Former fire paramedic Peter Cichuniec was given the minimum sentence of five years in prison on Friday, March 1. He will also have to serve three years of probation. Cichuniec is among the two paramedics from Aurora, Colorado, who have been convicted in the 2019 negligent homicide case of 23-year-old Elijah McClain.

Police stopped McClain while he was walking home in August of 2019. Officers then forcibly detained him using a chokehold technique that is now banned by the city. When paramedics arrived on the scene they injected him with ketamine which resulted in cardiac arrest. McClain died six days later. The court will sentence Jeremy Cooper, the other convicted paramedic, on April 26.

Mother of McClain, Sheneen McClain, spoke during Friday’s hearing. “I watched my son’s murder on body cam video so many times because I want to know why they didn’t save him,” Sheneen stated. “I am here to witness if Peter Cichuniec will receive some form of accountability in the American state’s justice system for his participation in my son’s murder, or public lynching, by three killer cops on August 24, 2019.”

Authorities also charged three officers involved in the slaying. The only one convicted was Randy Roedema. The court sentenced him to 14 months in county jail with the possibility of work release and mandated 200 hours of community service. During work release, authorities trust inmates to leave detainment for work and return to the facility once their shift ends.

Day of The Incident

The incident began when McClain was walking home on the night of August 24, 2019. Authorities received a call reporting a suspicious man walking down the street. McClain was wearing a ski mask when police arrived.

An officer confronted him saying, “I have a right to stop you because you’re being suspicious.” The officer immediately put hands on McClain and instructed him to “stop tensing up,” as can be seen in the body cam footage

McClain explained that he was on his way home and asked the officers to leave him alone. They then overpowered McClain using a chokehold and pinned him on the ground. He vomited serval times and could be heard apologizing, “I’m sorry I wasn’t trying to do that. I can’t breathe correctly.” 

Moments later Aurora fire paramedics arrived. Around 15 minutes after police forcibly restrained McClain, paramedics injected him with ketamine. According to a report from an independent panel hired by the Aurora City Council, they injected him with a dosage more appropriate for a person weighing 190 pounds. McClain only weighed around 140. 

After placing him on a gurney the paramedic noticed McClain’s breathing was abnormal and he had no pulse.  

According to the DEA, ketamine is a “dissociative anesthetic” that makes the user feel detached from pain. Its immobility and amnesia effects make it a commonly used sedative.

Three days later, medical authorities declared McClain brain-dead, and he passed away on August 30, 2019.

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Demands for Justice

In the days and weeks after McClain’s death, the case did not receive much attention. The district attorney initially dropped the case after reviewing body cam footage and receiving an inconclusive autopsy report.

Following the death of George Floyd in 2020, the public became invested in McClain’s story. In June 2020, a petition circulated that called for a renewal of investigation into his death. The petition collected over three million signatures. By June 26, authorities had reassigned all three officers involved to other duties. 

After public outcry, Colorado Governor Jared Polis announced that he employed the state’s attorney general to investigate the death. Gov. Polis released a statement on the investigation saying, “Elijah McClain should be alive today, and we owe it to his family to take this step and elevate the pursuit of justice in his name to a statewide concern.”

A grand jury indicted the three officers and the two paramedics in 2021. The trials for the police officers concluded in October of 2023 and the paramedic’s trial ended in December 2023.

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