AP

Paramedics found guilty in death of Elijah McClain, who they injected with an overdose of ketamine

Dec 22, 2023, 8:00 PM

FILE - Demonstrators carry a giant placard during a rally and march over the death of 23-year-old E...

FILE - Demonstrators carry a giant placard during a rally and march over the death of 23-year-old Elijah McClain outside the police department in Aurora, Colo., June 27, 2020. A Colorado prosecutor says two paramedics failed to properly care for McClain when they overdosed the Black man with a sedative that he didn’t need. McClain died after being stopped and forcibly restrained by police officers and then injected with ketamine in 2019 in the Denver suburb of Aurora. (AP Photo/David Zalubowski, File)

(AP Photo/David Zalubowski, File)

BRIGHTON, Colo. (AP) — Two Denver-area paramedics were convicted Friday in the 2019 killing of Elijah McClain, who they injected with an overdose of the sedative ketamine after police put him in a neck hold.


The case over the 23-year-old Black man’s death was the first among several recent criminal prosecutions against medical first responders to reach trial, potentially setting the bar for prosecutors in future cases.


It also was the last of three trials against police and paramedics charged in the death of McClain, whose case received little attention until protests over the 2020 killing of George Floyd in Minneapolis. An Aurora police officer was convicted of homicide and third degree assault earlier this year while two officers were acquitted.


The jury found Aurora Fire Rescue paramedics Jeremy Cooper and Peter Cichuniec guilty of criminally negligent homicide following a weekslong trial in state district court. The jury also found Cichuniec guilty on one of two second-degree assault charges. Cooper was found not guilty on the assault charges. They could face years in prison at sentencing.


McClain’s mother, Sheneen, raised her fist in the air as she left the courtroom. Sitting in the front row, Cooper’s wife sobbed as deputies prepared to handcuff him.


The outcome could set a precedent going forward for how emergency personnel respond to situations with people in police custody, said University of Miami criminologist Alex Piquero.


“Imagine if you’re a paramedic,” Piquero said. “They could be hesitant. They could say, ‘I’m not going to do anything’ or ‘I’m going to do less. I don’t want to be found guilty.'”


The verdict was announced after two days of deliberations. When jurors told the judge Friday afternoon they were stuck on one of the charges, the judge told them to keep trying to reach a verdict.


Police stopped McClain while he was walking home from a convenience store on Aug. 24, 2019, following a suspicious person complaint. After an officer said McClain reached for an officer’s gun — a claim disputed by prosecutors — another officer put him in a neck hold that rendered him temporarily unconscious. Officers also pinned down McClain before Cooper injected him with an overdose of ketamine. Cichuniec was the senior officer and said it was his decision to use ketamine.


Prosecutors said the paramedics did not conduct basic medical checks of McClain, such as taking his pulse, before giving him the ketamine. The dose was too much for someone of his size — 140 pounds (64 kilograms), experts testified. Prosecutors say they also did not monitor McClain immediately after giving him the sedative but instead left him lying on the ground, making it harder to breathe.


McClain’s pleading words captured on police body camera video, “I’m an introvert and I’m different,” struck a chord with protesters and people around the country.


In a statement released prior to the verdict, McClain’s mother said that everyone present during the police stop of her son displayed a lack of humanity.


“They can not blame their job training for their indifference to evil or their participation in an evil action,” McClain wrote. “That is completely on them. May all of their souls rot in hell when their time comes.”


Defense attorneys argued that the paramedics followed their training in giving ketamine to McClain after diagnosing him with ” excited delirium,” a disputed condition some say is unscientific and has been used to justify excessive force.


The verdicts came after a jury in Washington state cleared three police officers of all criminal charges on Thursday in the 2020 death of Manuel Ellis, a Black man who was shocked, beaten and restrained face-down on a Tacoma sidewalk as he pleaded for breath.


In the Colorado case, the prosecution said Cooper lied to investigators to try to cover up his actions, telling detectives that McClain was actively resisting when he decided to inject McClain with ketamine, even though the body camera showed McClain lying on the ground unconscious. It also disputed Cooper’s claim that McClain tried to get away from police holding him down — and that he took McClain’s pulse as he bent down to give him the shot of ketamine, which others testified they did not see.


“He’s trying to cover up the recklessness of his conduct,” Senior Assistant Attorney General Jason Slothouber told jurors in closing statements.


Cichuniec, who testified along with Cooper this week, said paramedics were trained that they had to work quickly to treat excited delirium with ketamine and said they were told numerous times that it was a safe, effective drug and were not warned about the possibility of it killing anyone.


Colorado now tells paramedics not to give ketamine to people suspected of having the controversial condition known as excited delirium, which has symptoms including increased strength and has been associated with racial bias against Black men.
“We were taught that is a safe drug and it will not kill them,” he testified.


Local authorities in 2019 decided against criminal charges because the coroner’s office could not determine exactly how McClain, a massage therapist, died. Colorado Gov. Jared Polis ordered state Attorney General Phil Weiser’s office to take another look at the case in 2020 and a grand jury indicted the officers and paramedics in 2021.


The killings of McClain, Floyd and others triggered a wave of legislation that put limits on the use of neck holds in more than two dozen states.


