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Judge in Trump Georgia criminal case to hear arguments over bid to disqualify prosecutor

By Jack Queen

(Reuters) – A judge overseeing Donald Trump’s election interference case in Georgia is set to hold a final hearing Friday on the former U.S. president’s bid to disqualify the prosecutor who brought the case over her undisclosed affair with a top deputy.

Trump and other co-defendants in the case have said Fulton County District Attorney Fani Willis’ relationship with special prosecutor Nathan Wade presents an improper conflict of interest.

Trump, the frontrunner for the 2024 Republican presidential nomination, is accused of illegally pressuring Georgia officials to overturn his 2020 election loss in the state to President Joe Biden.

Trump has pleaded not guilty, along with 14 co-defendants.

A ruling in favor of Trump and his allies could further bog down a complex racketeering case that already faces a potentially long road to trial.

Disqualification of Willis would not necessarily end the case, as she would likely be replaced with a different district attorney.

But this would lead to significant delays, and a new prosecutor could narrow the charges or decide not to pursue the case.

The closing arguments before Judge Scott McAfee on Friday follow a series of evidentiary hearings where Willis conceded having an affair with Wade but accused a defense lawyer of lying about the timing and nature of the relationship.

The affair was first revealed in a January filing by a lawyer for Trump co-defendant Michael Roman, who said it posed a conflict of interest and improperly enriched Wade.

Willis and Wade testified that the relationship did not begin until after Wade was hired, and prosecutors have said the relationship is irrelevant to the case because it did not harm the defendants.

Defense lawyers have accused the prosecutors of lying to the court, saying the relationship began before Wade was hired. In court papers filed last week, Trump’s attorney cited location data from Wade’s cell phone suggesting he made numerous late-night visits to Willis’ home before she appointed him.

Trump is under indictment in three other criminal cases.

He is set to stand trial on March 25 in New York in a case accusing him of illegally covering up hush money payments to a porn star, which could be the only trial he faces before the election.

Trump has also been charged in Washington over his efforts to reverse his 2020 election loss, but that case is paused until the U.S. Supreme Court decides whether he is immune from prosecution over actions he took while in office.

He is also under indictment in Florida over his handling of classified documents upon leaving office. The judge overseeing that case is set to hold a hearing on Friday on Trump’s bid to move his May 20 trial date.

Trump has pleaded not guilty in all those cases and says they are part of a politically-motivated plot to undermine his bid for office.

If he wins the presidency, Trump could use his presidential powers to end the Washington and Florida cases because they were brought in federal court.

He would not have the power to stop the Georgia case because it was brought in state court.

(Reporting by Jack Queen; Editing by Noeleen Walder and Daniel Wallis)


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Colorado judge to sentence paramedic for Elijah McClain killing

By Brad Brooks

LONGMONT, Colorado (Reuters) – A Colorado judge is scheduled on Friday to sentence a paramedic convicted in the 2019 death of Elijah McClain, a young Black man who died after police put him in a chokehold and medics injected him with a powerful sedative.

Jurors in December found emergency medical worker Peter Cichuniec, 51, guilty of criminally negligent homicide in a rare trial of paramedics in such a case. He faces up to 16 years in prison.

Cichuniec’s partner, Jeremy Cooper, 49, was also found guilty of criminally negligent homicide and faces sentencing at the end of April.

Their joint trial was the last of three stemming from the death of McClain, who was not alleged to have committed any crime when officers stopped him.

One police officer was found guilty of criminally negligent homicide and sentenced to 14 months in jail. Two others were acquitted.

Police confronted McClain in Aurora, near Denver, on the night of Aug. 24, 2019, after a bystander called 911 to report the man was dressed in a winter coat and ski mask on a warm night and was acting suspiciously as he walked home from a convenience store.

Police slammed McClain on the ground soon after stopping him and put him in a carotid chokehold at least twice. He vomited into his ski mask and repeatedly told officers he could not breathe.

The original autopsy conducted on McClain in 2019 found the cause of death to be “undetermined.” But a revised autopsy report in 2021 concluded McClain died from “complications of ketamine administration following forcible restraint.”

Local prosecutors initially declined to file charges in the McClain case. That changed following the May 2020 killing of George Floyd, a Black man who died at the hands of Minneapolis police.

After Floyd’s death ignited global protests, Colorado Governor Jared Polis in June 2020 asked the state attorney general’s office to investigate McClain’s case. A state grand jury indicted the officers and paramedics in 2021.

McClain’s mother Sheneen McClain has said that “three out of five convictions are not justice” and urged Judge Mark Warner to give the maximum sentences possible to all those convicted.

