US ambos found guilty for injecting police suspect with lethal sedative

Like George Floyd before him, Elijah McClain's death has filled the streets with protesters.

Like George Floyd before him, Elijah McClain's death has filled the streets with protesters. Photo: AP

Two Colorado paramedics have been found guilty of criminally negligent homicide for their role in the 2019 death of Elijah McClain, a young black man who died after police roughly detained him, put him in a choke hold, and the medics injected him with a powerful sedative.

The trial of paramedics Jeremy Cooper, 49, and Peter Cichuniec, 51, was the last of three involving the death of McClain, 23, who was stopped by police after a bystander reported he looked suspicious.

He was not alleged to have committed any crime.

As well as finding both men guilty of criminally negligent homicide – punishable by up to three years in prison – the jury also found Cichuniec guilty of assault in the second degree for the administration of the sedative.

Judge Mark Warner on Friday ordered Cichuniec be taken into custody immediately, while Cooper remained free on bond pending a March 1 sentencing.

‘Still seeking justice’

McClain’s mother, Sheneen McClain, wept outside the courthouse as a supporter of the McClain family, MiDian Holmes, spoke on her behalf.

“We do not know justice until we see sentencing,” Holmes said.

“So, Judge Warner, you now have a responsibility. We are still seeking justice.”

Colorado Attorney-General Phil Weiser said accountability would not end with the convictions, saying much more work needed to be done to prevent the deaths of innocents at the hands of police and other first responders.

The first trial ended with one police officer being found guilty of criminally negligent homicide and another acquitted.

The second ended with a third officer being acquitted.

Cooper and Cichuniec both took the stand during their trial in Adams County District Court near Denver.

Violated protocols

They told the jury they believed the sedative ketamine was required to calm McClain, and that police officers who were roughly detaining him interfered with their ability to quickly treat him.

But prosecutors argued the paramedics violated their training protocols by failing to examine McClain before injecting him with the maximum allowed dose of ketamine.

Prosecutors said the paramedics incorrectly decided that McClain was in a state of “excited delirium”, a condition many medical experts argue does not exist.

The defence arguing that, based on the training available in 2019, the paramedics acted appropriately.

Police confronted McClain in August 2019 after reports that a man was dressed in a winter coat and ski mask on a warm night, and was acting suspiciously as he walked home from a convenience store.

Police laid hands on McClain within seconds of stopping him and put him in a carotid chokehold at least twice.

He vomited into his ski mask and repeatedly told officers he could not breathe.

Local prosecutors initially declined to file charges. That changed following the May 2020 killing of George Floyd, a black man who died at the hands of Minneapolis police.

After Floyd’s death ignited global protests, Colorado Governor Jared Polis in June 2020 asked the state attorney-general’s office to investigate McClain’s case.


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