Paramedic Sentenced To 5 Years For Death Of Black Patient

A Colorado paramedic received a five-year prison sentence in connection with the death of Elijah McClain, a Black man whose name was central to the social justice movements that spread across the U.S. in 2020.

McClain, 23-year-old massage therapist, was strolling along the street in a Denver suburb in 2019 when police, in response to a report about a suspicious person, restrained him forcefully and placed him in a neck hold. His last words, “I can’t breathe,” predated those of George Floyd a year later in Minneapolis.

Peter Cichuniec, a paramedic, was found guilty in December of negligent homicide for administering McClain with ketamine, a sedative that was responsible for his death.

Cichuniec was also found guilty of a more severe offense of second-degree assault for administering the ketamine without consent or a valid medical reason. The death of McClain and others has sparked concerns about the use of ketamine to control resisting individuals, causing a stir among paramedics nationwide.

Firefighters and officials from their union strongly criticized the state’s prosecution of Cichuniec, stating that it was deterring firefighters from pursuing careers as paramedics, leading to a decrease in qualified personnel during emergencies and endangering lives. Assistant Attorney General Jason Slothouber stated that Cichuiniec failed to adhere to his training and did not adequately evaluate McClain before approving the administration of an excessive amount of ketamine.

Initially, McClain’s passing was not widely covered, but it garnered more attention when widespread protests erupted following Floyd’s death. Firefighters and medical responders nationwide closely followed the case against the paramedics. Edward Kelly, a firefighter union leader from the International Association of Fire Fighters, expressed to reporters following Cichuniec’s sentencing that prosecutors were unjustly treating quick decisions made by responders as criminal acts.

The case brought attention to deficiencies in medical protocols for sedating individuals in police custody, which experts emphasized the need to address to prevent future deaths. The only police officer found guilty in McClain’s death, Randy Roedema, was convicted of criminally negligent homicide and received a 14-month jail sentence in January. Two additional officers who were charged were found not guilty after lengthy jury trials.