(Reporting by Brad Brooks in Longmont, Colorado; Editing by Donna Bryson and Cynthia Osterman)


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California’s Sierra Nevada mountains could see 12 feet of snow through the weekend

By Brad Brooks

(Reuters) – Up to 12 feet (3.66 m) of snow is forecast to fall in California’s Sierra Nevada mountains through the weekend, as a one-two punch of dual brutal cold fronts slams into the Pacific Northwest, the National Weather Service said.

Rich Bann, a meteorologist with the NWS, said the western slope of the Sierras will see the heaviest snow, with wind gusts of 100 mph (161 kph) or more likely as the storm crashes over the mountain ridges.

“There could be widespread power outages,” Bann said. “This is going to be a really big disruption to life until it tapers off on Sunday.”

Blizzard warnings were issued through Sunday for several regions, including the greater Lake Tahoe area, which in the winter is a magnet for ski tourism. The NWS forecast that life-threatening whiteout conditions could persist through the weekend in the area.

The NWS said on Thursday that strong winds had already produced damage around the Lake Tahoe area, and that even stronger winds with gusts up to 80 mph were expected on Friday.

The cold fronts could bring heavy rains at lower elevations in the foothills of the Sierras and across northwestern California, a state that has been soaked by heavy rains this winter. The additional rains on was “increasing the risk of isolated flash flooding,” the NWS said.

The storm will also produce heavy snowfall in the Cascade Range mountains in Oregon and Washington, and deeper into the northern Rocky Mountains in Idaho, Montana and Wyoming, the NWS said.

(Reporting by Brad Brooks in Longmont, Colorado; Editing by Jamie Freed)


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Private plane carrying Grammy winner Karol G makes emergency landing in Los Angeles

LOS ANGELES (AP) — A private airplane carrying singer Karol G made an emergency landing at a Los Angeles airport Thursday evening, a news report said.

The aircraft carrying the Grammy winner and others landed at Van Nuys Airport around 9 p.m. with no immediate reports of injuries, KABC-TV reported.

The plane left Hollywood Burbank Airport with 16 people and flew east but turned around when the pilot reported smoke in the cockpit, KABC reported.

The cause of the malfunction was not immediately known.

Karol G won her first Grammy and was named Billboard magazine’s 2024 Woman of the Year in February. The Colombian singer-songwriter is expected to be honored at the Billboard Women in Music Awards on March 6.


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UN experts: Sudan’s paramilitary forces carried out ethnic killings and rapes that may be war crimes

UNITED NATIONS (AP) — Paramilitary forces and their allied militias fighting to take power in Sudan carried out widespread ethnic killings and rapes while taking control of much of western Darfur that may amount to war crimes and crimes against humanity, United Nations experts said in a new report.

The report to the U.N. Security Council, obtained Thursday by The Associated Press, paints a horrifying picture of the brutality of the Arab-dominated Rapid Support Forces against Africans in Darfur. It also details how the RSF succeeded in gaining control of four out of Darfur’s five states, including through complex financial networks that involve dozens of companies.

Sudan plunged into chaos in April, when long-simmering tensions between its military led by Gen. Abdel Fattah Burhan, and the Rapid Support Forces paramilitary commanded by Mohammed Hamdan Dagalo, broke out into street battles in the capital, Khartoum.

Fighting spread to other parts of the country, but in Sudan’s Darfur region it took on a different form: brutal attacks by the RSF on African civilians, especially the ethnic Masalit.

Two decades ago, Darfur became synonymous with genocide and war crimes, particularly by the notorious Janjaweed Arab militias against populations that identify as Central or East African. It seems that legacy has returned, with the International Criminal Court’s prosecutor Karim Khan saying in late January there are grounds to believe both sides are committing possible war crimes, crimes against humanity or genocide in Darfur.

The panel of experts said Darfur is experiencing “its worst violence since 2005.”

The ongoing conflict has caused a large-scale humanitarian crisis and displaced approximately 6.8 million people — 5.4 million within Sudan and 1.4 million who have fled to other countries, including approximately 555,000 to neighboring Chad, the experts said.

The RSF and rival Sudanese government forces have both used heavy artillery and shelling in highly populated areas, causing widespread destruction of critical water, sanitation, education and health care facilities.

In their 47-page report, the experts said the RSF and its militias targeted sites in Darfur where displaced people had found shelter, civilian neighborhoods and medical facilities.

According to intelligence sources, the panel said, in just one city — Geneina, the capital of West Darfur state near the Chad border — between 10,000 and 15,000 people were killed.

The experts said sexual violence by the RSF and its allied militia was widespread.

The panel said that, according to reliable sources from Geneina, women and girls as young as 14 years old were raped by RSF elements in a U.N. World Food Program storage facility that the paramilitary force controlled, in their homes, or when returning home to collect belongings after being displaced by the violence. Additionally, 16 girls were reportedly kidnapped by RSF soldiers and raped in an RSF house.