When the police stopped McClain he was listening to music and wearing a mask that covered most of his face because he had a blood circulation disorder. The police stop quickly became physical after McClain, seemingly caught off guard, asked to be left alone. He had not been accused of committing any crime.


The officers told investigators that they took McClain down after hearing Officer Randy Roedema say, “He grabbed your gun dude.” Roedema later said Officer Jason Rosenblatt’s gun was the target.


Prosecutors refuted that McClain ever tried to grab an officer’s gun and no such action is seen in body camera footage.


Paramedic injected McClain with ketamine as Roedema — and another officer, who was not charged — held him on the ground. McClain went into cardiac arrest en route to the hospital and died three days later.


Roedema was convicted earlier this month of the least serious charge in a series of charges he could’ve faced, which could lead to a sentence of anywhere from probation to prison time.


Rosenblatt and officer Nathan Woodyard were acquitted of all charges.


In the first trials against the police officers, the defense sought to pin the blame for McClain’s death on the paramedics.


The city of Aurora in 2021 agreed to pay $15 million to settle a lawsuit brought by McClain’s parents.

We want to hear from you.

Have a story idea or tip? Send it to the KSL NewsRadio team here.

AP

February, 29, otherwise know as leap year day, is shown on a calendar Sunday, Feb. 25, 2024, in Ove...

LEANNE ITALIE AP Lifestyles Writer

What would happen without a Leap Day? More than you might think

Leap year. It's a delight for the calendar and math nerds among us. So how did it all begin and why?

1 day ago

Republican presidential candidate former President Donald Trump speaks at a primary election night ...

MEG KINNARD and WILL WEISSERT Associated Press

Trump wins South Carolina, easily beating Haley in her home state and closing in on GOP nomination

Donald Trump won South Carolina's Republican primary on Saturday further consolidating his path to a third straight GOP nomination.

6 days ago

Hannah Gutierrez-Reed, center, sits with her attorney Jason Bowles, left, during the first day of t...

MORGAN LEE Associate Press

Negligence or scapegoating? Trial of ‘Rust’ armorer begins in fatal shooting by Alec Baldwin

Prosecutors sought to pin blame on a movie weapons supervisor for bringing live ammunition on set that contributed to the fatal shooting of a cinematographer by Alec Baldwin during production of the film "Rust."

7 days ago

A pail rests next to caution tape on a beach in Lauderdale-by-the-Sea, Fla., on Tuesday, Feb. 20, 2...

Associated Press

Young girl killed when a hole she dug in the sand collapsed on a Florida beach, authorities said

A young girl died Tuesday when a deep hole she was digging collapsed on her at a south Florida beach, authorities said.

9 days ago

A Gila monster is displayed at the Woodland Park Zoo in Seattle, Dec. 14, 2018....

MEAD GRUVER Associated Press

A Colorado man is dead after a pet Gila monster bite

A Colorado man has died after being bitten by his pet Gila monster in what would be a rare death if the creature's venom was the cause.

9 days ago

Visitors stand at the closed gates leading to the Eiffel Tower, Tuesday, Feb. 20, 2024 in Paris....

OLEG CETINIC Associated Press

Eiffel Tower operator warns the landmark is closed as strike turns visitors away for a second day

A strike at the Eiffel Tower over poor financial management turned away visitors on Tuesday for the second consecutive day.

10 days ago

Sponsored Articles

Mother and cute toddler child in a little fancy wooden cottage, reading a book, drinking tea and en...

Visit Bear Lake

How to find the best winter lodging in Bear Lake, Utah

Winter lodging in Bear Lake can be more limited than in the summer, but with some careful planning you can easily book your next winter trip.

Happy family in winter clothing at the ski resort, winter time, watching at mountains in front of t...

Visit Bear Lake

Ski more for less: Affordable ski resorts near Bear Lake, Utah

Plan your perfect ski getaway in Bear Lake this winter, with pristine slopes, affordable tickets, and breathtaking scenery.

front of the Butch Cassidy museum with a man in a cowboy hat standing in the doorway...

Bear Lake Convention and Visitors Bureau

Looking Back: The History of Bear Lake

The history of Bear Lake is full of fascinating stories. At over 250,000 years old, the lake has seen generations of people visit its shores.

silhouette of a family looking over a lake with a bird in the top corner flying...

Bear Lake Convention and Visitors Bureau

8 Fun Activities To Do in Bear Lake Without Getting in the Water

Bear Lake offers plenty of activities for the whole family to enjoy without having to get in the water. Catch 8 of our favorite activities.

Wellsville Mountains in the spring with a pond in the foreground...

Wasatch Property Management

Advantages of Renting Over Owning a Home

Renting allows you to enjoy luxury amenities and low maintenance without the long-term commitment and responsibilities of owning a home.

Clouds over a red rock vista in Hurricane, Utah...

Wasatch Property Management

Why Southern Utah is a Retirement Paradise

Retirement in southern Utah offers plenty of cultural and recreational opportunities. Find out all that this region has to offer.

Paramedics found guilty in death of Elijah McClain, who they injected with an overdose of ketamine