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

The sentencing caps a series of trials that resulted in three convictions.
Paramedic Jeremy Cooper
Posted at 9:04 AM, Apr 27, 2024

A former paramedic who injected Elijah McClain with a powerful sedative avoided prison Friday and was sentenced to 14 months in jail with work release and probation in the killing of the Black man that helped fuel the 2020 racial injustice protests.

Jeremy Cooper had faced up to three years in prison after being found guilty in a jury trial last year of criminally negligent homicide. He administered a dose of ketamine to McClain, 23, who had been forcibly restrained after police stopped him as the massage therapist was walking home in a Denver suburb in 2019.

The sentencing caps 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.

Cooper, who was fired after his conviction, was sentenced to four years of probation including 14 months in jail under a program that will allow him to leave for work and return to jail at night and on weekends, said Lawrence Pacheco with the Colorado Attorney General's Office.

The other paramedic involved in McClain's death received a more severe punishment after being convicted on an additional charge of felony assault.

Judge Mark Warner said evidence showed Cooper did not purposely give McClain a ketamine overdose, rejecting claims by prosecutors that the paramedic had acted with indifference.

McClain's mother told the judge prior to Friday's sentencing that she blamed McClain's death on everyone who was present that night, not just those who were convicted.

"Eternal shame on all of you," Sheneen McClain said.

She said Cooper "did nothing" to help her son after he'd been restrained by police — didn't check his pulse, didn't check his breathing and didn't ask him how he was doing — before injecting him with an overdose of ketamine.

Close to tears, McClain ended by raising her right fist in the air and saying loudly, "From my heart to my hands, long live Elijah McClain, always and forever."

She later told reporters that she wasn't expecting much from the trials and wasn't surprised Cooper avoided prison time. "We won, Elijah won," she said.

Experts say the convictions would have been unheard of before 2020 when George Floyd's murder sparked a nationwide reckoning over racist policing and deaths in police custody.

At least 94 people died after they were given sedatives and restrained by police from 2012 through 2021, according to findings by The Associated Press in collaboration with FRONTLINE (PBS) and the Howard Centers for Investigative Journalism.

McClain's name became a rallying cry in protests over racial injustice in policing that swept the U.S. in 2020.

"Without the reckoning over criminal justice and how people of color suffer at much higher rates from police use of force and violence, it's very unlikely that anything would have come of this, that there would have been any charges, let alone convictions," said David Harris, a University of Pittsburgh law professor and expert on racial profiling.

Harris added that juries are often reluctant to second-guess the actions of police and other first responders.

"It's still very hard to convict," he said.

Cooper said during the hearing that he was sorry he couldn't save McClain.

"I want you to know that I would give anything to have a different outcome, Elijah," Cooper said as if he were talking to McClain. "I never, ever meant for anyone to hurt you."

He added that he wished he knew more at the time, implying that he could have used that knowledge to help McClain.

Sheneen McClain walked out of the courtroom as Cooper was speaking but later returned.

Prosecutor Jason Slothouber had asked the judge to incarcerate Cooper and argued that the paramedic was "singularly most responsible" for McClain's death because Cooper gave him a "massive overdose" of ketamine.

Cooper's attorney and wife and fellow firefighters urged the judge to show leniency. They described him saving people from fires, jumping into floodwaters to help an older woman and using CPR to try to save a child who died in a fire.

Cooper was not taken into custody after the hearing. He declined to comment as he walked out of the courthouse with his wife and supporters.

Demonstrators carry placards as they walk down Sable Boulevard during a rally and march over the death of Elijah McClain.

U.S. News

Paramedic gets 5 years in prison for Elijah McClain's death

AP via Scripps News
5:07 PM, Mar 01, 2024

Judge Warner previously sentenced ex-paramedic Peter Cichuniec in March to five years in prison. He faced the most serious of the charges in the case. It was the shortest sentence allowed under the law.

Warner sentenced Officer Randy Roedema to 14 months in jail with work release for criminally negligent homicide and misdemeanor assault.

Prosecutors initially declined to pursue charges related to McClain's death when an autopsy did not determine how he died. Democratic Gov. Jared Polis ordered the investigation reopened in 2020.

The second autopsy said McClain died because he was injected with ketamine after being forcibly restrained.

Since the killings of Floyd, McClain and others put a spotlight on police custody deaths, many departments, paramedic units and those that train them have reexamined how they treat suspects.

Medical experts said by the time he received the sedative, McClain was in a weakened state from forcible restraint that rendered him temporarily unconscious.

McClain was not armed, nor accused of breaking any laws. He went into cardiac arrest on the way to the hospital and died three days later.

The Colorado health department has since told paramedics not to give ketamine to people suspected of having excited delirium, described in a since-withdrawn emergency physicians' report as manifesting symptoms including increased strength. A doctors' group has called it an unscientific definition rooted in racism.

The protests over McClain and Floyd also ushered in a wave of state legislation to curb the use of neck holds. At least 27 states including Colorado have passed some limit on the practices. Only two had bans in place before Floyd was killed.

Sheneen McClain said outside the courthouse Friday that the only closure she got was that the trials and sentencings were over.

"It doesn't matter what anybody else does to wipe the blood of my son off their hands," she said. "It's already there."