Amended Autopsy Report: McClain Died Due to Ketamine

Forensic pathologist's findings, made in July 2021, were just publicly released Friday
By Jenn Gidman,  Newser Staff
Posted Sep 24, 2022 8:00 AM CDT
Amended Autopsy Report: McClain Died Due to Ketamine
A demonstrator carries an image of Elijah McClain during a rally and march in Aurora, Colo., on June 27, 2020.   (AP Photo/David Zalubowski, File)

An unusual amended autopsy report for Elijah McClain, the 23-year-old Black man who died after Colorado paramedics injected him with ketamine to sedate him during a police encounter, is drawing attention for a notable change. "I believe this tragic fatality is most likely the result of ketamine toxicity," forensic pathologist Stephen Cina writes in the just-released report, dated from July 2021, per NBC News. The original autopsy from November 2019 had noted that McClain's cause of death couldn't be determined. And despite Cina's finding, McClain's manner of death is still listed as "undetermined," not as a homicide, notes the AP. That's because, Cina writes in the report, he can't be sure if other factors were also at play in McClain's death, such as "metabolic abnormalities" due to the stress he was under during the Aug. 24, 2019, incident.

Still, "I believe that Mr. McClain would most likely be alive but for the administration of ketamine," Cina notes in the report. Before being injected by paramedics, McClain, a massage therapist, had been placed in a chokehold by police officers responding to a call about a suspicious person. He died a week after the encounter. Ian Farrell, an associate professor at the University of Denver, notes that such a change in an autopsy report isn't something you often see. "In order for there to be a second autopsy, you have to have some reason to think that there was a problem with the first one," he tells NBC. Cina defends the original autopsy report, noting that opinions formed then "were based on the information available at that time."

He says the second autopsy report came after his office gained access to more materials, including "extensive body camera footage, witness statements, and additional records." "It is worth noting that these materials had been requested prior to release of the initial autopsy report but the material was either not provided to us or not provided to us in their entirety," he writes. The updated autopsy was released after Colorado Public Radio and other media groups sued for access to it. Coroner Monica Broncucia-Jordan had tried to keep it under wraps, saying it contained confidential grand-jury info. Three former and current police officers and two paramedics in Aurora have been indicted in the case on manslaughter and reckless homicide charges. They'll be arraigned on Nov. 4. (Read more Elijah McClain stories.)

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