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Elijah McClain case: New witness introduced in the trial of paramedics Cooper and Cichuniec

Dr. Damon Robinson not used in prior trials of Officers Roedema, Rosenblatt or Woodyard
Posted: 1:40 PM, Dec 12, 2023
Updated: 2023-12-13 13:53:04-05
Elijah McClain

Two paramedics are at the center of the third and final trial in the case of Elijah McClain's 2019 death, and both defendants face charges of reckless manslaughter, criminally negligent homicide and assault, plus sentence enhancers.

McClain, 23, was stopped by officers with the Aurora Police Department (APD) on Aug. 24, 2019 and following a violent encounter, died a few days later.

Aurora Fire Rescue paramedics Peter Cichuniec and Jeremy Cooper are accused of injecting a significant amount of ketamine into McClain. Medical experts have previously testified that he was given a higher dose of ketamine than recommended for somebody of his size. In previous trials, prosecutors said the carotid hold, which was applied by police before paramedics arrived, played a key role in his death, while defense attorneys argued that the cause of death was only the ketamine, and McClain would have survived the police encounter without the injection. The ketamine led to cardiac arrest. McClain was declared brain dead and died Aug. 30, 2019.

Trial for Elijah McClain could affect all health care workers

Previously, a jury found APD Officer Randy Roedema guilty of criminally negligent homicide and third-degree assault, and former APD Officer Jason Rosenblatt, who was fired by the department less than a year after McClain's death, was acquitted of all charges. In the second trial, defendant APD Officer Nathan Woodyard was also found not guilty.

The trial for Cichuniec and Cooper is expected to last about a month.

Scroll down to read updates from the Dec. 12 proceedings.

Tuesday, Dec. 12

The people introduced a new witness in the trial of Paramedics Cooper and Cichuniec Tuesday that hasn't appeared in the previous trials of Officers Roedema, Rosenblatt and Woodyard.

Dr. Damon Robinson, who's board certified in anesthesia and pain management, took the stand for nearly three hours Tuesday morning, from just before 8:45 a.m. to just after noon.

From the start, the defense objected to Robinson's expertise outside a hospital or outpatient clinic setting. The People established he had worked as an EMT, but the defense called that experience into question multiple times as relevant since it had been more than 20 years since he had worked in that setting.

The judge asked the People to rephrase questions several times more specifically in relation to his recent experience.

The Peopele asked Robinson about the decision to give McClain ketamine after his review of the body-worn camera video, patient care reports and medical history of McClain, among other materials.

"I didn't see a medical reason to give ketamine to Elijah McClain," Robinson said.

He explained that ketamine has unique properties, which can cause a patient to disassociate. They can appear awake but be unconscious, according to Robinson.

While a higher dose of ketamine does not cause a patient to disassociate more, Robinson said during direct examination, it can cause a higher risk of respiratory depression.

In administering drugs like ketamine, "oftentimes the anesthesiologist has a high skillset to make sure people maintain their respiratory rate," Robinson said.

However during cross examination, the defense directly quoted studies Robinson sent the attorney general's office which said it's "weakly associated with respiratory depression."

Another effect of ketamine is it can cause a patient to salivate a lot, according to Robinson, and the extra salivation can cause an obstruction of the patient's airway.

In administering a sedative, Robinson testified to the importance of an assessment prior to dosing the patient for some different reasons than past doctors have discussed during the trials of Officers Roedema, Rosenblatt and Woodyard.

Robinson said among checking vital signs for the patient and their level of consciousness, an anesthesiologist would ask for a medical history, what other medications the person is taking, if they have an allergy to sedatives and if they have eaten anything that day.

"If you have a full stomach, you're at risk for aspiration," Robinson said. "Any time the stomach contents come into the lung, it can lead to pneumonia, they're placed in the ICU."

The People clarified that in neither the body-worn camera video nor the patient care reports from the paramedics did Robinson see the first responders conduct an assessment or report they had done so.

While other witnesses have been questioned about how the positioning of McClain impacted his overall medical condition, Robinson was asked if there are better positions than others for giving someone a sedative like ketamine.

"The prone position is less than ideal. It can lead to aspiration to a significant degree. The side position is less than ideal," Robinson said. He testified putting the patient on their back with their head at 30 degrees is best.

The court took a mid-morning break just after 10:15 a.m.

In cross examination, the defense asked if Robinson had any prior knowledge of the case, asking if he was aware McClain was a young Black man (Robinson, himself, is a Black man). To which, he responded "no," he did not know. He heard media reports there had been a death in police custody in Colorado, but did not connect those reports with the case on which the state's attorney general's office reached out to him to consult.

The defense also focused on whether Robinson had the ability to rewind and fast forward the body-worn camera videos he watched in consulting on the case, whether he had the ability to slow it down and listen to it with headphones. To which, he responded "yes."

The defense's cross examination also addressed how much Robinson was getting paid for his consultation work on this case. He said he's paid $550 per hour, and has worked approximately 100 hours to "pick apart this case," as the defense put it.

The court took a lunch break just after noon. After briefly restarting Tuesday afternoon, the court ended early for the day.

After the break, Robinson's testimony continued.

Prosecutors asked Robinson if he thought the administration of ketamine was necessary. He responded by saying, "No. He was already restrained."

Prosecutors also brought up studies of ketamine dosages. Subsequent testimony centered around appropriate dosage of the sedative. Robinson stated adverse effects of the drug are more pronounced the higher the dosage.

The court adjourned for the day around 1:45 p.m.



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