Two paramedics in the Denver area were convicted in the death of a Black man who they gave ketamine to back in 2019.
The paramedics, Peter Cichuniec and Jeremy Cooper of the Aurora Fire Rescue, were found guilty by a jury on Friday of criminally negligent homicide.
Cichuniec was also found guilty on one of the two charges of second-degree assault against him. Cooper was found not guilty on those charges. Cichuniec had to be taken into custody immediately because of this guilty verdict, while Cooper did not.
The maximum potential sentences could see them spend years in jail.
The incident occurred in August 2019. Police stopped Elijah McClain as he was walking home from a convenience store. They did so because they had received a complaint of a suspicious person.
One of the officers on scene said McClain tried to reach for one of the officers’ guns – which prosecutors disputed – so another put him in a neck hold. He was rendered temporarily unconscious as a result.
Then, once paramedics arrived on scene, officers pinned McClain down. To get McClain to calm down, Cooper injected him with ketamine at an overdose level. Cichuniec was the senior officer on scene and admitted that he made the decision to administer the ketamine.
During the multi-week trial, prosecutors say the two paramedics didn’t conduct basic medical checks on McClain before they gave him the ketamine. Experts testified that the amount he was given was too much for someone who was his size.
In addition, prosecutors also argued that paramedics didn’t immediately monitor McClain after they gave him the ketamine, leaving him to just lie on the ground, which then made it harder for him to breathe.
The decision by the jury to convict the two paramedics could have wide-ranging consequences on how first responders handle patients when they arrive on scene in the future.
Alex Piquero, who is a criminologist at the University of Miami, told The Associated Press that emergency personnel could have a new precedent because of this case when they respond to situations where people are in police custody. As he explained:
“Imagine if you’re a paramedic. They could be hesitant. They could say, ‘I’m not going to do anything,’ or ‘I’m going to do less. I don’t want to be found guilty.’”
After the decision was handed down, the International Association of Fire Fighters issued a statement that criticized Phil Weiser, the attorney general of Colorado. They said that by pursuing these charges, he criminalized split-second decisions that medical personnel have to make and set “a dangerous, chilling precedent for pre-hospital care.”
Weiser said he was happy that the verdict came out the way it did. Outside of the courtroom, he said:
“We remain confident that bringing these cases forward was the right thing to do for justice for Elijah McClain and for healing in the Aurora community.”
Both of the paramedics were fired from their jobs after the convictions were handed down, the city of Aurora said last week.