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Elijah McClain Case Challenges Paramedic Immunity

The ongoing trial against two Colorado paramedics, Jeremy Cooper and Peter Cichuniec, for their involvement in the 2019 death of Elijah McClain is testing the conventional protection paramedics have enjoyed from legal liability while providing emergency medical care. If found guilty, this case could set a precedent with far-reaching implications, experts warn.

A Landmark Case

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The trial of Jeremy Cooper and Peter Cichuniec is a unique one.

It marks one of the very few instances where paramedics are criminally charged for actions taken while on duty.

Challenging Notions of Paramedic Immunity

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Traditionally, paramedics are covered by statutory immunities that shield them from legal repercussions even when following their standard medical procedures during emergencies.

The trial is unprecedented in the realm of emergency medical services, as paramedics have rarely faced professional, civil, or criminal consequences for their actions.

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The Elijah McClain Case

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The charges against Cooper and Cichuniec are connected to the arrest of Elijah McClain in 2019, where paramedics played a crucial role in the events leading to his tragic death.

A notable aspect of the case is the paramedics’ diagnosis of McClain with “excited delirium” and their administration of ketamine, a powerful sedative, which ultimately led to McClain’s heart attack and subsequent death.

Weight Miscalculation

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The indictment revealed that paramedics estimated McClain’s weight to be significantly higher than it actually was, resulting in an inappropriate dose of ketamine.

Suspension and Certification

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Following their indictment in 2021, Cooper and Cichuniec were suspended from their positions. The outcome of the trial will influence whether their certifications will be revoked.

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Ketamine Controversy

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The trial has raised questions about the use of ketamine by emergency responders, particularly when administered without consent, leading to concerns and investigations in various states.

The decision to administer a larger-than-necessary dose of ketamine to McClain is a central issue in the trial.

Defense attorneys for the Aurora officers are also pointing to the overdose as a contributing factor to McClain’s death.

Excited Delirium

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Dr. Roger Mitchell, a forensic pathologist, testified during the trial and disputed the paramedics’ diagnosis of “excited delirium.”

He stated that McClain needed oxygen, fluids, and a physical examination rather than ketamine.

Impact on Paramedic-Police Relations

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Paramedics and police officers often find themselves working together in high-pressure situations, with their roles sometimes intersecting as they respond to emergencies.

Experts suggest that if paramedics face legal consequences for their actions in such cases, it may lead them to question police instructions when providing medical aid, potentially creating tension and hesitation.

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Paramedic Liability

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The trial may have implications for how paramedics perceive their liability, causing them to be more cautious in situations involving law enforcement.

Proving criminal activity or gross negligence by paramedics is challenging, as it requires prosecutors to meet a high burden of proof.

Prosecution Challenges

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Prosecutors typically face difficulties in holding paramedics criminally liable due to the specialized nature of their work and the need to prove extreme negligence.

Negligence claims against paramedics are often complicated, as jurors with medical training may be hesitant to attribute negligence to professionals in the field.

Precedent in Michigan Case

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The article cites a case in Michigan where paramedics and an officer were charged with manslaughter.

However, ultimately, they had their charges dropped due to a lack of evidence tying their actions to the victim’s death.

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Difficult to Challenge Sovereign Immunity

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Prosecutors often encounter difficulties in cases involving government agents who are protected by sovereign immunity, requiring them to demonstrate a breach of constitutional duties.

Proving that paramedics’ actions were negligent to the point of causing death is a formidable task, and jurors may be inclined to favor paramedics due to their medical training.

Only a Few Sympathetic Jurors

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The defense will likely seek to create doubt regarding paramedics’ negligence, understanding that just a few sympathetic jurors can sway the outcome of the trial.

Candace McCoy, an attorney and criminal justice professor at the John Jay College of Criminal Justice, says, “All they need is one or two jurors to sympathize with the EMTs.”

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