Colorado paramedics convicted in the death of Elijah McClain

A Colorado jury on Friday convicted two paramedics stemming from a deadly police confrontation with Elijah McClain, a Black pedestrian, in 2019.

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

Cichuniec and Cooper, who were suspended after being charged, were among five first responders who were criminally charged in connection with McClain’s death.

Aurora Police Officer Nathan Woodyard was acquitted Nov. 6 on charges of reckless manslaughter and criminally negligent homicide. 

Woodyard had been suspended after being indicted but was eligible to return to work after being cleared.

A jury on Oct. 12 convicted Officer Randy Roedema of criminally negligent homicide and third-degree assault. Roedema’s sentencing was set for Jan. 5.

That same panel found Officer Jason Rosenblatt not guilty of reckless manslaughter, criminally negligent homicide and assault.

Rosenblatt was fired after it emerged that he texted “ha ha” to fellow officers who had texted him a picture of a memorial honoring McClain.

The trials stem from actions taken Aug. 24, 2019, after McClain purchased iced tea from a corner store and was walking home when police confronted him.

Elijah McClain.Courtesy Mari Newman

Officers were responding to a report of a suspicious person wearing a ski mask and waving his arms. McClain regularly wore masks because of a blood condition that made him feel cold, family members have said.

McClain told officers he was an introvert and asked them to “please respect the boundaries that I am speaking,” according to bodycam video of the confrontation.

Woodyard appeared to be the first person to talk to McClain and touch him after saying: “Stop, stop stop, stop, I have a right to stop you because you’re being suspicious.”

McClain said he was going home and asked to be left alone, footage showed.

He was eventually tackled by officers, who said they believed he was reaching for one of their guns. There’s been no evidence that showed McClain trying to take a police officer’s firearm.

Woodyard put McClain in a chokehold that forced him into unconsciousness, prosecutors have said.

Responding paramedics Cichuniec and Cooper injected McClain with the powerful sedative ketamine after police video showed him writhing on the ground, saying, “I can’t breathe, please,” and throwing up. He apologized for vomiting.

Image: Paramedic Jeremy Cooper
Paramedic Jeremy Cooper and his wife make their way to the courtroom Dec. 1, at the Adams County Courthouse in Brighton, Colo.Philip B. Poston / Sentinel Colorado via AP file
Image: Paramedic Peter Cichuniec
Paramedic Peter Cichuniec and his wife make their way to the courtroom Dec. 1, at the Adams County Courthouse in Brighton, Colo.Philip B. Poston / Sentinel Colorado via AP file

After being injected, McClain had no pulse in the ambulance, went into cardiac arrest and died Aug. 30, 2019.

The Adams County coroner found that 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 responding paramedics sedated him with ketamine “without conducting anything more than a brief visual observation.”

McClain, who was 5-foot-7, 140 pounds, was given an amount of ketamine appropriate for a 190-pound man, the probe found.

That report also stated that policies should better spell out the duties of paramedics responding to a police scene and that those medics not act as an “arm” of law enforcement.

McClain’s death prompted months of protests demanding justice and police reform. The case garnered more national attention in 2020 after George FLoyd was murdered by then-Minneapolis Police Officer Derek Chauvin.

This is a developing story. Please check back for updates.

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