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A Colorado paramedic was sentenced Friday to five years in prison in the death of Elijah McClain, a Black pedestrian who was given a lethal dose of ketamine in 2019 after a confrontation with police.

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

Cichuniec was sentenced to five years in prison Friday. Cooper’s sentencing is scheduled for April.

Police confronted McClain, 23, in Aurora on the night of Aug. 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.

Officers eventually tackled McClain, and paramedics injected him with the powerful sedative ketamine. After he was injected, McClain had no pulse in the ambulance, and he went into cardiac arrest and died six days later, on Aug. 30.

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 broke down in tears as his wife, also crying, took the stand to speak on his behalf ahead of the sentencing. He continued to cry as his two sons followed with remarks.

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

On the stand, McClain’s mom, Sheneen McClain, asserted that Cichuniec should be held responsible for her son’s death. After the sentencing, she left the courthouse with her fist in the air.

“I’m not OK. I never will be,” she said after Friday’s sentence. She said her son was talking when paramedics got there and “they had the opportunity to save him.”

Philip B. Poston / Sentinel Colorado via AP file
Image: Paramedic Peter Cichuniec
Philip B. Poston / Sentinel Colorado via AP file

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

An independent probe commissioned by the city of Aurora found that police had no justification to stop or use force to detain McClain and that responding paramedics sedated him with ketamine “without conducting anything more than a brief visual observation.”

“This sort of callous behavior that kills a young man … is a crime,” Sheneen McClain’s lawyer said, adding that Cichuniec knew he gave McClain too much ketamine and left him prone and vomiting for six minutes.

Warner noted that Cichuniec and others were trained that the condition of “excited delirium” — which Warner called a “now discredited” condition — could be life-threatening. Colorado had allowed EMS to use ketamine to treat it, but state health guidelines have since been changed.

He sentenced Cichuniec to five years in prison on the assault charge, which is the mandatory minimum under the law.

Cichuniec was also sentenced to one year on the criminally negligent homicide charge, to run at the same time as the five-year sentence. He will get credit for 70 days already served in jail, and he will be on parole for three years.

In a statement following the sentencing, Attorney General Phil Weiser called Cichuniec’s sentence “one of accountability for the defendant’s criminal negligence” in McClain’s death.

“It sends a strong message that no profession, whether a paramedic, a nurse, a police officer, an elected official, or a CEO should be immune from criminal prosecution for actions that violate the law and harm people,” Weiser said.

Cichuniec and Cooper are the last two of five first responders who were criminally charged in connection with McClain’s death.

Cooper was the medic on the call and was responsible for crew and patient safety. Cichuniec ordered the ketamine from the ambulance and Cooper injected it, according to a 2021 grand jury indictment.

Aurora police officer Randy Roedema was convicted of criminally negligent homicide and third-degree assault in October; he was sentenced in January to one year and two months in jail.

Officers Nathan Woodyard and Jason Rosenblatt were charged but acquitted by juries.

Read the full article here


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