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Colo. paramedic sentenced to 5 years in prison in Elijah McClain’s death

Paramedic Peter Cichuniec was convicted of criminally negligent homicide and second-degree assault for giving a drug without consent or a legitimate medical purpose

Elijah McClain Officer Sentenced

Paramedic Peter Cichuniec, convicted for his role in Elijah McClain’s death sits in court before his sentencing on Friday, March 1, 2024 in Brighton, Colo. (Colorado State Court via AP, POOL)


By Colleen Slevin and Matthew Brown
Associated Press

DENVER — A Colorado paramedic was sentenced Friday to five years in prison for the death of Elijah McClain in a rare prosecution of medical responders that has left officials rethinking how they treat people in police custody.

The convictions of Peter Cichuniec and a fellow paramedic sent shock waves through the ranks of paramedics across the U.S.

Cichuniec and Jeremy Cooper were both convicted in December of criminally negligent homicide for administering the sedative ultimately blamed for killing McClain in 2019.

Cichuniec was also found guilty of the more serious charge of second-degree assault for giving a drug without consent or a legitimate medical purpose. Jurors concluded the assault caused serious bodily injury or death, which required that he be sentenced to at least five years in prison.

Firefighter union officials criticized the state’s prosecution of Cichuniec and said it was discouraging firefighters from becoming paramedics, decreasing the number of qualified personnel in emergencies and thereby putting lives at risk.

McClain was stopped by police after a 911 caller reported he looked suspicious walking down the street waving his arms and wearing a face mask on Aug. 24, 2019, in the Denver suburb of Aurora. McClain, who had been listening to music with earbuds, seemed caught off guard when an officer put his hands on him within seconds of approaching him. That began a struggle including a neck hold and a restraint that lasted about 20 minutes before McClain was injected with 500 milligrams of ketamine. He suffered cardiac arrest on the way to the hospital and was taken off life support three days later.

Experts testified that the sedative ultimately killed McClain, who was already weakened from struggling to breathe while being pinned down after inhaling vomit into his lungs during the struggle with police.

The case highlighted gaps in medical procedures for sedations of people in police custody that experts said must be addressed so more deaths can be prevented.

The sole police officer convicted in McClain’s death, Randy Roedema, was convicted of criminally negligent homicide. He was sentenced to 14 months in jail in January. Two other officers who were indicted were acquitted following weekslong jury trials.

Cooper, who is scheduled to be sentenced in April, faces a sentence that could range from probation to three years in prison.