Elijah McClain: Paramedic jailed over Black man's killing during arrest

Aurora, Colorado - One of two paramedics who injected a young Black man with ketamine as he was put in a chokehold by police was jailed for five years on Friday.

Peter Cichuniec (l.), one of two paramedics who injected young Black man Elijah McClain with ketamine as he was put in a chokehold by police, was sentenced to five years in jail.
Peter Cichuniec (l.), one of two paramedics who injected young Black man Elijah McClain with ketamine as he was put in a chokehold by police, was sentenced to five years in jail.  © Collage: REUTERS & RICH FURY / GETTY IMAGES NORTH AMERICA / GETTY IMAGES VIA AFP

Peter Cichuniec had been convicted in December of criminally negligent homicide and unlawful administration of drugs over the death of Elijah McClain, an unarmed 23-year-old who died several days after a struggle with police in Colorado.

He had suffered a cardiac arrest in the ambulance in the moments after his forceful arrest.

The episode unfolded in August 2019 when police in the city of Aurora responded to reports of a "suspicious" Black male "acting weird" in the street and wearing a ski mask. McClain's family later told media he had been out buying iced tea, and often wore the mask to stay warm because he suffered from anemia.

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One officer said McClain, who was unarmed, had reached for another officer's gun. No evidence was produced to support this claim. They grappled with him and while they were restraining him, Cichuniec and fellow paramedic Jeremy Cooper injected him with ketamine.

During the trial, the paramedics' lawyers argued that their clients had simply followed protocol in administering a drug approved in Colorado for people in an "agitated state."

Prosecutors countered they had ignored their training in handling distressed patients, and that there was "no medical purpose" in administering it.

Cichuniec and Cooper injected McClain while he was in handcuffs and after he pleaded with officers, giving a dose of ketamine reportedly enough to knock out a 200-pound person, though McClain only weighed 143 pounds. They then allegedly failed to check his vital signs or monitor his condition.

Paramedic's sentencing ends years-long battle for justice for Elijah McClain

A rally outside the Aurora Police Department Headquarters to demand justice for Elijah McClain in 2020 in Aurora, Colorado.
A rally outside the Aurora Police Department Headquarters to demand justice for Elijah McClain in 2020 in Aurora, Colorado.  © MICHAEL CIAGLO / GETTY IMAGES NORTH AMERICA / GETTY IMAGES VIA AFP

Ahead of his sentencing on Friday, Cichuniec said he was "truly sorry" to Sheheen McClain for the loss of her son's life.

"I wish I could tell Ms. McClain that Elijah was going to be okay," he said, according to CBS News. "But I can't."

"We can't save everyone. I wish my mind could forget the things my eyes have seen over the last 18 years," he continued. "Elijah will always be on my mind, along with all the others."

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McClain's death occurred months before the killing of another Black man, George Floyd, in Minneapolis in May 2020, but drew renewed attention soon after as Black Lives Matter protests against police brutality swelled.

A celebrity-backed campaign led to a special investigation in which three police officers were ultimately indicted, along with the two paramedics.

Two of the police officers were acquitted, while the third was jailed in January for 14 months.

Cooper, the other paramedic who was convicted alongside Cichuniec in December, is set to be sentenced in April.

"Their own actions murdered my son," McClain's mother Sheneen McClain said, reacting to the sentencing in tears. "They had an opportunity to save him."

"He is scum," she added of Cichuniec.

Cover photo: Collage: REUTERS & RICH FURY / GETTY IMAGES NORTH AMERICA / GETTY IMAGES VIA AFP

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