“Racial slurs toward the Masalit and non-Arab community formed part of the attacks,” the panel said. “Neighborhoods and homes were continuously attacked, looted, burned and destroyed,” especially those where Masalit and other African communities lived, and their people were harassed, assaulted, sexually abused, and at times executed.

The experts said prominent Masalit community members were singled out by the RSF, which had a list, and the group’s leaders were harassed and some executed. At least two lawyers, three prominent doctors and seven staff members, and human rights activists monitoring and reporting on the events were also killed, they said.

The RSF and its allied militias looted and destroyed all hospitals and medical storage facilities, which resulted in the collapse of health services and the deaths of 37 women with childbirth complications and 200 patients needing kidney dialysis, the panel said.

After the killing of the wali, or governor, of West Darfur in June, the report said, Masalit and African communities decided to seek protection at Ardamata, just outside Geneina. A convoy of thousands moved out at midnight but as they reached a bridge, RSF and allied militias indiscriminately opened fire, and survivors reported that an estimated 1,000 people were killed, they said.

The panel stressed that disproportionate and indiscriminate attacks on civilians — including torture, rapes and killings as well as destruction of critical civilian infrastructure — constitute war crimes under the 1949 Geneva conventions.

The RSF was formed out of Janjaweed fighters by Sudan’s former President Omar al-Bashir, who ruled the country for three decades, was overthrown during a popular uprising in 2019, and is wanted by the International Criminal Court for charges of genocide and other crimes during the conflict in Darfur in the 2000s.

According to the panel, the “RSF’s takeover of Darfur relied on three lines of support: the Arab allied communities, dynamic and complex financial networks, and new military supply lines running through Chad, Libya and South Sudan.”

While both the Sudanese military and RSF engaged in widespread recruitment drives across Darfur from late 2022, the RSF was more successful, the experts said. And it “invested large proceeds from its pre-war gold business in several industries, creating a network of as many as 50 companies.”

The RSF’s complex financial networks “enabled it to acquire weapons, pay salaries, fund media campaigns, lobby, and buy the support of other political and armed groups,” the experts said.

United States Ambassador Linda Thomas-Greenfield, who visited Chad in September, called the report’s findings “horrific” and expressed “deep disappointment” that the U.N. Security Council and the international community have paid such little attention to the allegations.

“The people of Sudan feel that they have been forgotten,” she said.

In light of the humanitarian catastrophe in Sudan and the broader region, Thomas-Greenfield demanded that the Sudanese military lift its prohibition on cross-border assistance from Chad and facilitate cross-line assistance from the east. She also demanded in a statement Wednesday that the RSF halt the looting of humanitarian warehouses and that both parties stop harassing humanitarian aid workers.

“The council must act urgently to alleviate human suffering, hold perpetrators to account, and bring the conflict in Sudan to an end,” the U.S. ambassador said. “Time is running out.”


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Man to be sentenced for murdering a woman who was mistakenly driven up his rural New York driveway

FORT EDWARD, N.Y. (AP) — A man who fatally shot a 20-year-old woman in an SUV that was mistakenly driven up his rural driveway in upstate New York is scheduled to be sentenced Friday.

Kevin Monahan, 66, was convicted of second-degree murder in the death last April of Kaylin Gillis. Gillis was riding in a caravan of two cars and a motorcycle that pulled into Monahan’s long, winding driveway in the town of Hebron while her friends were looking for another person’s house.

The conviction carries a maximum sentence of 25 years to life, which prosecutors previously said they would be seeking.

Gillis’ death drew attention far beyond upstate New York. It came days after the shooting of 16-year-old Ralph Yarl in Kansas City. Yarl, who is Black, was wounded by an 84-year-old white man after he went to the wrong door while trying to pick up his younger brothers.

On the night of Gillis’ death, the group of friends were headed to a party when they accidentally turned down Monahan’s driveway. Monahan came out of his home and fired two shots from his deck, the second striking Gillis in the neck as she sat in the front passenger seat of an SUV driven by her boyfriend.

Monahan maintained the fatal shot was an accident involving a defective gun and that he believed the house he shared with his wife about 40 miles (65 kilometers) north of Albany was “under siege” by intruders. He said he came out with a shotgun to try to scare the group away while his wife hid inside.

Prosecutors argued that Monahan was motivated by irrational rage toward trespassers.

A jury deliberated for less then two hours before returning guilty verdicts in January against Monahan for murder, reckless endangerment and tampering with physical evidence.

Gillis’ father, Andrew Gillis, has described his daughter as someone who loved animals and had dreams of becoming a marine biologist or a veterinarian


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Artists outraged by removal of groundbreaking work along Des Moines pond

DES MOINES, Iowa (AP) — A Des Moines arts organization is preparing to rip out a groundbreaking artwork that lines a pond in a historic city park, surprising the New York artist who created the work decades ago and leading to an outpouring of opposition by other artists and local residents.

