Officer Charged in Elijah McClain’s Killing Claims He ‘Was Expecting to Get Shot’ When He Held the Black Man In Chokehold, But Prosecutors Say the Dead Man Was Unarmed

An Aurora, Colorado, police officer who is one of five people criminally charged for the 2019 death of Elijah McClain testified in court for the first time this week.

He said he had to remove himself from the scene because he was so overwhelmed after administering a chokehold on the unarmed 5-foot-7, 140-pound Black man the officer says he feared was going to kill him during the confrontation with three cops.

Officer Nathan Woodyard, who is currently suspended from the force, has been on trial since Oct. 17. He has been charged with reckless manslaughter.

Officer Charged in Elijah McClain’s Killing Says He 'Was Expecting to Get Shot,' But the Dead Man Was Unarmed
Elijah McClain died on Aug. 30, 2019, after being restrained by Aurora Police officers. (Photo:

Weeks after the trial started, he finally was able to share his account of what happened that night of Aug. 30, 2019.

According to Woodyard, looking back on the night, he profoundly regrets his decision to employ a carotid hold, a maneuver that cut off blood flow to the 23-year-old’s brain, briefly causing McClain to lose consciousness before he later would be administered a fatal dose of ketamine by paramedics officers called to the scene.

The Aurora Police Department officer took the stand on Wednesday, Nov. 1, stating he had to leave the other officers and McClain to regain his composure after administering the hold.  He also admitted that he did not follow a number of training protocols and requirements mandated by his department.

Woodyard tearfully detailed a litany of things he did wrong and said he wished he had done things differently, including putting his hands on McClain within eight seconds of getting out of his patrol car.

Woodyard, the first person confronting McClain during that deadly encounter, was stopping him because a 911 caller claimed the slender African-American looked “sketchy” as he was walking home and waving his arms while listening to music on his earbuds.


Another revelation Woodyard made on the stand is that he regretted trusting his fellow officers to “take care” of McClain.

Woodyard said he remembers when things escalated for him. He recalled hearing McClain say, “I intend to take my power back,” right before former officer Randy Roedema said to ex-cop Jason Rosenblatt, “He just grabbed your gun, dude.”

The prosecution would later dispute the claim that the Black man was reaching for the gun despite it being central to two other officers’ defense. No such action during the encounter has been evident from officers’ body camera videos.

However, thinking that McClain was trying to get the firearm struck fear in Woodyard’s heart.

“I was expecting to get shot, and I thought I’d never see my wife again,” The Associated Press reports he said on the witness stand, and that is why he said he used the hold on the handcuffed McClain, which is now banned in the state of Colorado.

Woodyard testified that after the neck hold, he heard McClain say he couldn’t breathe, so he removed his mask. He thought McClain could breathe when he laid on his side in what is called the recovery position, not face down.

There is a dispute about Woodyard’s conduct in this instance.

According to Senior Assistant Attorney General Jason Slothouber, Woodyard just left McClain after using the hold. He should have offered more concern since he used severe force. In talking about putting McClain on his side to help him breathe better, the prosecutor said Woodyard did not do enough.

“You could have said, ‘Put this guy in the recovery position first,’ but you didn’t,” Slothouber said.

Prosecutors told the court Woodyard was more worried about the administrative duties of the evening than how the young man was doing.

Closing arguments are scheduled to take place in court on the morning of Friday, Nov. 3.

In a split verdict rendered in October, Roedema was convicted of criminally negligent homicide and third-degree assault in McClain’s death. Rosenblatt, who also faced murder charges, was subsequently acquitted.

The trial of the two paramedics charged in McClain’s death is scheduled to start this month.

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