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Elijah McClain case: Paramedics' 2019 interviews with Aurora detective played in court

Aurora Fire Rescue paramedics Peter Cichuniec and Jeremy Cooper both spoke with an APD detective in a recorded interview in September 2019. Those interviews were played in court Wednesday.
Posted: 1:16 PM, Dec 06, 2023
Updated: 2023-12-06 15:16:35-05
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. 6 proceedings.

Wednesday, Dec. 6

Wednesday morning kicked off with more questions for Alicia Ward, an officer with the Aurora Police Department, who began her testimony on Tuesday afternoon. She was not initially called to the scene to help in the incident involving McClain on Aug. 24, 2019, but arrived once the responding officers requested backup.

On Tuesday, she testified that she did not see McClain struggling or acting aggressively toward officers, but saw him moving as if trying to gain control of his restraints. She said he didn't hear him talk, and only heard grunts and moans.

On Wednesday morning, Ward testified further. She recalled that at the scene, she had seen a person looking down from the window of a nearby apartment building. At one point, she entered the building to try to interview the person, but was unable to find them. When she came back downstairs and went outside, she learned that McClain had suffered from cardiac arrest.

During a cross-examination, Ward confirmed she was relying on her memory when answering many of these questions. But she remembered that she was never concerned enough about McClain's condition to yell for paramedics' help, she said.

"If you had, would you have said something?" asked defense attorney Shana Beggan, who represents Cooper.

Ward said yes.

"Does it haunt you?"

Ward said yes.

The next witness called to the stand was Matthew Ingui, who now works as a detective with the Regional Anti-Violence Enforcement Network (RAVEN) Taskforce. Ingui was working as a detective with APD's Major Crimes Homicide Unit on Aug. 24, 2019.

He confirmed he was responsible for interviewing the involved individuals after McClain's death, including paramedics Cichuniec and Cooper. Those two interviews, which were recorded, happened in September 2019.

The witness was excused and then both of those interviews were played in court, starting with Cichuniec.

Investigative interview with Paramedic Lt. Cichuniec from September 2019 played in court

In the beginning of his September 2019 interview with an APD detective, Cichuniec said he had worked as a paramedic since 2007 and outside of that training, does not have any other advanced medical training. He said he had been in the lieutenant rank for about four years at that point.

Cichuniec said his main role at the scene is to ensure the safety of his team, the police officers and the patient. He helps as a medic if it is needed, he said, but Cooper was the one running the call and in charge of the EMS side of things that evening.

He recalled that the call came in as a man who was wearing a mask and running, waving his arms at cars and people, and not making sense. When paramedics arrived at the scene, Cichuniec said there were a lot of APD cars parked. He walked up to where officers were working on the ground with a handcuffed patient who was “fighting off the APD officers," he said in the 2019 interview.

Police did not say if they had used any sort of control or force to detain the patient, Cichuniec said. They did not mention excited delirium, but he described McClain as having "hyper aggression" and "super strength." He was breathing very fast, wasn't responding, and seemed disoriented. Because he did not seem to have any control over his body, Cichuniec said he believed this was excited delirium.

"You look in his eyes, nobody’s home,” Cichuniec said in the interview.

He recalled asking Cooper if he was “good with ketamine." Ketamine was relatively new to the Aurora Fire Rescue, but had been on backorder, so they did not have it at the time, though they had been trained on it, he said. An ambulance would carry it, so they called for one to bring the sedative to the scene.

Cichuniec explained that when a person's weight is not definitively known, ketamine is given in three amounts, based on if the person is considered a small, medium or large adult. The dosage amounts are 300, 400, and 500 mg. Five milligrams of ketamine is given for each kilogram a person weighs, and Cichuniec said he estimated McClain weighed 85 kilograms, or 187 pounds. In the interview video, he said it was difficult to estimate McClain's weight because he was struggling and moving a lot, and it was dark outside. McClain weighed about 140 pounds.

