Power & Market

The Paramedic who Helped Police Kill Elijah McClain Is Sentenced to Five Years

On Monday, Aurora, Colorado paramedic Peter Cichuniec was sentenced to five years in prison (for criminally negligent homicide) for his part in the killing of Elijah McClain. 

McClain was an Aurora resident who had been walking home on the night of August 24, 2019. After police received a call about an unarmed person who looked “sketchy,” police stopped and confronted McClain. 

McClain was doing nothing illegal and had given police no probable cause to suspect any criminal activities. Yet, within nine seconds of contacting McClain, police assaulted McClain, and put him in a choke hold. 

At least three police officers were inexplicably unable to restrain McClain who was 5’7” and 140 pounds. Police choked McClain and forced him into the ground repeatedly until McClain vomited into his mask. McClain soon choked on his own vomit. Minutes later, paramedics arrived, and police demanded that the lead paramedic, Cichuniec, inject the handcuffed McClain with the powerful sedative ketamine. 

Soon thereafter, McClain went into cardiac arrest and died several days later. 

At first, the police department set to work covering up the affair, and the DA declined to press charges of any kind. It was only after a public outcry that officials revisited the topic. In February 2021, an independent review of the case resulted in a scathing report illustrating police dishonesty, aggression, and disregard for established policies. 

The reports showed the police had repeatedly lied about the incident portraying themselves as heroes struggling against a dangerous suspect. In reality, the report showed McClain offered no meaningful resistance and was physically much smaller than every police officer present. Yet, after McClain was already handcuffed police insisted on brutalizing McClain, and then on forcibly drugging him when paramedics arrived. 

The report concluded at no time did the police have reason to suspect McClain or wrongdoing, or to suspect that he was armed. 

The police justified their call for illegally drugging McClain on the grounds that he was experiencing “excited delirium,” a pseudo-diagnosis based on crackpot medical theories and trumped up by government officials as a way of explaining away cases in which suspects die in custody. 

The fact that the police called for forcibly sedating McClain in spite of already being in restraints continues an established police custom of assaulting subjects in handcuffs who present no substantial threat to police. In any case, paramedic Cichuniec acted immediately to unquestioningly assist police and injected McClain with 500 mg of ketamine. That’s an amount suitable to a man eighty pounds heavier than McClain.  

[Read More: “The Suspect Was Already in Handcuffs. Then Police Assaulted Him.“ by Ryan McMaken]

Cichuniec’s conviction and sentencing were based largely on testimony and evidence presented in the case which showed that Cichuniec carelessly administered far too much ketamine to McClain, and also that there was no need to do so. An expert witness testified that McClain showed no signs of excited delirium. And, of course, he was already in handcuffs. 

Cichuniec’s sentence raises an important question. Why is it that the police officers involved—who played a large role in McClain’s death—have so far been acquitted or received minor slaps on the wrist? This is highlighted by Cichuniec’s relatively harsh sentence. It would seem the case illustrates how police officers—but not paramedics—remain well shielded from legal action in cases where subjects die in custody. 

The case also presents some important questions about forcing medication on subjects, and on the proper role of paramedics. 

For example, the use of forced medication on subjects should—especially from the perspective of anyone opposed to vaccine mandates—should be regarded as extremely suspect. This is especially true in a case like that of McClain’s arrest when the paramedic had performed no examination whatsoever of the subject and this showed in the fact that Cichuniec clearly had no idea of what an appropriate dose might be. To administer powerful medications under such circumstances should indeed be regarded as criminally negligent. 

Secondly, we are forced to wonder why a paramedic would simply take orders from police and inject a subject with drugs, especially in cases where the police are demanding the medication as a solution to an imaginary “diagnosis” offered by police with no medical training and without any evidence. Paramedics are not generally required to take orders from police officers, and are supposed to tend to the medical care of patients as their first priority.  

The fact that Cichuniec seemed more concerned with officer safety than with the safety of the patient should be considered a red flag. Moreover, Cichuniec’s behavior—although it occurred in 2019—draws our attention to an alarming trend among medical professionals that has become obvious in recent years. Specifically, since the 2020 Covid Panic and the ensuing crisis: medical professionals are clearly all too enthusiastic about carrying out the orders of government agents and their enforcers. 

Those who remember the dark days of 2020, of course, will recall that medical personnel—when they weren’t choreographic TikTok dance videos—repeatedly parroted government policies on covid without question. The medical profession told cancer patients to do go home and hope for the best, and these “professionals” denied medical care to millions because they government told them to. Indeed, for months, doctors and nurses demanded that the entire population “stay home” and condemned those who protested against the obviously illegal and despotic lockdown orders. Then, doctors and nurses turned on a dime and supported Black Lives Matter protests because, well, that was what the regime’s media told them to do. 

The covid experience also ought to make us all very sensitive to the issue of injecting medications into people against their will. With vaccine mandates barely in the rearview mirror, the idea that police seek to medicate people without their consent should set off alarms. Yet, Cuchiniec was was not the first paramedic to unquestioningly and forcibly medicate an innocent subject. And he won’t be the last.  

Cuchiniec’s sentencing has raised the ire of right-wing supporters of the police state who generally oppose any and all attempts to impose accountability on law enforcement officers and their accomplices. Nonetheless, the verdict in the Chuchiniec case will likely force non-police first responders to confront some important questions about their partnerships with law enforcement that have so often been avoided. 

[Read More: “Punishment and Proportionality“ by Murray Rothbard.]

Note: The views expressed on Mises.org are not necessarily those of the Mises Institute.
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