By Colleen Slevin And Matthew Brown, The Associated Press on December 22, 2023.
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.
It was the last trial against police and paramedics charged in the death of McClain, a 23-year-old Black man 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. This case stands out because it was the first of several recent criminal prosecutions in the U.S. against medical first responders to reach trial, potentially setting the bar for prosecutors in future cases.
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. Cichuniec was also found guilty of second degree assault. They could face years in prison at sentencing.
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, Sheneen, 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.