Cichuniec explained 85 multiplied by five equals 425. Because this is above 400, Cichuniec said his training, as well as the condition of McClain, indicated that he should use the next highest amount, which is 500 milligrams. Based on protocol, he said they do not round down.

Cichuniec said it was his decision to use the ketamine. Cooper administered it into McClain's right deltoid, he said. The drug kicked in after a couple minutes, he said.

This was the first time he had used ketamine, Cichuniec said in the interview.

After the injection, Cichuniec said, "He was winding down. Never said anything.”

McClain was put on a gurney and the handcuffs were removed and soft restraints were put on him. He was then loaded into an ambulance. There, Cichuniec was put in charge of making sure McClain's airway was clear. He said he also put a mask on McClain to forcefully direct oxygen into his lungs.

Shortly afterward, the paramedics noticed that McClain's chest wasn't moving anymore and when Cichuniec checked for a carotid pulse, he could not find one. They started CPR and gave him epinephrine to try to kickstart his heart, he said.

After McClain arrived at the hospital and was in a bed, Cichuniec said he was in hospital care, so paramedics were done with their involvement and cleaned up. They then left the hospital and were back in service, he said.

This concluded Cichuniec's video interview from September 2019.

Investigative interview with Paramedic Lt. Cooper from September 2019 played in court

The video interview for Cooper that same month was then played in court.

At that point, Cooper had been employed by Aurora for 17 years. He recalled that on the evening of Aug. 24, 2019, he was called to the scene a little before midnight. When he arrived, he saw officers holding down a person on the east side of the road.

In this case, Cooper said he was in the role of the paramedic, meaning he had medical control and was in charge of all medical decisions.

In the video interview, he said the person on the ground seemed to be “fairly combative and aggressive with the officers." An officer approached Cooper and said that the man, who was handcuffed and facedown, was not making any sense and seemed aggressive. Several officers were trying to gain control of him, Cooper said, and were having to “work pretty good to keep him down.” The person was "pouring sweat," “hyper aggressive,” “certainly not compliant with the officers” and had “strength that was not normal," Cooper said in the 2019 interview.

He said he believed McClain had excited delirium.

Cooper said he tried to approach McClain a few times and ask questions — like his name and any medical problems — but never got any "sensical answers" back, he said.

He explained that the next protocol was to keep McClain safe and either get his vitals or sedate him so they could handle him safely. Because paramedics were not able to get his vital information, they decided to have officers continue to hold him down until the ambulance, which carried ketamine, was at the scene.

Once the ambulance arrived, Cooper said he estimated that McClain weighed 200 pounds, which would mean his ketamine dosage was 500 mg. He said in training, if the person's weight is not readily available, paramedics are taught to generalize the dosing based on 300 mg, 400 mg or 500 mg for a small, medium or large adult.

McClain weighed about 140 pounds.

Cooper asked a medic to draw up the 500 mg and then Cooper administered it into McClain's right deltoid. He was "still actively fighting" at that point, he said in the interview.

After two to three minutes, McClain seemed to calm down a little, Cooper said, and he seemed agitated still, but to a far lesser extent.

He confirmed that McClain did not stop resisting while he was handcuffed. Once he was sedated, he was lifted onto the gurney and restrained. During this time, McClain was still "somewhat combative," Cooper said.

After noticing vomit or a pink, frothy substance around McClain's mouth, Cooper instructed Cichuniec to start suctioning away the material and clear his airway.

In the ambulance en route to the hospital, Cooper said he saw McClain was not breathing on his own and did not have a pulse. They started CPR chest compressions and administered two rounds of Epinephrine to try to get his heart beating again, he said in the 2019 interview.

Once they arrived at the hospital, their staff took over care of McClain.

Cooper said at no point at the scene did officers ever mention if McClain was unconscious prior to paramedic arrival. They did alert paramedics that McClain had vomited.

Around 11:40 a.m. Wednesday, the judge announced that there was an issue so he had to excuse the jury for the rest of the day. At this point, court cameras and audio were turned off.

Court will resume at 8:30 a.m. Thursday.



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