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Elijah McClain case: Trial begins for 2 Aurora Fire paramedics, accused of giving McClain too much ketamine

Both paramedics — Peter Cichuniec and Jeremy Cooper — have been charged with reckless manslaughter, criminally negligent homicide and assault.
Posted: 12:52 PM, Nov 29, 2023
Updated: 2023-11-30 00:16:56-05
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.

“Conundrum of a verdict:” Analysis of different outcomes in two Elijah McClain trials

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 Nov. 29 proceedings.

Wednesday, Nov. 29

In opening statements in the trial against Aurora Fire Rescue paramedics Peter Cichuniec and Jeremy Cooper, the prosecution with the Colorado Attorney General's Office painted a picture that both defendants violated protocols not only by administering ketamine to Elijah McClain but also deviated in training by not checking his medical condition, including vital signs, while in their care at the scene.

Prosecutor Shannon Stevenson said the first responders "failed him at every single step" and watched "their patient get weaker and weaker right in front of their eyes. Stevenson argued Cichuniec and Cooper injected McClain, with no medical purpose, an overdose of ketamine after McClain was already "barely moving and struggling to breath" while he was apprehended by Aurora police officers.

The fire paramedics were called to the scene that night by the Aurora police officers after McClain was put into two carotid holds by police, rendering him unconscious, in an attempt to restrain the 19-year-old.

Stevenson detailed McClain's deteriorating condition during the struggle with Aurora police when the two paramedics arrived at the scene and before ketamine was administered stating that he was handcuffed on the ground, had vomited several times, had aspirated and breathed some of his own vomit back into his lungs.

Stevenson said McClain was also suffering from acidosis, a buildup of carbon dioxide in his blood, and needed immediate medical treatment. Instead, the prosecution said the paramedics decided to give McClain the sedative at which point "he became almost completely nonresponsive" and was "sedated way beyond the point of anyone outside of a hospital."

The prosecution said McClain was administered a 500 mg dose of ketamine, the maximum amount allowed without additional approval. McClain, who weighed around 140 pounds, was injected with a dose of the sedative appropriate for a 220 pound person or around "150 percent of the dose someone of his size." Prosecutor Stevenson said.

Describing their actions as "surely reckless", Stevenson said both paramedics violated standards of care by not doing any assessment of McClain before injecting him with ketamine and by not monitoring his vital signs and condition for several minutes after the sedative was injected.

"The defendants acted with no regard to the risks to Elijah McClain. They didn't speak one word to him or touch him with one finger," said Stevenson. "They don't ask the police a single question about Elijah McClain's condition, don't take a single piece of medical equipment out of the bag, don't lean down to look at Elijah McClain."

Stevenson presented to the jury, the Aurora Fire Rescue protocol paramedics are to follow when administering sedatives to someone who potentially poses a threat to themselves or someone else, showing signs of excited delirium. She said the protocol includes a full assessment of a patient and that both paramedics did not talk to McClain, that there was no physical exam or attention to his airway.

She questioned the need for a sedative since McClain was not seen on body camera video at that point "trying to hit someone, kick someone" and the most aggression seen from McClain was twisting "around to get into a position so that he can breath."

Stevenson said the People will establish McClain was injected with a ketamine overdose while he was already "barely moving and struggling to breath" and that "the last thing he needs is to be sedated" and ultimately the defendants "failed every step of their training and protocols."

Regarding the charges against both Cichuniec and Cooper, the prosecution told the jury neither are accused of committing an intentional act of murder and that there is no allegation they intended to kill McClain but that their actions "continuously disregarded the risks to Elijah McClain and their reckless acts killed him," said Stevenson.

The prosecution wrapped its opening statements Wednesday morning. The defense opening statements will be added and this story will be updated throughout the day.


Attorney Shana Beggan, representing Jeremy Cooper, began opening statements for the defense by describing the type of call the two paramedics received and the scene that awaited both on the evening of August 24, 2019.

Beggan said the initial call was for a medical check with Aurora police and as they approached the scene they noticed a "heavy, heavy police presence and that's very concerning" saying that was not common and that "this level of police response had it so clogged that they had to park the fire truck down the road."

Cooper's defense painted a chaotic picture in the control of Aurora police that was "very concerning, concerning about what are we walking into." Beggan told jurors, as the paramedics walked onto the scene, they heard APD officers relay information about a long altercation with McClain. "There's been a fight with police, it took all these officers to get him down, there's been an officer whose gun was gone for, they're learning snippits," Baggan said.

