Paramedic sentenced to five years in prison for killing Elijah McClain

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Protesters march to call for justice for Elijah McClain in November 2020. — Reuters/File
Protesters march to call for justice for Elijah McClain in November 2020. — Reuters/File

One of two paramedics has been sentenced to five years in prison while another awaits punishment at a hearing in April for injecting Elijah McClain with a fatal overdose of a sedative. 

Police choked McClain in the middle of a street in Aurora area of Colorado, a US state, over suspicion and paramedics injected him with ketamine while he was handcuffed.

Paramedics Peter Cichuniec and Jeremy Cooper were found guilty in December of criminally negligent homicide as they failed to treat McClain appropriately after his confrontation with police, the BBC reported.

In 2019, McClain, a 23-year-old black massage therapist, was stopped by three police officers and was put in a chokehold by police on his way home from a convenience store.

The police officers from the Denver suburb of Aurora assaulted McClain while "responding" to a call about a "sketchy" person in the area. 

Bodycam footage of the incident showed him repeatedly telling officers: "I can't breathe."

Jeremy Cooper (left) and Peter Cichuniec appear in court in December 2023. — BBC via The Denver Post
Jeremy Cooper (left) and Peter Cichuniec appear in court in December 2023. — BBC via The Denver Post

Prosecutors said the paramedics failed to conduct basic medical checks on McClain before injecting him with the maximum dose of ketamine, leading the young man to never regain consciousness.

He died after being removed from life support three days later.

Cichuniec, convicted of second-degree assault for deciding to inject McClain with the powerful sedative, was sentenced on Friday, and Cooper will learn his punishment at a hearing in April.

"There are many, many tragedies in my career, but there are people I wish I could say they are OK, but I can't," he tearfully told the judge, according to Colorado Public Radio.

"We are not God. I am not God. And we can't always have a positive outcome. We can't save everyone … Elijah will always be on my mind, along with all the others," he continued.

Police officers Nathan Woodyard and Jason Rosenblatt were acquitted of charges in November and October, respectively.

Meanwhile, Randy Roedema was sentenced to 14 months in prison in October after he was found guilty of criminally negligent homicide and third-degree assault.

McClain's killing gained public attention a year later, following George Floyd's Minnesota death, which sparked nationwide protests against police brutality.