Colorado paramedics on trial for Elijah McClain's death

Colorado paramedics on trial for Elijah McClain's death

By Brad Brooks

LONGMONT, Colorado (Reuters) -Two Colorado paramedics went 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 involving the death of McClain, 23, who a bystander reported as looking suspicious, but who was not alleged to have committed any crime. The first trial ended with one police officer found guilty of criminally negligent homicide and another acquitted. The second ended with a third officer acquitted.

During the earlier trials, lawyers for all of the officers blamed the paramedics - Jeremy Cooper, 49, and Peter Cichuniec, 51 - for McClain's death, which occurred in the Denver suburb of Aurora. The pair, who have pleaded not guilty, have been charged with manslaughter, assault and other counts.

Shannon Stevenson, the state solicitor general, on Wednesday told the jury during her opening statement that Cooper and Cichuniec violated their training protocols by failing to examine McClain before injecting him with the maximum allowed dose of ketamine, a powerful sedative.

"At every single step they act with a total disregard for Elijah McClain as their patient, as a person," Stevenson said.

But Shana Beggan, a defense attorney for Cooper, said the paramedics tried to examine McClain after they arrived on the scene, but that as they approached him, police slammed McClain to the ground. The paramedics backed off, she said, in an attempt to deescalate the situation.

Prosecutors argued that Cooper and Cichuniec incorrectly decided that McClain was in a state of "excited delirium," which medical experts have subsequently questioned. As a consequence, the paramedics injected him with 500 mg of the sedative ketamine, wrongly estimating his weight to be 200 pounds (91 kg), Stevenson said. McClain weighed 143 pounds.

"The defendants were called to the scene to help Elijah McClain, to treat him as their patient," Stevenson said. "Instead, they killed him."

But Beggan said everything police had told the paramedics indicated McClain was in a state of "excited delirium" and that they then had to follow an "agitated patient" protocol that called for a ketamine injection.

"They don't have discretion, they're not doctors. They have to give ketamine," Beggan said. "That's the treatment."

She said the paramedics tried to help McClain but that there was little they could do while police officers kept him to the ground and handcuffed, even after ketamine was injected.

Beggan said police did not tell Cooper or Cichuniec that McClain had said he could not breathe, nor did they provide other details that could have influenced their decision to inject him with ketamine.


Police confronted McClain on the night of Aug. 24, 2019, after a bystander called 911 to report that 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 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.

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. 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, ColoradoEditing by Donna Bryson, Matthew Lewis, Bill Berkrot and Daniel Wallis)