Two Denver-area paramedics, Jeremy Cooper and Peter Cichuniec, were convicted on Friday for their roles in the 2019 killing of Elijah McClain, a 23-year-old Black man. The case, which gained national attention following the 2020 protests against police brutality, concluded with these convictions, marking a significant moment in the legal proceedings related to McClain’s death.

McClain was injected with a lethal dose of ketamine by Cooper and Cichuniec after police officers had placed him in a neck hold. The trial of the paramedics was notable for being one of the first instances where medical first responders faced criminal charges in such a context, potentially setting a precedent for future cases.

The jury found Cooper and Cichuniec guilty of criminally negligent homicide, with Cichuniec also convicted of one count of second-degree assault. Cooper was acquitted of assault charges. The verdict, which could lead to years of imprisonment for both, was reached after extensive deliberation, including a moment where the jury was initially unable to reach a unanimous decision on one of the charges.

Elijah McClain’s encounter with the police occurred on August 24, 2019, when he was stopped while returning from a convenience store. The situation escalated rapidly, leading to McClain being subdued and subsequently injected with ketamine.

Prosecutors argued that the paramedics failed to perform essential medical checks on McClain before administering the sedative. They also accused Cooper of lying to investigators and argued that the dose given was excessive for McClain’s body weight.

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The defense, meanwhile, contended that the paramedics were following their training and that ketamine was considered a safe and effective treatment for what they diagnosed as “excited delirium,” a controversial and disputed condition.

Who are Jeremy Cooper and Peter Cichuniec?

Jeremy Cooper and Peter Cichuniec were paramedics with Aurora Fire Rescue at the time of the incident involving Elijah McClain. Their roles in the tragic event have placed them at the center of a complex and emotionally charged case that has raised questions about the use of force and medical protocols in emergency situations.

Cooper, found guilty of criminally negligent homicide but not guilty of assault, was the paramedic who administered the ketamine to McClain. During the trial, his actions were scrutinized, particularly concerning the decision to use ketamine and the manner in which it was administered.

Peter Cichuniec, also found guilty of criminally negligent homicide and one count of second-degree assault, was the senior officer on the scene. His decision to use ketamine was a focal point of the trial. Cichuniec testified that they were trained to use ketamine quickly to treat what they perceived as excited delirium, and that they had been informed of its safety and effectiveness.

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Both Cooper and Cichuniec’s actions and decisions during the incident have been the subject of extensive legal examination. The case has brought to light the challenges and responsibilities faced by medical first responders in high-pressure situations, especially when interacting with law enforcement.