Colorado paramedic sentenced to 5 years in prison for criminally negligent homicide in death of Elijah McClain

Peter Cichuniec was convicted in December and found guilty in the of Elijah McClain. 

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A Colorado paramedic has been sentenced to five years in prison over the death of a patient in his care when he served as a first responder for that patient. Peter Cichuniec was convicted in December and found guilty in the of Elijah McClain. 

Cichuniec's colleague, Jeremy Cooper, was also convicted for criminally negligent homicide. But Cichuniec, who faces the 5-year sentence, had the added conviction of second-degree assault for giving a drug without consent or a legitimate medical purpose, the AP reports. Three police officers were charges as well. One of those officers, Randy Roedema, was convicted and sentenced to 14-months in jail. The others were acquitted. Cooper's sentencing is expected for April.

Sentencing Judge Mark Warner gave Cichuniec the minimum allowable sentence under the sentencing guidelines for assault. Cichuniec has been in custody since he was convicted in December. He was handcuffed and shackled during the sentencing hearing.

Cichuniec asked Warner for mercy and shed tears in the courtroom. He had served as a first responder for 18 years, first as a firefighter and then as a paramedic.

"I have never backed down from a call and I’ve had more things happen to me than you can imagine," he said. "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."

The two paramedics were been found guilty over administering a sedative that was found to be responsible for McClain's death. McClain died in 2019 at the age of 23. He was a massage therapist. Officers and paramedics had responded to a 911 call on McClain, who was "walking down the street waving his arms and wearing a face mask" in August 2019.

He had been listening to music on earbuds when officers approached and a struggle ensued. A neck hold and restraint were implemented, and the struggle continued for 20 minutes, at which point McClain was injected with 500 milligrams of ketamine. McClain went into cardiac arrest and died three days later in the hospital when life support was removed.

It was due to the administering of ketamine that the paramedics were prosecuted. "Prosecutors said the paramedics did not conduct basic medical checks of McClain, such as taking his pulse, before giving him the ketamine. The dose was too much for someone of his size — 140 pounds (64 kilograms), experts testified. Prosecutors say they also did not monitor McClain immediately after giving him the sedative but instead left him lying on the ground, making it harder to breathe," the AP reports.

Firefighters and reps from their union said that the prosecution of Cichuniec and Cooper would discourage firefighters from becoming paramedics and that the convictions would be chilling, and would decrease the number of qualified personnel in first responder positions.

A colleague of Cichuniec's, former Aurora Fire Lieutenant John Lauder, said that "Convicting Pete for the death is not justice. It’s the very definition of a scapegoat. But for the grace of God, it could be us in jail. The result of this decision will have a negative impact on patient care throughout the nation. Will paramedics now be held be held responsible for outcomes beyond their control?"
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