NewsElijah McClain | 360 In-Depth Coverage


Trial of paramedics Cooper and Cichuniec resumes Monday after break "due to unforeseen circumstances"

Posted: 12:45 PM, Dec 11, 2023
Updated: 2023-12-12 11:49:25-05
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. 11 proceedings.

Monday, Dec. 11

After the trial of Paramedics Cooper and Cichuniec went on recess for approximately two and a half business days, proceedings resumed Monday morning just before 9 a.m.

The court did not address what was behind the abrupt ending to trial on Wednesday, Dec. 6 when the judge announced that there was an issue and he would excuse the jury for the rest of the day.

That was followed by two more days of court on pause. "Due to unforeseen circumstances, court is in recess until Friday at 8:30 a.m.," CoCourts posted on X, formerly known as Twitter.

Then there was further elaboration that "due to health concerns, in the interest of the wellbeing of the jury, and with the input of the parties, the Court has recessed proceedings until Monday, Dec. 11 at 8:30 a.m.," CoCourts posted on X.

The prosecution and defense got through three witnesses in the first three hours of court Monday.

First, the People brought Amanda Kelsey to the stand. She's been a crime scene investigator with the Aurora Police Department for 20 years. She also testified in the trial of APD Officers Randy Roedema and Jason Rosenblatt.

And she was a witness in the trial of APD Officer Nathan Woodyard.

Monday, the People introduced exhibits 351-354 and 360-364 into the court record- all of which were photos Kelsey took of the scene where McClain was arrested. They also admitted exhibits 375-390- which included more photos of the scene, in addition to photos of McClain's autopsy that Kelsey captured. Exhibits 375-390 were admitted subject to the prosecution establishing foundation for their admittance.

Exhibits 135 and 136, videos that Kelsey took of the scene, were also submitted to the court record.

In cross examination, the defense for Cooper and Cichuniec pressed Kelsey on whether she had measured the distance from the street where the fire engine and ambulance had likely been parked to the scene of where McClain was arrested by Aurora police.

She did not.

The defense also asked Kelsey to clarify that she used flash in the photographs she took of the scene, and a light to illuminate the area when she took videos, clarifying "they looked different than what you'd see with the naked eye." Kelsey confirmed that was correct.

The People then introduced Alissa Gonzalez, who was a basic EMT for Falck Rocky Mountain, at the time of McClain's arrest. Falck is a company that works in partnership with the Aurora Police Department by providing ambulances that show up to calls when needed.

Gonzalez was also a witness in the trial of Officer Woodyard.

Gonzalez said before the Falck team arrived on the scene of McClain's arrest, she knew there was a request for ketamine to be administered.

During her testimony, Gonzalez was asked several questions about if she remembered medical equipment near McClain when she arrived, if she could recall anyone checking for McClain's vitals before he reached the ambulance, and if Cooper or Cichuniec objected to McClain lying "prone"- with his stomach in the grass. To all of which, she answered "no" or "I don't remember."

The court took a mid-morning break around 10:10 a.m. before defense conducted cross examination of Gonzalez.

Finally, the prosecution brought Madison Freeman, a coworker and friend of McClain's, to the stand. She told the jury she worked with McClain at Massage Envy from approximately 2017-2019 up until his death.

At question throughout this trial and the two prior trials of Aurora police officers Roedema, Rosenblatt and Woodyard, was McClain's fitness and overall health that could've contributed to his death.

While Freeman testified McClain would run or bicycle to and from work continually and sometimes during his lunch breaks, the defense questioned Freeman on whether she herself was also a runner and ever accompanied McClain on his runs. The defense asked, "You can see say that he showed up at work and tell you he ran there?"

But Freeman countered by clarifying the Greenwood Village location of Massage Envy the two worked at had large windows in the front, and she could see him running.

The court took its lunch break early and is set to resume around 12:30 p.m.

After the lunch break, the People brought in their next witness: Travis Chambers, a firefighter paramedic for North Metro Fire Rescue who worked for Falck Ambulance — which contracts with Aurora to respond to calls involving paramedics — in 2018. Chambers was not just a firefighter paramedic, but was also charged with training incoming paramedics on the protocols and policies for pre-hospital care.

Chambers testified he's taught training on bleeding control, shock management, trauma management as well as other "specific requests for training," including the controversial and widely rejected diagnoses of "excited delirium" for patients who need immediate, life-saving care before they get to a hospital.

During cross examination, the defense for both Cooper and Cichuniec tried to poke holes at whether his training, done about a year prior to McClain's deadly arrest in 2019, was even updated by the time of the unarmed Black man's arrest, to which Chambers testified that it was, because those trainings get updated about twice a year, at the beginning and toward the end of the year.

In the redirect, senior prosecutor for the Colorado Attorney General Jason Slothouber asked him several questions surrounding the protocols for ketamine administration and how those protocols specified what should be done in cases of "combative patients" and excited delirium.

Chambers said the training went through a series of things — the "ABCs" as the called them — that paramedics should be on the lookout for: Airways, Breathing and Circulation.

"You want to analyze trends or changes in patient condition to assess whether there’s improvement or decompensation (meaning organ failure)," Chambers told the prosecution.

Questioning then moved on to ketamine administration specifically, including what sort of side effects can happen if someone is administered more than the correct dosage for their weight.

"Do you specifically train paramedics about the dangers of airway obstruction if under sedation?" Slothouber asked, to which Chambers only replied that that is touched on "broadly" during the training paramedics receive.

"Do you teach them that ketamine fixes acidosis?" Slothouber asked, but again, Chambers only replied that the training only teaches so much.

"It helps reduce sympathetic response (stop you from being so active), which helps reduce production of acid in the body," he replied, explaining that the training does mention that there's an increase in side effects if ketamine is given in a higher dosage for the individual for whom it will be administered. A higher dosage given to a patient who falls out of a certain range based on their body weight "would be inappropriate."

In cross examination, the defense tried to poke holes from his testimony in regards to the specifics of what the training did and didn't say.

"You never told anybody in your training if they get severely acidotic, to abandon their training?" asked defense attorney Shana Beggan. "In your trainings, you didn’t do any training on how to assess weights?"

"No, ma'am," Chambers replied.

Another attorney for the defense then tried to poke holes at the quality of the trainings in question, based their line of questioning on how much time was spent at these trainings and whether ketamine went through a "waiver process" in order to be included in updated guidance for the trainings.

"If something is new - that’s going to be subject to the waiver process?" the defense asked. "Sometimes some procedures can be agreed upon by standing order, some will need to go through waiver process."

Questioned whether the training protocol indicated whether patient monitoring needed to be applied once at the scene of a call, Chambers said "it's an expectation" for paramedics to do so.

Chambers was excused and court was dismissed for the day. Jurors were expected to be back by 8:30 a.m. Tuesday.



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