DENVER — Denver advocates are calling for change to Aurora’s city charter after an officer who was acquitted in the 2019 death of Elijah McClain returned to the force.
A jury found Officer Nathan Woodyard not guilty of reckless manslaughter and criminally negligent homicide following an 11-day trial.
Woodyard was suspended without pay in Sept. 2021 following his indictment, per requirements outlined in the Aurora City Charter. That suspension was lifted following his Nov. 6 acquittal.
Woodyard has elected to reintegrate with the Aurora Police Department, according to Ryan Luby, deputy director of the communications and marketing department for the City of Aurora. The officer is currently on restricted duty, meaning he is not in uniform and has no public contact or enforcement actions, per Luby.
“Indictment of a member of the Civil Service, or the filing of an information or felony complaint against him by a prosecuting agency, charging any felony shall be cause for an immediate and indefinite suspension without pay upon order of the Chief, provided that such suspension shall be terminated by restoration to the service or by discharge as soon as the decision of the court becomes final. If the member of the Civil Service is restored to his position, he shall receive full pay for the entire period of such suspension and his eligibility for other benefits of the Service shall not be deemed to have been interrupted by such suspension. The conviction of a member of the Civil Service for a felony shall result in discharge from the Civil Service.”
The reintegration process is used to “bring [officers] up to speed on changes to workplace practices and policies,” Luby explained. The length of a reintegration period is unique to each officer depending on the length of their absence and other circumstances.
Once the reintegration process is complete, Woodyard would be eligible for reassignment to a position within the department at the chief’s discretion, according to Luby.
Per the city’s charter, Woodyard will also receive full pay for the entire period of his suspension. The city said Woodyard is entitled to $212,546.04 in back pay.
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Advocates are protesting Woodyard’s return. Dr. Thomas Mayes, president of the Denver Ministerial Alliance, said Aurora’s charter should be changed.
“The charter was written 40 years ago, 50 years ago. Why are you still governing your city by a charter that old?” said Mayes. “It’s almost a reward, he got a paid vacation now.”
Although Woodyard won’t be on patrol duty, Mayes said his presence alone at the department is a concern. He argues that the decision on whether or not Woodyard should be allowed to return should lie with the police chief.
“We can’t trust him, because his conscience somehow allowed him to return,” said Mayes. “If your conscience cannot override wrong, then you should not be in a position of public safety.”
Woodyard was one of five people — three officers and two paramedics — indicted in the death of Elijah McClain. His trial began on Oct. 17, just a day after a split verdict was reached in the combined trials against former Aurora Police Officers Randy Roedema and Jason Rosenblatt. Roedema was found guilty of criminally negligent homicide and third-degree assault. Rosenblatt was acquitted of all charges.
A jury on Wednesday heard opening statements in the trial for two paramedics, Peter Cichuniec and Jeremy Cooper. They have both been charged with reckless manslaughter, criminally negligent homicide and assault, plus sentence enhancers. The paramedics are accused of injecting a significant amount of ketamine into McClain, causing him to overdose.
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