Colorado judge sentences paramedic to five years in prison for McClain killing

By Brad Brooks

LONGMONT, Colorado (Reuters) -A Colorado court sentenced paramedic to five years in prison on Friday after he was convicted in the 2019 death of Elijah McClain, a young Black man who died after police put him in a chokehold and medics injected him with a powerful sedative.

Jurors in December found emergency medical worker Peter Cichuniec, 51, guilty of criminally negligent homicide and also of assault in the second degree in a rare trial of paramedics in such a case.

Judge Mark Warner sentenced Cichuniec to five years in prison for the assault conviction, and added a one year sentence for criminally negligent homicide, to be served concurrently. The defendant had faced up to 16 years in prison for those crimes.

Cichuniec's partner, Jeremy Cooper, 49, was also found guilty of criminally negligent homicide and faces sentencing at the end of April.

Their joint trial was the last of three stemming from the death of McClain, 23, who was not alleged to have committed any crime when officers stopped him.

One police officer was found guilty of criminally negligent homicide and sentenced to 14 months in jail. Two other police officers were acquitted.

Police confronted McClain in Aurora, near Denver, on the night of Aug. 24, 2019, after a bystander called 911 to report the man was dressed in a winter coat and ski mask on a warm night and was acting suspiciously as he walked home from a convenience store.

Police slammed McClain on the ground soon after 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.

The original autopsy conducted on McClain in 2019 found the cause of death to be "undetermined." But a revised autopsy report in 2021 concluded McClain died from "complications of ketamine administration following forcible restraint."

Local prosecutors initially declined to file charges in the McClain case. 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.

At the sentencing hearing, Cichuniec said that he was sorry McClain had died, but did not take responsibility for his death.

Elijah McClain's mom, Sheneen McClain, spoke at the hearing, expressing her deep anger about her son's death at the hands of the police and paramedics whose job it is to keep the public safe.

"My son's murder is not a terrible tragedy," Sheneen McClain told the judge. "My son's murder was 100% avoidable."

(Reporting by Brad Brooks in Longmont, Colorado; Editing by Donna Bryson, Cynthia Osterman and Aurora Ellis)