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IAFC president issues statement on Colo. medics’ conviction in death of Elijah McClain

Fire Chief John Butler said the verdict sets a dangerous precedent for firefighters and paramedics

Elijah McClain Trial

Paramedics Jeremy Cooper, left, and Peter Cichuniec, right, attend an arraignment at the Adams County Justice Center in Brighton, Colo., on Jan. 20, 2023. The third and final trial over the 2019 death of Elijah McClain after he was stopped by police in suburban Denver involves homicide and manslaughter charges against two paramedics, a prosecution experts say enters largely uncharted legal territory by levying criminal charges against medical first responders.

Andy Cross/The Denver Post via AP

By Bill Carey

MCCLEAN, Va. — The International Association of Fire Chiefs released a statement on Thursday from IAFC President John Butler regarding the recent conviction of two Colorado paramedics in the 2019 in-custody death of Elijah McClain.

The jury found Aurora Fire Rescue Paramedics Jeremy Cooper and Peter Cichuniec guilty of criminally negligent homicide. The jury also found Cichuniec guilty of a second-degree assault charge. They could face years in prison at sentencing.

Butler’s statement addressed the potential impact of the verdict:

“The unprecedented criminal prosecution of Aurora (CO) Firefighter/Paramedic Jeremy Cooper and Captain Pete Cichuniec, that led to the recent verdicts against them, may have a profound and harmful impact on the delivery of pre-hospital emergency medical services.

“The IAFC does not seek to relitigate this case or to argue the merits. But the politics driving this criminal prosecution sets a dangerous precedent that will weigh heavily on the minds of all prehospital providers, including our firefighters and paramedics, as they face similar split-second medical decisions.

“Ultimately, without an astute ‘course correction’ away from politically driven criminal prosecution, dangerous delays in time-critical patient care intervention and decreased availability of advanced prehospital emergency medical care will likely result.”

The trial against the paramedics explored uncharted legal territory because it was the first case against EMS personnel facing criminal charges to reach trial.

Following a suspicious person report, police stopped McClain while he was walking home from a convenience store on Aug. 24, 2019. After an officer said McClain reached for an officer’s gun, another officer put him in a neck hold that rendered him temporarily unconscious. Officers also pinned down McClain before Cooper injected him with ketamine. Cichuniec said it was his decision to use ketamine.

An Aurora police officer was convicted of homicide and third-degree assault earlier this year while two officers were acquitted.