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Issue In Third McClain Trial: Are Paramedics Criminally Responsible?

The third and final trial over the 2019 death of Elijah McClain after he was stopped by police in suburban Denver involves homicide and manslaughter charges against two paramedics. It’s a prosecution in largely uncharted legal territory of criminal charges against medical first responders, the Associated Press reports. McClain, 23, had been stopped and put into a neck hold by police that left him weakened when paramedics arrived and injected him with the powerful sedative ketamine. The Black man went into cardiac arrest on his way to the hospital and was pronounced dead three days later. Initially no one was charged because the coroner’s office could not determine how McClain died. In 2021, protests over the 2020 murder of George Floyd renewed attention to McClain’s case, leading to an indictment of the paramedics and three officers.


“What we saw three years ago ... put a huge spotlight on the police profession,” University of Miami criminologist Alex Piquero said, adding that the McClain case “has the potential to do that for paramedics and first responders.” Defense attorneys at a November court hearing indicated they plan to blame police for McClain’s death during a trial expected to last most of December. The case will be the first of several criminal charges against medical first responders to reach trial and could “set the bar” for prosecutors in future cases, said Douglas Wolfberg, a former emergency medicine instructor and founding partner of a Pennsylvania law firm representing emergency medical services workers. “Society’s thinking about these things has changed and evolved, especially since George Floyd,” Wolfberg said. “Obviously there are political considerations. That’s not to deny Mr. McClain’s family the justice they are seeking.” Cases pending elsewhere include Illinois paramedics facing first-degree murder charges after a patient they strapped facedown to a stretcher suffocated, and an involuntary manslaughter charge against a California nurse who continued to draw blood from an unresponsive patient while officers pinned him down.

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