DENVER (AP) — A judge sentenced an ex-Colorado police officer to 14 months in jail for his role in the death of Elijah McClain after hearing the young Black man’s mother on Friday call the officer a “bully with a badge” who will always have blood on his hands.
The officer, Randy Roedema, was the most senior law enforcement member to initially respond to the scene and the only one found guilty. A jury convicted him in October of criminally negligent homicide, which is a felony, and third-degree assault, which is a misdemeanor.
The 23-year-old’s killing on Aug. 24, 2019, received little attention at the time but gained renewed interest the following year as mass protests swept the nation over the murder of George Floyd by Minneapolis police. McClain’s death became a rallying cry for critics of racial injustice in policing.
In a separate trial, two paramedics were recently convicted for injecting McClain with an overdose of the sedative ketamine after police put him in a neck hold. Sentencing for the paramedics will come in March.
Before Judge Mark Warner handed down the sentence, McClain’s mother, Sheneen McClain, raged against Roedema after he expressed remorse but stopped short of apologizing.
“Randy Roedema stole my son’s life,” she said. “All the belated apologies in the world can’t remove my son’s blood from Randy Roedema’s hands.”
Protecting the community was “the furthest thing from his mind” the night her son was stopped walking home from the store, she said.
She hugged a supporter and wiped tears as she sat back down.
Senior Assistant Attorney General Jason Slothouber described how, in the last minutes of McClain’s life, he struggled to breathe through vomit yet still faced violence from Roedema who picked him up, slammed him down, and dug his knee into his back.
The lack of compassion was all the more startling, Slothouber said, after he read all 76 letters friends, relatives and associates wrote in Roedema’s support.
“I don’t know why that compassion and that care that his friends and his family, the people who served with him, talk about, was not there for Elijah McClain. But it clearly wasn’t,” Slothouber said.
Roedema also spoke at the hearing, as well as his sister and former military colleagues. Roedema was a U.S. Marine who was wounded in Iraq.
“I want the McClain family to know the sadness I feel about Elijah being gone. He was young,” Roedema said.
Roedema said he wished the initial 911 call that reported McClain looking suspicious that night had never been made. But he didn’t comment about anything he could have done differently.
“We all responded to that incident in a way that we were all trained to do. Needless to say, the situation had a horrible outcome that nobody intended or wanted to happen,” Roedema said.
Roedema’s sister, Kayleine Roedema, talked about how he helps her care for their mother “without hesitation” and continues to be a “big brother” who is relied upon by their whole family.
“It hurts me because I know him and I know better. He’s a loving husband and father, son and brother, cousin and friend. It’s so hard for me to imagine how it could be beneficial for him to serve time in jail,” Kayleine Roedema said.
Roedema’s lawyer Don Sisson declined to comment on the sentence as he left court with Roedema and his wife. A deputy escorted them to their cars.
McClain was stopped by police after a 911 caller reported that he looked suspicious. Another officer put his hands on McClain within seconds, beginning a struggle and restraint that lasted about 20 minutes before paramedics injected him with the ketamine.
Experts say the sedative ultimately killed McClain, who was already weakened from struggling to breathe while being pinned down after inhaling vomit into his lungs.
Roedema helped hold McClain down while paramedics administered the ketamine. He was often visible in the body camera footage shown over and over to jurors, and he could be heard directing others how to restrain him.
“I don’t think anybody who’s been involved in this case can unsee what was on the videos or what was depicted on those videos,” Warner said before sentencing Roedema.
Warner, who said he was shocked by what appeared to be indifference to McClain’s suffering after he was handcuffed, could have sentenced Roedema to up to three years in prison for his felony conviction but chose instead to give him four years of parole and for the felony and a jail sentence for the misdemeanor.
Warner said that would lead to Roedema being behind bars longer since he would likely be paroled after about a year if he was sent to state prison. He also could have been eligible to be sent to a halfway house before that too, under prison rules.
The sentencing includes the option of work release. He must report to jail by March 22.
Sheneen McClain called the sentence afterward “a slap on the wrist.” Roedema’s attorney has said he will appeal the conviction.
The same jury that convicted Roedema acquitted former officer Jason Rosenblatt, whose lawyers stressed that he wasn’t close to McClain when the ketamine was injected.
A different jury acquitted officer Nathan Woodyard a few weeks later, after he testified that he put McClain in a neck hold, briefly rendering him unconscious. Woodyard testified that he feared for his life after Roedema said McClain had grabbed for one of their guns. Prosecutors say the gun grab never happened.
Aurora Fire Rescue paramedics Jeremy Cooper and Peter Cichuniec were convicted last month. Cichuniec, the senior officer, was found guilty of the most serious charge faced by any of the first responders: felony second-degree assault. It carries a prison sentence of between five and 16 years in prison.
Though tragic, Elijah McClain’s death has brought about positive changes in Colorado, including laws barring police from directing ketamine to be used, requiring first responders to intervene if they see someone put in danger by other first responders, and requiring police to wear body cameras, Slothouber said.
“Elijah McClain’s life mattered,” he said.