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Paramedic Gets Five-Year Prison Term For Death Of Elijah McClain

A Colorado paramedic was sentenced to five years in prison in a rare prosecution of medical responders for the death of Elijah McClain, a Black man whose name became part of the rallying cries for social justice around the U.S. in 2020. McClain was walking down a street in a Denver suburb in 2019 when police responding to a suspicious person report restrained him and put him in a neck hold. His final words -- “I can’t breathe” -- foreshadowed those of George Floyd a year later in Minneapolis. Peter Cichuniec and a fellow paramedic were convicted in December of criminally negligent homicide for injecting McClain with ketamine, a powerful sedative ultimately blamed for killing the 23-year-old massage therapist, the Associated Press reports. Cichuniec also was convicted on a more serious charge of second-degree assault for giving a drug without consent or a legitimate medical purpose.

The case and others have raised questions about the use of ketamine to subdue struggling suspects. The prosecution sent shock waves through the ranks of paramedics across the U.S. McClain’s mother, Sheneen, raised her fist in the air as she left the courtroom after Friday’s sentencing. “You are a local hero no more,” she said as Cichuniec sat with his attorneys . The second convicted paramedic, Jeremy Cooper, is scheduled to be sentenced in April. Cichuniec told the judge he had spent his 18-year career as a firefighter and paramedic putting his life on the line to save others. It sickened me when the prosecution said during their closing argument that I showed no remorse for Elijah. ... There was absolutely no intent to cause any harm to Elijah McClain.” Firefighters and union officials criticized the state’s prosecution of Cichuniec. They said it was discouraging firefighters from becoming paramedics, decreasing the number of qualified personnel in emergencies and putting lives at risk.


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