Countering the prosecution's assertion that both paramedics "had medical control in this situation", Beggan said as Cooper first tried to engage with Elijah McClain, McClain started to speak and APD officers "get amped up and you hear fire medic Cooper tries to verbally de-escalate" at which point McClain is picked up by officers and slammed down onto the ground.

Defense said at this point in the encounter, Cooper "had no authority to kick those officers off his patient" and was trying to calm the situation until the ambulance arrived while determining the appropriate protocol to follow "because his tools are not there. He doesn't have a gurney," said Beggan.

She then pushed back against the People's claim that paramedics did not follow protocol, but were instead reacting with the information they had in the moment. "They're (Cooper, Cichuniec) being told by law enforcement that this person (McClain) has been fighting, it took all of them (police) to get him to the ground and they're being told that he has superhuman strength," said Beggan to the jury. "They're being told that he has done a push up with three of them on him, over 700 pounds of men on him. They're being told he's been completely resistant to pain control, they're being told he went for a gun."

Again, addressing the prosecution's allegation that the paramedics did not follow protocol that night that would have established the need for a sedative, Cooper's defense attorney said that in fact the information both medics received indicated evidence that "the patient has a medical cause of agitation," referencing the protocol directive and that a "constellation of symptoms" described to the paramedics was excited delirium.

Signs of excited delirium, according to the protocol, include paranoia, disorientation, hallucination and increased strength. "What do they have to do? Give ketamine," argued Beggan reading from the protocol. "The goal is to rapidly tranquilize in order to minimize time stuggling. Why? Because the more the patient struggles, the worse they are."

Cooper's defense closed opening statements: "The goal is to sedate, transport to the people that can save his life and that's what they did, but their tools weren't there. The ambulance wasn't there."


Cichuniec's defense attorney, Michael Lowe, opened his statements by outlining the specific roles of both paramedics when they responded to the scene. "Paramedic Cooper would make the medical decision, Paramedic Cichuniec had safety control of the scene, he had administrative control of the scene," Lowe outlined in court.

Lowe said Cichuniec was concerned that the ambulance, which was arriving from several miles away, would have trouble reaching McClain due to a large number of vehicles and radioed for the ambulance crew to take a route from the north on Billings that would offer a quicker path to the scene.

Paramedic Cooper, at around that time, requested Cichuniec ask the ambulance crew for narcotics and restraints, per the excited delirium protocol at which point Lowe said Cichuniec replied: "Narcs or ketamine? Paramedic Cooper replied ketamine, that is the system of checks that is going on."

Cichuniec again checked on the status of the ambulance. "That is Mr. Cichuniec saying 'you guys need to get here' because we have a situation that requires immediate attention and you (ambulance) have the tools we need to accomplish that." Lowe said to jurors.

Cichuniec is not seen again on body worn camera footage until he returns with the stretcher from the ambulance and the 500 mg of ketamine.

"Then checks to make sure the (McClain's) pulse is still rapid and that the circumstances are still the same," said Lowe, before the ketamine was administered.

Again referencing the protocol, Lowe said the next step was not to monitor the patient but to ensure restraint. "Soft restraints are essential" for excited delirium patients "even when appropriately sedated."

He said when a patient comes out of sedation, they can awake with the same actions as before, potentially cause injury.

"Which is why you hear, when they give him the sedation, they say put your hand right here on this pressure point in case he fights." said Lowe.

The handcuffs were removed and McClain was secured with the soft restraints. "They cannot at that point take the time to start monitoring in the formal way you might be thinking. They have to comply with the restraint protocol first. Once that's done, what do they do? They take Mr. McClain immediately to the ambulance."

Lowe said once McClain was in the ambulance paramedics noted he was not breathing and had no pulse and "they immediately started life-saving measures."

Lowe wrapped opening statements saying no crime had been committed by either paramedic.

"This case is not about whether protocols were missed. This case is about whether in helping Mr. McClain, these two gentleman committed a crime and at the end of this case, after you've seen all of it, we are confident that you will find that they did not." said Lowe.

The defense opening statements wrapped before the jury was excused for the lunch break. The People presented its first witness during the afternoon.


After the break, four witnesses were called to the stand, including 911 dispatchers and Lt. DJ Tisdale with the Aurora Police Department. Aurora dispatchers Debra Furler and Ethel Nelson explained to the jury how 911 calls are received and how police and medical units are dispatched to the scene.

Prosecutors played the 911 call that prompted police to respond to Billings and Colfax where they approached McClain.

Tisdale, who is in charge of the department's body-worn camera program, testified to the authenticity of the camera footage. He explained how officers are unable to alter or delete video clips. He will remain as an expert witness throughout the trial.

Court was adjourned for the day after Tisdale stepped down.


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