US: Paramedic Given Five Years in Jail for Sedative Death of Elijah McClain during Arrest

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Peter Cichuniec and a fellow paramedic were convicted in December of criminally negligent homicide for injecting McClain with ketamine, a powerful sedative ultimately blamed for killing the 23-year-old massage therapist.

A Colorado paramedic was sentenced Friday to five years in prison in the death of Elijah McClain, a Black man who was injected with a fatal dose of ketamine in 2019 after police put him in a chokehold during a confrontation with them.

Paramedics Peter Cichuniec and Jeremy Cooper were found guilty in December of criminally negligent homicide. Cichuniec was also convicted of second-degree assault through the unlawful administration of drugs.

Cichuniec was sentenced on Friday. Cooper’s sentencing is scheduled for April.

Three police officers confronted McClain, a 23-year-old massage therapist, in the Denver suburb of Aurora on the night of August 24, 2019, after someone called them and reported a suspicious person wearing a ski mask – which McClain’s family said he regularly wore because of a blood condition that made him feel cold.

The officers forcibly restrained McClain and put him in a neck hold. Bodycam footage of the incident showed him repeatedly telling officers: “I can’t breathe.”

Paramedics injected him with the powerful sedative ketamine, which left him with no pulse in the ambulance. McClain went into cardiac arrest and never regained consciousness. He died after being removed from life support three days later.

Prosecutors said the paramedics failed to conduct basic medical checks on McClain before injecting him with the maximum dose of ketamine. They had also left him lying on the ground, making it difficult to breathe, and had failed to monitor his condition.

His death initially received little attention from the public. But it faced fresh scrutiny a year later after George Floyd’s death in Minnesota sparked nationwide racial justice protests against police brutality.

The Adams County coroner found McClain died from “complications of ketamine administration following forcible restraint.”

Judge Mark Warner described the tragic outcome of that night as “the death of a young man who was simply walking home from a convenience store.”

“I expect for most people, and certainly this court, it is impossible to un-remember the video images of Elijah McClain’s suffering in the last minutes of his young life,” Warner said before imposing the sentence.

Cichuniec, who was accompanied in court by his wife and family on Friday, broke down in tears as his wife took the stand to speak on his behalf ahead of the sentencing. He continued to cry as his two sons followed with remarks.

“There are many, many tragedies in my career, but there are people I wish I could say they are OK, but I can’t,” he tearfully told the judge.

“We are not God. I am not God. And we can’t always have a positive outcome. We can’t save everyone … Elijah will always be on my mind, along with all the others,” he continued.

Cichuniec said it “destroys” him that he couldn’t tell McClain’s mother that her son was OK.

Officers Nathan Woodyard and Jason Rosenblatt were acquitted of charges, while Randy Roedema, the third officer, was convicted in October of criminally negligent homicide and third-degree assault.

Roedema was sentenced in January to 14 months in prison. Prosecutors in that case argued that his statement that McClain was “definitely on something" had contributed to the paramedics’ decision to inject him with ketamine.

The city of Aurora in 2021 agreed to pay $15m (£12m) to settle a lawsuit brought by McClain’s parents.