A jury in Colorado found paramedics Jeremy Cooper, 49, and Peter Cichuniec, 51, guilty of criminally negligent homicide in the tragic case of Elijah McClain, a 23-year-old unarmed Black man who died in August 2019.
The verdict adds another layer of accountability to a case that had already ignited nationwide outrage and discussions on racism and police brutality.
McClain’s fatal encounter with law enforcement began when officers responded to a call about a “suspicious” Black male wearing a ski mask.
Despite being unarmed, McClain was put in a chokehold and injected with ketamine by the attending paramedics.
The prosecution argued that the paramedics had deviated from their training in handling distressed patients, asserting that there was no medical necessity for administering ketamine.
The jury’s decision comes months after a white police officer was found guilty of criminally negligent homicide in the same case, while two other officers were cleared.
The rarity of paramedics facing charges for the death of a patient raised eyebrows, as the defense maintained that Cooper and Cichuniec had followed protocol in administering the drug.
Prosecutor Shannon Stevenson emphasized in closing arguments, “There was no indication that Elijah needed ketamine, and you’ve heard multiple experts say that giving it was for no medical purpose.”
The prosecution contended that the defendants failed to seek McClain’s consent for treatment, emphasizing the lack of justification for an overdose of a drug he did not require.
The landmark verdict adds momentum to the ongoing national conversation about police use of force, especially in cases involving individuals from marginalized communities.
McClain’s death, preceding George Floyd’s killing in 2020, played a significant role in sparking protests and calls for reform across the United States.
The outcome of this trial underscores the evolving standards of accountability for law enforcement and medical professionals, with implications that reach beyond the confines of Colorado.