Colorado paramedics face trial for death of Elijah McClain

By Brad Brooks

LONGMONT, Colorado (Reuters) – Two Colorado paramedics go on trial on Wednesday for their alleged role in the 2019 death of Elijah McClain, a young Black man who died after police roughly detained him and medics injected him with a powerful sedative.

The trial is the last of three in the death of McClain, 23. The first ended with one police officer found guilty of criminally negligent homicide and another acquitted. The second ended with a third officer acquitted.

Lawyers for all the police officers during the earlier trials blamed the paramedics.

Paramedics Jeremy Cooper, 49, and Peter Cichuniec, 51, have been charged with manslaughter, assault and other counts. Both have pleaded not guilty.

The incident occurred in the Denver suburb of Aurora, where police officers had restrained McClain. Prosecutors allege that Cooper and Cichuniec decided within 2 minutes of arriving on the scene that McClain was in a state of “excited delirium,” a term medical experts question.

Prosecutors allege the paramedics injected him with 500 mg of the sedative ketamine after incorrectly estimating his weight to be 200 pounds (91 kg). McClain weighed 143 pounds.

Police confronted McClain, who was not suspected of any crime, on the night of Aug. 24, 2019, after a bystander called 911 to report that McClain, dressed in a winter coat and ski mask on a warm night, was acting suspiciously as he walked home from a convenience store.

Police laid hands on McClain within seconds of stopping him and put him in a carotid chokehold at least twice. He vomited into his ski mask and repeatedly told officers he could not breathe.

Local prosecutors initially declined to file charges. That changed following the May 2020 killing of George Floyd, a Black man who died at the hands of Minneapolis police. After Floyd’s death ignited global protests, Colorado Governor Jared Polis in June 2020 asked the state attorney general’s office to investigate McClain’s case. A state grand jury indicted the officers and paramedics in 2021.

(Reporting by Brad Brooks in Longmont, Colorado; Editing by Donna Bryson and Matthew Lewis)