Aurora Fire Rescue paramedics Jeremy Cooper and Peter Cichuniec were convicted of criminally negligent homicide in the 2019 death of Elijah McClain. Cichuniec was also found guilty of second-degree assault. The convictions were reached after a trial in a state district court, following two days of jury deliberations.
McClain, a 23-year-old Black man, encountered police on August 24, 2019, while walking home from a convenience store. During this encounter, an officer placed McClain in a neck hold, leading to him becoming temporarily unconscious. Following this, the paramedics administered an overdose of ketamine to McClain, who weighed 140 pounds (64 kilograms). The prosecution argued that the paramedics failed to conduct basic medical checks before administering the sedative and did not adequately monitor McClain afterward.
This case gained national attention, partly due to its context within the broader discussions of police and medical responder conduct, especially following the 2020 protests sparked by the death of George Floyd. The verdict in this case sets a precedent as it is among the first in the U.S. to criminally prosecute medical first responders in such a context.
Prior to this verdict, an Aurora police officer involved in the incident was convicted of homicide and third-degree assault, while two other officers were acquitted. The defense argued that the paramedics were following their training, diagnosing McClain with “excited delirium,” a condition whose scientific validity has been questioned.
Sheneen McClain, Elijah’s mother, released a statement before the verdict, expressing her views on the lack of humanity displayed during the incident. The case also drew attention due to McClain’s words, “I’m an introvert and I’m different,” captured on police body camera footage, resonating with the public.