has since returned to work.
The jury that convicted Roedema found Aurora Officer Jason Rosenblatt not guilty of reckless manslaughter, criminally negligent homicide and assault. Rosenblatt was fired after it emerged that he had texted “ha ha” to fellow officers who had texted him a picture of a memorial honoring McClain.