Paramedic who injected Elijah McClain with ketamine before his death avoids jail

BRIGHTON, Colo. (AP) – A former paramedic who injected Elijah McClain with ketamine avoided jail and was sentenced to probation Friday after he conviction for murder in the black man's death, which sparked protests against racial injustice in 2020.

Jeremy Cooper faced a three-year prison sentence. He administered a dose of the sedative ketamine to 23-year-old McClain, who was forcibly restrained after the police stopped him as he walked home in suburban Denver in 2019.

The conviction concludes a series of trials that stretched over seven months and resulted in the convictions of a police officer and two paramedics. Criminal charges against paramedics and emergency medical technicians involved in police custody cases are rare.

Experts say the convictions would have been unheard of before 2020 The murder of George Floyd led to a national reckoning over racist policing and deaths in police custody.

McClain's mother, Sheneen McClain, says the two acquitted officers — as well as other firefighters and police who were there — were complicit in her son's murder and escaped justice.

THIS IS A BREAKING NEWS UPDATE. AP's earlier story follows below.

DENVER (AP) — Nearly five years after Elijah McClain died following a police stop in which he was placed in a neckhold and injected with the powerful sedative ketamine, three of the five Officers and paramedics from the Denver area those prosecuted for the black man's death have been convicted.

Experts say the convictions would have been unheard of before 2020 The murder of George Floyd led to a national reckoning over racist policing and deaths in police custody. At a sentencing hearing Friday, Jeremy Cooper, a former Aurora Fire Rescue paramedic, faces up to three years in prison after being convicted in December of criminally negligent homicide upon McClain's death in 2019.

But McClain's mother, Sheneen McClain, said justice has not yet been served. She said the two acquitted Aurora police officers, as well as other firefighters and police at the scene, were complicit in the murder of her 23-year-old son and had escaped justice.

'I wait for heaven to pass judgment on everyone. Because I know that heaven will not miss its mark,” she told The Associated Press.

Sheneen McClain plans to speak at Friday's hearing.

Criminal prosecution is rarely brought against paramedics and EMTs, according to experts.

At least 94 people died after being given sedatives and restrained by police from 2012 to 2021, according to findings by the AP in partnership with FRONTLINE (PBS) and the Howard Centers for Investigative Journalism.

McClain's name became a rallying cry protests against racial injustice in the police that swept the US in 2020.

“Without the reckoning over criminal justice and the way in which people of color suffer at much higher rates from the use of force and violence by police, it is very unlikely that anything would have come of this, that there would have been any charges, let alone convictions,” the spokesperson said. David Harris, law professor at the University of Pittsburgh and expert on racial profiling.

Harris added that the acquittals of the two officers after weeks of trials were not surprising because juries are often reluctant to judge the actions of police and other first responders.

“It's still very difficult to convict,” he said.

The judge who will preside over Friday's hearing convicted former paramedic Peter Cichuniec in March up to five years in prison for criminally negligent homicide and second-degree assault, the most serious charges all first responders face. It was the shortest sentence allowed by law.

Previously, Judge Mark Warner sentenced officer Randy Roedema to 14 months in prison for murder and negligent assault.

Prosecutors initially declined to file charges in McClain's death because an autopsy did not reveal how he died. Democratic Gov. Jared Polis ordered the investigation reopened after the 2020 protests against police brutality.

The second autopsy revealed that McClain died because he was given an injection of ketamine after being forcibly restrained.

Sheneen McClain does not think it is logical that officer Nathan Woodyard, who arrested her son and held him by the neck, was acquitted, while officer Roedema received a lighter sentence than paramedic Cichuniec. She believes the paramedics' role was to cover up what police did to her son.

“I raised him alone and I will continue to be there for my son regardless of whether anyone listens to me,” she said.

Since the murder of Floyd, McClain and others a spotlight on deaths in police custodyMany departments, paramedic units and those who train them have re-examined how they treat suspects. However, it could take years to gather enough evidence to show whether these efforts are working, said Candace McCoy, a professor at the John Jay College of Criminal Justice in New York.

Cooper injected McClain with ketamine after police stopped him while he was walking home. Officers later referred to a report of a suspicious person. McClain was not armed nor was he charged with breaking any laws.

Medical experts said that by the time McClain was given the sedative, he was already in a weakened state due to restraint that temporarily rendered him unconscious.

He went into cardiac arrest on the way to the hospital and died three days later.

Cooper's attorneys did not immediately respond to phone messages and emails seeking comment on the sentencing.

Since McClain's death, the Colorado Health Department has instructed paramedics not to give ketamine to people suspected of having ketamine excited delirium, which had been described in a now-retracted report from emergency physicians as showing symptoms including increased strength. A medical group has called it an unscientific definition rooted in racism.

The protests against McClain and Floyd also led to one wave of state legislation to curb the use of neck restraints, known as carotid restraints, which cut off circulation, and chokeholds, which cut off breathing. At least 27 states, including Colorado, have exceeded some limit on the practice. Only two had bans before Floyd was killed.

According to MiDian Holmes, a racial justice advocate who attended the trials of the first responders, the change is not coming soon enough.

“The message is that Elijah's life mattered, but it didn't matter enough,” Holmes said.

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