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Colorado paramedic sentenced to 14 months of work release in Elijah McClain’s death

A Colorado judge sentenced a paramedic convicted in the 2019 death of Elijah McClain to 14 months in a work-release program and four years of probation.

The Black 23-year-old died after police slammed him to the ground soon after stopping him and put him in a chokehold at least twice. Paramedics injected him with an excessive dose of ketamine, an anesthetic used for sedation, after police said he was in a state of “excited delirium.” McClain was not suspected of wrongdoing when he was walking on the street and police stopped him.

The sentencing of Jeremy Cooper, 49, who had faced up to three years in prison for his conviction last December of criminally negligent homicide, closes out the three trials around McClain’s death.

One police officer was sentenced to 14 months in jail, two officers were found not guilty, and Cooper’s fellow paramedic was sentenced to five years in prison. Paramedics rarely face charges in such cases.

Sheneen McClain, Elijah’s mother, walked out of the courtroom when a tearful Cooper rose to say he was directing sorrowful comments to her son.

She later returned to give her own statement before the court and told Cooper to never invoke her son’s name. She said the law enforcement culture that permits young Black men to be killed with greater frequency than their white counterparts will not change until deep shifts take place.

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“America will never be what it could be because it does not look at all its citizens as one race – the human race,” Sheneen McClain said.

She then touched her right hand to her chest and lifted it skyward, choked back tears and concluded:

“Long live Elijah McClain, always and forever!”

Colorado has undergone significant police reforms since the killing of McClain and the following year’s racial justice protests ignited by the killing of George Floyd at the hands of police in Minneapolis, Minnesota. Politicians and experts say more must be done.

“It should not be the way that we have to make policy, to do so based on someone being murdered, like Elijah McClain,” said Colorado state Representative Leslie Herod.

“But when Elijah McClain was murdered, we were able to make a lot of progress in a lot of areas that people wanted to ignore or say did not happen here in Colorado,” the Democrat said.

Herod said one of the most impactful measures of a sweeping 2020 police reform bill she co-sponsored spelled out that officers have a duty to intervene if they see a colleague committing civil rights violations.

Herod said she is now focusing on providing whistleblower protections for police officers, and said new laws are needed to ensure, for example, that independent bodies investigate allegations against police.

Among other Colorado laws and measures taken since McClain’s death that even more directly stem from the details of his case:

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– The banning of chokeholds;

– Prohibitions on police officers pushing paramedics to use the ketamine on a suspect;

– Banning police trainers from instructing on “excited delirium,” which some experts say is a racially charged pseudo-diagnosis.


David Pyrooz, a University of Colorado criminologist, said Colorado had some of the largest racial justice protests in 2020 outside of those in Minneapolis, and that the public pressure helped turn the state “into a battleground for police reform.”

Pyrooz said that was positive but added more scrutiny and regulation will lead some people to think twice about pursuing police careers.

Alexander Landau, co-director of the Denver Justice Project, a community group pushing for police reforms, said McClain’s case also puts a focus on district attorneys, elected officials who decide if charges are brought.

In McClain’s case, the local district attorney declined to press charges, which were only brought after the state attorney general’s office stepped in.

“Influencing broader community members to pay attention to those district attorney races, and who the candidates are, is very important to helping shift the violent and racist practices in any law enforcement department,” Landau said.