Jury selection begins in trial of paramedics charged in connection with Elijah McClain’s death


(DENVER) — The trial of two Colorado paramedics charged with manslaughter and criminally negligent homicide, among other counts, in connection with the death of Elijah McClain will proceed with jury selection on Monday.

Jeremy Cooper and Peter Cichuniec were the Aurora Fire and Rescue emergency medical technicians (EMT) who injected McClain with 500 milligrams (mg) of ketamine on Aug. 24, 2019, in Aurora, Colorado, after an encounter with police for “rapid tranquilization in order to minimize time struggling,” according to department policy.

Cooper and Cichuniec are being charged with criminally negligent homicide, assaults in the second degree, and crimes of violence. Cichuniec is facing an additional charge of manslaughter, according to the indictment. Cichuniec ordered the ketamine, and Cooper injected it into McClain. They have pleaded not guilty.

McClain was stopped by police on his way home from a convenience store after a passerby called 911 to report McClain as acting “sketchy” with a ski mask on; however, the caller said there was no weapon and that no one was in danger at the time.

Officer Nathan Woodyard, who was first on the scene, placed McClain in a carotid hold and he and the other two officers on the scene moved McClain by force to the grass and restrained him. McClain can be heard pleading with officers in police body camera footage, saying he can’t breathe correctly.

Cichuniec and Cooper arrived on the scene after McClain was restrained and in handcuffs, according to the indictment.

“Mr. McClain appeared unconscious, had no muscle tone, was limp, and had visible vomit coming from his nose and mouth,” after being held in a carotid chokehold by police and injected with ketamine, according to the indictment charging the EMTs. “Shortly after Mr. McClain was loaded into the ambulance, the paramedics discovered that Mr. McClain had no pulse and was not breathing.”

McClain was declared brain-dead days later and died on Aug. 30, 2019.

Cooper and Cichuniec diagnosed McClain with excited delirium, after approximately two minutes on the scene, according to the indictment. Cichuniec later told investigators excited delirium is a medical condition in which the patient has no control over their body and described resulting symptoms as hyper-aggression and disorientation, among others. Cooper said he reached the diagnosis after receiving information from officers and observing McClain for about one minute.

“Mr. McClain actually weighted 143 pounds (65 kg) and as such his weight-based Ketamine dose should have been closer to 325 mg of Ketamine,” rather than the 500 mg injected into the 23-year-old, according to the indictment.

The EMTs did not check McClain’s vital signs, talk to him, or physically touch him before administering the Ketamine, according to the indictment.

Cichuniec’s and Cooper’s legal defense did not immediately respond to ABC News’ request for a statement.

McClain’s cause of death, which was previously listed as “undetermined,” was listed in an amended autopsy report as “complications of ketamine administration following forcible restraint.” The manner of death remained listed as “undetermined” as it was in the initial report.

The defense attorneys for Woodyard argued the ketamine administered by the EMTs that night was responsible for his death during Woodyard’s trial. He was acquitted by a jury on all charges earlier this month.

In the first trial in connection with McClain’s death, Officer Randy Roedema was found guilty on Oct. 12 of criminally negligent homicide and assault in the third degree. He will be sentenced in January and could face up to five years in prison and be fined more than $100,000. His employment with the police force was terminated following his conviction.

Another officer, Jason Rosenblatt, was found not guilty on charges of reckless manslaughter, assault in the second degree, and criminally negligent homicide in October. His employment with the police force was terminated in 2020.

“Everyone who was present during the night of my son’s murder will have an eternity of punishment and shame to face,” Sheneen McClain, Elijah McClain’s mother told ABC News in a statement. “No one will ever forget what they did. Karma is real, so don’t be sorry for me. This is the system of biased hate that we all work for and pay into.”

ABC News’ Aisha Frazier contributed to this report.

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