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Paramedic convicted in Elijah McClain’s death sentenced to 5 years in prison

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Posted at 7:49 PM, Mar 01, 2024
and last updated 2024-03-01 21:49:18-05

ADAMS COUNTY, Colo. — The first of two Aurora paramedics convicted in the 2019 death of Elijah McClain was sentenced Friday to five years in prison followed by three years of parole in connection with the unarmed Black man's death.

Peter Cichuniec, who was convicted in late December of criminally negligent homicide alongside Aurora paramedic Jeremy Cooper, was also found guilty of second-degree assault by unlawful administration of drugs. Cooper was acquitted of that charge.

Cichuniec, who was sentenced to a minimum of five years for the assault charge — the minimum sentence the judge could have given him under sentencing guidelines — was also sentenced to one year in prison for the criminally negligent homicide charge, which will be served concurrently.

His sentencing came after around 90 minutes of statements from family and friends of Cichuniec and Elijah McClain’s mother, Sheneen McClain, who did not mince words during the hearing.

Paramedic convicted in Elijah McClain’s death sentenced to 5 years in prison

“They want to blame their inhumane actions on their inhumane training, but (the) reality is that they could have done something simply by just staying, ‘Stop hurting my patient,'" Sheneen told the court Friday.

As she left the courtroom, Sheneen raised her fist in the air, as she's done in previous hearings. She provided no other statements outside the courtroom.

Cichuniec also addressed the court, along with his wife and two sons, before the sentence was handed down.

"I wish I could look into Ms. McClain's eyes and tell her Elijah would be okay, but I can't. That destroys me as a person, father and a paramedic," said Cichuniec before the packed courtroom. "I am truly sorry for the loss of her son’s life," he added.

Elijah McClain’s mom to convicted paramedic: “You are a local hero no more”

Cichuniec has been in the Adams County Jail the last 70 days and will get credit for that time served. Judge Mark D. Warner said Cichuniec has 49 days to appeal his sentence, and 126 days to ask the Adams County court to reconsider the outcome. In all, he could have faced a maximum of 16 years in prison for the assault charge.

Cichuniec "disregarded his training"

Attorney General Phil Weiser released a statement following Cichuniec's sentencing, saying the ruling sends a strong message that no profession is immune from accountability.

"Emergency medical professionals serve honorably every day and save lives. In this case, Mr. Cichuniec disregarded his training and ordered Elijah McClain to receive a deadly dose of a powerful sedative while he was restrained and motionless on the ground, which killed him," Weiser wrote. "But today’s sentence from the court is one of accountability for the defendant’s criminal negligence in the death of Elijah McClain. It sends a strong message that no profession, whether a paramedic, a nurse, a police officer, an elected official, or a CEO should be immune from criminal prosecution for actions that violate the law and harm people.”

Both Cichuniec and Cooper were found guilty in connection with McClain's death after administering a deadly dose of ketamine to the 23-year-old, who had been put in a neck hold and pinned down by police after a 911 caller reported a "sketchy" man in the neighborhood the night of his violent arrest on Aug. 24, 2019. McClain was returning home from the store and had committed no crime.

Cooper and Cichuniec — along with three Aurora police officers — were indicted by a grand jury in Sept. 2021, more than two years after McClain’s death and about a year after the unarmed Black man’s death had garnered attention in the wake of nationwide protests following the death of George Floyd in Minneapolis in the spring of 2020.

Former Aurora Police Officer Randy Roedema was found guilty of criminally negligent homicide and third-degree assault while former Aurora Police Officer Jason Rosenblatt was acquitted of all charges in a joint trial that lasted nearly a month. Nathan Woodyard, the third officer indicted in the case, was also acquitted of all charges following his trial late last month and will be reintegrated within the Aurora Police Department.

Paramedic sentenced in Elijah McClain’s death: “I am truly sorry”

How the cases were brought to trial

The charges against all five stemmed from McClain’s deadly arrest the night of Aug. 24, 2019, after Woodyard put the unarmed 23-year-old in a neck hold that rendered him unconscious as paramedics arrived at the scene to inject him with a heavier dose of ketamine than was appropriate for his weight. While the neck hold proved to be the catalyst for the protests that would follow months later, officials eventually determined the sedative played a key role in his death. McClain, a massage therapist known for his gentle nature, was just walking home from a convenience store after purchasing some iced tea when he was stopped by police.

More than a year would pass for a state grand jury to return a 32-count indictment against the three officers and two paramedics involved in McClains' death, and 13 months before the Adams County Coroner amended McClain’s autopsy report to show his cause of death was “complications of ketamine administration following forcible restraint," leaving his manner of death undetermined.

Dr. Stephen Cina, a pathologist whose autopsy report initially stated that McClain’s cause of death was “undetermined,” would amend it to list “complications of ketamine administration following forcible restraint” after receiving “extensive body camera footage, witness statements, and additional records” that gave him more detail about what happened to McClain the night of his arrest.

“I believe that Mr. McClain would most likely be alive but for the administration of ketamine,” Cina would write in his amended autopsy report.

This is a developing story and will be updated.