Paramedic Hears His Fate Over Death of Elijah McClain

Peter Cichuniec sentenced to 5 years behind bars for his role in death of Black man in Colorado
By Newser Editors and Wire Services
Posted Mar 2, 2024 5:30 AM CST
Paramedic Hears His Fate Over Death of Elijah McClain
Lawyers console paramedic Peter Cichuniec after his sentence is read on Friday in Brighton, Colorado.   (Colorado State Court via AP, POOL)

Colorado paramedic Peter Cichuniec was sentenced Friday to five years in prison in a rare prosecution of medical responders following the death of Elijah McClain, a Black man whose name became part of the rallying cries for social justice that swept the US in 2020. McClain was walking down the street in a Denver suburb in 2019 when police responding to a suspicious person report forcibly restrained him and put him in a neck hold.

  • Convictions: Cichuniec and a fellow paramedic were convicted in December of criminally negligent homicide for injecting McClain with ketamine, a powerful sedative ultimately blamed for killing the 23-year-old massage therapist, per the AP. Cichuniec also was convicted on a more serious charge of second-degree assault for giving a drug without consent or a legitimate medical purpose. He'd faced up to 16 years in prison on the assault charge, and the five-year sentence was the minimum the judge could've given him under sentencing guidelines.
  • Mom's reaction: McClain's mother, Sheneen McClain, raised her fist in the air as she left the courtroom following Friday's sentencing, as she has done after previous hearings. "You are a local hero no more," she said as Cichuniec sat with his attorneys at a nearby table.

  • Cichuniec's reaction: Cichuniec, who's been in custody since his conviction, asked the judge for mercy and wiped away tears as family and friends testified as character witnesses on his behalf. "There was absolutely no intent to cause any harm to Elijah McClain," he said.
  • Criticism: Firefighters and union officials slammed the state's prosecution of Cichuniec, noting it was discouraging firefighters from becoming paramedics, decreasing the number of qualified personnel in emergencies, and thereby putting lives at risk. "Convicting Pete for the death is not justice. It's the very definition of a scapegoat," said former Aurora Fire Lieutenant John Lauder.
  • Rebuttal: Assistant Attorney General Jason Slothouber said Cichuniec didn't follow his training and never properly assessed McClain before he knowingly authorized giving him more ketamine than was needed.
  • Other fallout: The sole cop convicted in McClain's death, Randy Roedema, was convicted of criminally negligent homicide and sentenced to 14 months in jail in January. Two other officers who were indicted were acquitted following weekslong jury trials. The second convicted paramedic, Jeremy Cooper, is scheduled to be sentenced in April.
More here. (More Elijah McClain stories.)

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