McClain, a 23-year-old Black man, died following an encounter with three police officers in Aurora, Colorado, in 2019.
Jeremy Cooper and Peter Cichuniec were the Aurora Fire and Rescue paramedics who injected McClain with 500 milligrams of ketamine during the incident.
McClain was stopped by three white officers after a householder who saw him walking in the neighbourhood called the police and said he looked “sketchy”. During the confrontation he was placed in a chokehold. Bodycam footage of the incident shows that McClain repeatedly told the officers, “I can’t breathe.”
After he was pinned down and restrained, the paramedics injected him with ketamine. McClain never regained consciousness and died after being removed from life support days later.
The massage therapist – who was described as an animal lover and a self-taught musician – was never accused of any crime and turned out to have simply been walking home after buying some iced tea at a local garage.
“Jeremy Cooper and Peter Cichuniec were called to help Elijah McClain get medical treatment. He was their patient. But they didn’t do one thing that night to give him medical treatment,” Colorado solicitor general Shannon Stevenson told jurors during opening arguments.
“Instead, he faced down on the ground, not speaking, barely moving. The defendants injected him with an overdose of a powerful sedative, a drug that Elijah had no medical need for and the defendants had no medical purpose to give.”
The prosecutor added: “They intentionally injected Elijah McClain, who was laying on the ground, barely moving, struggling to breathe, with an overdose of ketamine without following a single step of their training and protocols.
“They conducted no assessment. They didn’t speak a word to Elijah. They didn’t put a finger on him. And then they overdosed him with 150 per cent of the dose someone his size should have gotten. And then they failed to even check on him until this pulse was gone. They knew better.”
Mr Cooper and Mr Cichuniec are charged with criminally negligent homicide, second-degree assault and crimes of violence.
Mr Cichuniec is also charged with manslaughter as he ordered the ketamine and Mr Cooper injected it.
They have both pleaded not guilty to all charges.
Shanna Beggan, Mr Cooper’s attorney, told the court that he had checked McClain’s vitals and confirmed he was breathing before administering the drug.
Police officer Randy Roedema was convicted of criminally negligent homicide and third-degree assault and his employment was terminated by the city.
Officer Jason Rosenblatt was acquitted of both counts he faced. But he was fired from the force in 2020 for replying “Ha ha” to a picture other officers took giving each other chokeholds at the site of McClain’s death.
Aurora officer Nathan Woodyard was found not guilty earlier this month of reckless manslaughter and criminally negligent homicide.