The conviction of two paramedics, who were found guilty of negligent homicide in the 2019 death of Elijah McClain, has renewed scrutiny of the use of ketamine during arrests. On Friday (Dec. 22), Jeremy Cooper and Peter Cichuniec were convicted. Cichuniec was also found guilty of second-degree unlawful administration of drugs after he used the sedative to subdue the 23-year-old. They were both acquitted of second-degree assault resulting in bodily harm.
“During our training, we were told numerous times that this is a safe, effective drug,” said Cichuniec during the trial, according to CNN. “That is the only drug we can carry that can stop what is going on and calm him down so we can control his airway, we can control him, and the safety of him, [and] get him to the hospital as quick as we can.”
As reported by REVOLT, McClain was stopped by officers who were responding to a call regarding a suspicious person in the area. At the time, he was walking home from a convenience store. During the confrontation, the Black man was forcibly detained with the use of a chokehold and injected with ketamine. Moments after, he went into cardiac arrest. He died days later on Aug. 30, 2019. Prosecutors argued the drug was administered without checking the man’s vitals. The Adams County Coroner’s Office determined that he died from complications of ketamine.
“We knew that these cases were going to be difficult to prosecute. We are satisfied by today’s verdict, and we remain confident that bringing these cases forward was the right thing to do for justice for Elijah McClain,” said Colorado Attorney General Phil Weiser. “His life mattered. He should be with us here today.”
In the wake of the verdict, Aurora Fire Rescue Chief Alec Oughton issued a statement on Facebook that read, in part, “While I appreciate the jury’s diligence, integrity, and public service to ensure a fair trial, I am discouraged that these paramedics have received felony punishment for following their training and protocols in place at the time and for making discretionary decisions while taking split-second action in a dynamic environment.”
Three officers and two additional paramedics have also been indicted for their roles in the arrest and treatment of McClain. In 2021, his family reached a $15 million settlement with the city.