By Meghan Lopez, Blair Miller
DENVER (KOAA) — Elijah McClain’s autopsy report has been amended based on confidential grand jury information, the chief coroner for Adams County confirmed Friday, but she said she could not say how it was amended because of an oath of compliance she signed to receive the grand jury materials.
Chief Coroner Monica Broncucia-Jordan confirmed Friday afternoon that the autopsy had been amended based off the grand jury information, which was first reported early Friday morning by Allison Sherry of CPR News.
“My hands are tied and I am not permitted to release the Amended Autopsy Report unless and until I am released from the attached Order and Oath,” she said. “The Attorney General’s Office indicated that only the Denver Chief Judge could authorize release of the Autopsy Report. Once I have authorization from that Court to release the Autopsy Report, I will gladly do so.”
She included a Jan. 14 order from Denver District Court Chief Judge Michael A. Martinez allowing the grand jury to release materials to her and a contracted pathologist, Dr. Stephen Cina, as well as a Jan. 19, 2021, oath of compliance she signed saying she understood the “restrictions and limitations” of how she could use the materials.
CPR News filed a lawsuit against the Adams County coroner on Tuesday night seeking to obtain the amended report. Denver7 and other local media organizations have plans to join the lawsuit. Autopsies are typically subject to the Colorado Open Records Act without exemptions.
An amended autopsy report could have sweeping ramifications for the three officers and two paramedics who were indicted in connection with McClain’s death and who are still awaiting arraignment.
The Denver Gazette reported in May that medical experts testified to the grand jury that McClain died of the ketamine he was administered by an Aurora Fire Rescue paramedic.
Former officer Jason Rosenblatt, officers Nathan Woodyard and Randy Roedema, and paramedics Peter Cichuniec and Jeremy Cooper were indicted by the grand jury investigating the case in September 2021 in a 32-count indictment, which includes manslaughter and criminal negligent homicide, among other charges. Their arraignment hearings have been pushed back multiple times, most recently on Aug. 12, when they were rescheduled for Nov. 4.
The November 2019 autopsy report from the contracted pathologist found McClain’s cause and manner of death were “undetermined.” He died on Aug. 30, 2019, six days after officers put him in a carotid hold and paramedics injected him with 500 milligrams of ketamine — far above what was recommended for someone of McClain’s weight — then went into cardiac arrest and was declared braindead several days later.
But after the autopsy report found McClain’s cause of death was undetermined, former Adams County District Attorney Dave Young cleared the three officers involved in McClain’s violent arrest of any criminal charges and Nick Metz, Aurora’s chief of police at the time, said the officers did not violate any of the department’s policies.
“There is no evidence that any of the officers sought to cause injury or death to Mr. McClain. Rather, evidence suggests that they exercised a degree of force they believed necessary to detain him and investigate into his possible criminal activity,” his letter clearing the officers said.
CPR News also previously reported that Broncucia-Jordan met with officers about McClain before determining his cause of death and that officers were present for the autopsy.
A team of independent investigators commissioned by the Aurora City Council issued a report in February 2021 that found the investigation that followed the 23-year-old McClain’s death was flawed.
Former Denver District Attorney Mitch Morrissey said in an interview Friday he had never seen an autopsy report amended during his time in office or since.
“I’ve never seen an autopsy report amended. Autopsy reports are public. They are released,” he said. “They can be released to the media, to the public — unlike a grand jury, where that testimony and things doesn’t come out till after there’s an indictment.”
He said he’d had run-ins with some pathologists who could not come up with a cause of death, and that in most cases, there would be a second report from a different person with more expertise.
“What’s extremely strange about this is that – the one thing, amending it. OK, that’s rare,” he said. “Amending months, or potentially a year after there’s been a determination made by the district attorney, that’s very rare. And that’s, in my opinion, very strange.”
Morrissey explained that in murder cases, prosecutors have to prove the defendant caused the death of a person, so having a cause of death from an autopsy report is important.
“The case you’re talking about, there was no cause of death. And the district attorney relied on that autopsy report to make his determination on if he should file or not, and he chose not to file based on that autopsy report,” Morrissey said. “All of the work that he did, and all of the determinations that he made, then is rendered irrelevant. And so when you pull a switch like that, sure, then a grand jury may indict.”
The arraignments for the five men charged in the case had previously been set to take place on Aug. 12 but were pushed back over procedural matters and a request from the defense for more time to review discovery. In July, a judge found there was strong enough evidence for their cases to proceed in court.
McClain’s mother, Sheneen McClain, said after the arraignments were again pushed back, that she was frustrated and “ready to cuss somebody out.”
“It’s still frustrating because Elijah didn’t get that time. Elijah didn’t even get to walk home,” she said.
Sheneen McClain’s attorney told Denver7 they were unaware of the amended autopsy report until CPR News’ report was published on Friday morning but that they could not comment further because of the pending cases. The city of Aurora settled a lawsuit she filed against the Aurora Police Department last year for $15 million.
This story was originally published Sept. 5, 2022 by KOAA in Colorado Springs, an E.W. Scripps Company.