Jurors will begin deliberating in the nearly month-long criminal trial involving two Colorado paramedics who injected a patient with ketamine before he died in 2019.
Jeremy Cooper and Pete Cichuniec each pleaded not guilty to criminally negligent homicide, manslaughter, and assault charges.
The two men were working as medics for Aurora Fire Rescue when they made the decision to sedate Elijah McClain, 23, with the powerful sedative in August 2019.
At the time, they told investigators they believed McClain was exhibiting signs and symptoms of “excited delirium,” a controversial term — used to describe someone who is mentally dissociated, or unable to control their body — that has since been rejected by many medical professionals as a legitimate medical diagnosis.
Body camera footage shows McClain was handcuffed and being held down by police officers when he received a dose of the medication.
“Elijah didn’t have excited delirium. He wasn’t truly out of control,” said Shannon Stevenson, the state's solicitor general, during closing arguments on behalf of the prosecution. “He was responding to the police. He was crying out in pain. He was apologizing.”
Stevenson said the paramedics took no accountability for their actions.
“There is no justification to ignore a lifeless patient for six minutes before you try to take his pulse,” she said of the paramedics’ decisions that day. “The defendants’ recklessness is proved here beyond a reasonable doubt.”
“There’s no evidence that he went without breathing for six minutes,” said defense attorney Michael Pellow, who represents Cooper. “He stopped breathing in the ambulance. It was approximately a minute that he was without oxygen ... I’m not saying that’s good.”
Pellow said his client is not guilty.
“There’s no evidence that either one of these defendants ... intended to hurt Elijah McClain ... they were following their training. They were following their protocols,” he said.
Defense attorney David Goddard, who represents Cichuniec, said the paramedics made a reasonable assessment that McClain was suffering from what looked like excited delirium based on what they observed of the police department’s interactions with him.
“They repeatedly hear commands being given by those officers. ‘Stop fighting. Stop resisting us,’” said Goddard.” He said Cooper administered the drug, “pursuant to” the Aurora Fire Rescue protocol, trying to “end this struggle that is going on.”
In Colorado, paramedics are no longer allowed to use the drug to treat patients whom they consider to be agitated.
Prior to the injection, three Aurora police officers involved McClain in a rough altercation that left him vomiting and handcuffed. One officer applied a carotid hold — a technique that cuts the blood supply to the brain — on McClain.
According to an amended autopsy, McClain died of complications of ketamine administration following forcible restraint.
In October of this year, a jury convicted one officer, Randy Roedema, of criminally negligent homicide and third-degree assault for his role in the incident.
The two other police officers involved were acquitted by juries this fall.
McClain had been walking home from a convenience store in August 2019 — wearing a black ski mask — when someone called 911 to report that he looked “sketchy.”
“He might be a good person or a bad person,” the caller said.
McClain was not committing any crime when police approached him.
His mother, Sheneen McClain, spoke out in a statement to Scripps News:
"No amount of procedures, practices, protocols, or the lack of training for service jobs will ever replace the human heart. I am sure that if Elijah had been one of their children, family members, friends, or comrades, they would not have been so indifferent to what was happening, like they were with my son. The lack of goodness and the lack of humanity in everyone who showed up to my son's murder that night, proves that they are all inhuman in some way, shape, or form. I was taught better than that, and it is obvious that they were not. We are supposed to do better if we know how to do better, so there is no excuse for the lack of accountability in their collective actions. They can not blame their job training for their indifference to evil or their participation in an evil action...that is completely on them. May all of their souls rot in hell when their time comes."
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