Paramedic sentenced to 4 years probation in connection with Elijah McClain's death

ByKiara Alfonseca ABCNews logo
Saturday, April 27, 2024

Former paramedic Jeremy Cooper has been sentenced to a four-year probationary sentence Friday after being found guilty of criminally negligent homicide in the final case connected to Elijah McClain's 2019 death.

Prosecutors accused the Aurora, Colorado, paramedic and his co-defendant Peter Cichuniec of administering an excessive amount of ketamine to sedate the 23-year-old McClain after an encounter with police on August 24, 2019. According to department policy, administering ketamine to sedate a suspect is intended "to minimize time struggling."

The paramedics were accused of improperly assessing McClain medically before and after administering the dose of ketamine.

Both men were found guilty of criminally negligent homicide in December. Cichuniec and Cooper were both acquitted of assault in the second degree with intent to cause bodily injury causing serious bodily injury. Cooper was found not guilty of assault in the second-degree unlawful administration of drugs.

Both had pleaded not guilty to their charges.

As part of his sentence, Cooper will serve 14 months in a work release program and complete 100 hours of "useful public service," according to Judge Mark Warner.

Elijah McClain's mother, Sheneen McClain, held back tears as she read an impact statement before the sentencing. She said Cooper "followed the crowd of cowards," and did not show any remorse for his actions.

"I have already experienced so much and I am sure I still have much more to endure for my son," she said.

Colorado Attorney General Phil Weiser said in a statement that with the sentence there was "a measure of justice for Elijah McClain, his family, and loved ones."

"There were many things that the officers and paramedics could have done the night of August 24, 2019 to prevent this deadly encounter," he said.

Warner said it was "somewhat unusual, after being on the bench for 18 years, in criminal for at least half or more of that, being faced with such a situation where you have somebody who has really dedicated his life to helping other people, and yet being involved in a case of this nature, where a young man died for really no reason."

The judge added that Cichuniec was sentenced to five years in prison with a three-year period of parole for assault in the second-degree unlawful administration of drugs and criminally negligent homicide.

He received one year on the criminally negligent homicide conviction that will run concurrent to the five years for the assault conviction. The sentence for his offenses was reportedly expected to be between 5-and 16 years behind bars.

The death of the young Black man in an encounter with white police officers became another rallying cry for police reform in the wake of George Floyd's 2020 death.

McClain's death

The 23-year-old was confronted by police while walking home from a convenience store after a 911 caller told authorities they had seen someone "sketchy" in the area.

McClain was unarmed and wearing a ski mask at the time. His family says he had anemia, a blood condition that can make people feel cold more easily.

When officers arrived on the scene, they told McClain they had a right to stop him because he was "being suspicious."

In police body camera footage, McClain can be heard telling police he was going home, and that "I have a right to go where I am going."

Officer Nathan Woodyard placed McClain in a carotid hold and he and the other two officers on the scene moved McClain by force to the grass and restrained him.

When EMTs Cooper and Cichuniec arrived, McClain was given a shot of 500 milligrams of ketamine to sedate him and he was loaded into an ambulance where he had a heart attack, according to investigators.

McClain's cause of death, which was previously listed as "undetermined," was listed in an amended autopsy report as "complications of ketamine administration following forcible restraint." The manner of death remained listed as "undetermined" as it was in the initial report.

McClain weighed 143 pounds, but was given a higher dose of ketamine than recommended for someone his size and overdosed, according to Adams County coroner's office pathologist Stephen Cina.

Cichuniec and Cooper diagnosed McClain with "excited delirium," after approximately two minutes on the scene, according to the indictment.

Excited delirium is characterized by the FBI as a "potentially deadly medical condition involving psychotic behavior, elevated temperature, and an extreme fight-or-flight response by the nervous system."

State attorney Shannon Stevenson explained to the jury during the paramedics' trial that the only time paramedics are allowed to administer ketamine is if the patient is suffering from excited delirium and is a danger to themselves and others.

The prosecution argued that Cichuniec and Cooper failed to give McClain adequate medical assessments before administering the ketamine when they arrived at the scene. Prosecutors also criticized the paramedics for waiting 6 minutes before checking McClain for a pulse after administering the ketamine.

"They intentionally injected Elijah McClain, who was laying on the ground, barely moving, struggling to breathe, with an overdose of ketamine without following a single step of their training and protocols," Stevenson said during Cichuniec and Cooper's trial. "They conducted no assessment. They didn't speak a word to Elijah. They didn't put a finger on him. And then they overdosed him with 150% of the dose someone his size should have gotten. And then they failed to even check on him until this pulse was gone. They knew better."

Cooper's defense attorney argued there is a lack of protocol for the situation these paramedics found themselves in, citing the aggravated police presence, the way paramedics say they had to estimate McClain's weight with police on top of him, the way to determine who had authority at the scene, and the protocols to accurately assess if a patient is suffering from excited delirium.

McClain died on Aug. 30, 2019, three days after doctors pronounced him brain dead and he was removed from life support, officials said.

Former police officer Randy Roedema was found guilty of criminally negligent homicide and assault in the third degree in McClain's death. He was sentenced to over one year in the county jail in January.

Two other officers, Jason Rosenblatt and Woodyard, were found not guilty on charges of reckless manslaughter and criminally negligent homicide. Rosenblatt was also acquitted on charges of assault in the second degree.

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