Elijah McClain’s death was caused by complications from a ketamine injection after being restrained, Coroner says in amended autopsy report


In August 2019, McClain, a 23-year-old massage therapist, was walking home from a store when Aurora police officers responding to a “suspicious person” call pulled him over. Police said McClain resisted and was placed in a carotid pole.
Paramedics diagnosed McClain with “shockable delirium” and administered the powerful sedative ketamine. He had a heart attack on the way to the hospital. Three days later, brain death was declared.

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

The coroner’s office obtained body camera footage, witness statements and additional records that were part of a grand jury investigation and were not available prior to the autopsy, pathologist Stephen Cina wrote in the autopsy report.

“In short, this dose of ketamine was excessive for this individual and resulted in an overdose, even though blood ketamine levels were consistent with a ‘therapeutic’ concentration,” CIna wrote. “I believe Mr. McClain would probably be alive except for the administration of ketamine.”

Cina, who assisted Broncucia-Jordan with the autopsy, wrote that based on his training and experience, he still believes the manner of death to be “Undetermined.”

“I recognize that other reasonable coroners trained elsewhere may have their own philosophies about custodial deaths and consider the manner of death in this type of case to be a HOMICIDE or an ACCIDENT,” the pathologist added.

The coroner could not determine whether the carotid artery contributed to McClain’s death, he added.

But “I have not seen that the injuries inflicted by the police contributed to the death,” he wrote.

Elijah McClain's autopsy reviewed for grand jury evidence, but coroner won't release new report

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

In the days following McClain’s fatal interactions with police, there has been renewed scrutiny of carotid and ketamine use during law enforcement stops. His case brought renewed attention to Black Lives Matter protests in the wake of the police killings of George Floyd and Breonna Taylor.

Last year a grand jury indicted three police officers and two paramedics involved in the McClain case. They are charged with murder, criminally negligent homicide and other charges.

In 2021, the city settled a civil rights lawsuit with the McClain family for $15 million, and Aurora police and firefighters agreed to a consent decree to address a pattern of racial bias uncovered by a state investigation.

CNN’s Rebekah Riess contributed to this report.