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2nd medic sentenced in Elijah McClain case

Former paramedic Jeremy Cooper faced up to three years in prison after being found guilty of criminally negligent homicide

Jeremy Cooper

Former paramedic Jeremy Cooper, who injected Elijah McClain with ketamine before his death, wipes his eyes as he sits in court for sentencing, Friday, April 26, 2024, in the Brighton, Colo. Cooper was convicted last year of criminally negligent homicide in the Black man’s death, which helped fuel the 2020 social justice protests. (ABC News One/Pool via AP)

ABC News One/Pool via AP

By Colleen Slevin and Matthew Brown
Associated Press

BRIGHTON, Colo. — A former paramedic who injected Elijah McClain with a powerful sedative avoided prison and was sentenced to probation Friday after his homicide conviction in the Black man’s death, which 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.

The other paramedic and the officer sentenced in McClain’s death received more severe punishments than Cooper after being convicted on additional charges of assault.

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.

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 the two officers’ acquittals of the two officers following weekslong trials were unsurprising, since 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.

The judge who presided over the hearing Friday sentenced ex-paramedic Peter Cichuniec in March to five years in prison for criminally negligent homicide and second-degree assault, the most serious of the charges faced by any of the responders. It was the shortest sentence allowed under the law.

Previously, Judge Mark Warner sentenced officer Randy Roedema to 14 months in jail 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. It could take years though to collect enough evidence to show if those efforts are working, said Candace McCoy, a professor at John Jay College of Criminal Justice in New York.

Cooper injected McClain with ketamine after police stopped him as he was walking home. Officers later referenced a suspicious person report. McClain was not armed, nor accused of breaking any laws.

Medical experts said by the time he received the sedative, McClain already was in a weakened state from forcible restraint that rendered him temporarily 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 telephone messages and emails seeking comment on the sentencing.

Since McClain’s death, the Colorado health department has told paramedics not to give ketamine to people suspected of having excited delirium, which had been 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 known as carotid restraints, which cut off circulation, and chokeholds, which cut off breathing. 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 told the AP prior to Friday’s hearing that justice had not been served. She said the two acquitted Aurora police officers, as well as other firefighters and police on the scene, were complicit in her son’s killing.

“I’m waiting on heaven to hand down everybody’s judgment,” she said. “Because I know heaven ain’t gonna miss the mark.”