The decision to remove the work — a series of walkways, shelters and viewing sites called Greenwood Pond: Double Site designed by artist Mary Miss — has outraged arts advocates nationally and surprised local residents, who have grown accustomed to meandering through the site. But the Des Moines Art Center, which oversees the artwork, said the largely wooden structures need repairs costing $2.6 million, and future maintenance would cost millions more.

Art Center Director Kelly Baum said there is no way to raise enough money to pay for the work, so demolition will begin this spring.

“It’s difficult and it’s challenging and it’s very, very unfortunate for me, for the board, for the staff and for the city, and I know for Mary,” Baum said.

The decision has stunned Miss, who saw the permanent exhibit completed in 1996 as a high point in her long career as a land artist. With land art, the artists create works using land formations and natural features like rocks and plants.

Although demolition seems eminent, Miss said she thinks the work will somehow be saved.

“I would be shocked if it was just torn out,” Miss said. “It doesn’t deserve it. People don’t deserve to have that happen.”

The art center invited Miss, an internationally known land artist, in the 1980s to propose a permanent work and she suggested they overhaul a much-loved but dilapidated pond down a hill from the art center in the city’s 130-year-old Greenwood Park. The park is sandwiched between some of the capital city’s most opulent neighborhoods and connects to an even larger park and miles of walking trails.

After talking with neighbors, art patrons, gardening club members and naturalists, Miss designed Greenwood Pond: Double Site on a 6.5-acre (2.6-hectare) strip around the water. Completed over six years, the work lets people become immersed in a wetland with numerous viewing sites, from a sunken walkway that put the water at eye level to an elevated platform that gives a sweeping view of the pond.

The work received national acclaim and landscape art and architecture students now study the site to understand how Miss melded the wooden structures with the natural environment.

The work was built with metal mesh, concrete and most visibly treated lumber that over the years deteriorated in Iowa’s icy winters and hot, humid summers. The art center paid for a restoration in 2015 but said after nearly a decade, an engineering study had determined that the work has deteriorated to the point of being hazardous in spots.

Last month, the center blocked access to some parts of the work and soon after notified Miss that it would all be removed.

Miss said the work clearly needs repairs, but she noted her contract with the art center specified that Greenwood Pond: Double Site was a permanent work, not one to be torn out after three decades. She also questioned how the art center let it deteriorate, its cost estimate for repairs and why it’s not willing to launch a fundraising campaign to finance needed fixes.

Miss asked the art center to make public the engineering report that details problems and the cost of repairs.

Baum said the center won’t make its internal documents public.

Numerous artists, organizations and Des Moines residents have joined with Miss and demanded that the art center stop its plans to demolish the work. Stephanie Daggett Joiner and her husband, David Joiner, who live about a mile from the pond, have been helping to organize local opposition to the artwork’s removal, including launching a website.

Daggett Joiner said she would see removal of the work as a personal loss.

“I think it’s really incredible in the summer when the flowers are blooming and you have the prairie and the birds. It’s delightful to many senses,” she said. “It gives you a sense of peace.”

R.J. Tursi, who was at the pond with his two young children, said one of the reasons his family lives in the neighborhood is to be close to the park.

“We see ducks down here. They see frogs and turtles, different birds like red wing blackbirds and mourning doves,” Tursi said. “The idea of a ton of construction coming in and ripping this stuff out is disappointing.”

The Cultural Landscape Foundation, a Washington-based education and advocacy organization, has made preserving Miss’ Greenwood Pond work a priority, informing other artists and seeking media attention. Later this month, the group will host an online program bringing together land artists to discuss the vulnerability of such works.

Charles A. Birnbaum, the foundation’s president and CEO, said the work was a milestone in the land art movement. Most early land artists were men, so Miss’ role in the field was especially noteworthy, Birnbaum said, and makes the potential loss in Des Moines even more troubling.

“What we see is we have these situations where the landscape is malnourished, the landscape is not cared for, it’s underserved and then the landscape itself is blamed for not looking better,” he said.


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Parts of the Sierra Nevada likely to get 10 feet of snow from powerful storm by weekend

RENO, Nev. (AP) — The most powerful Pacific storm of the season is forecast to bring up to 10 feet (3 meters) of snow into the Sierra Nevada by the weekend, forcing residents to take shelter and prompting at least one Lake Tahoe ski resort to close Friday.

The storm began barreling into the region on Thursday, with the biggest effects expected to close major highways and trigger power outages Friday afternoon into Saturday. A blizzard warning through Sunday morning covers a 300-mile (482-kilometer) stretch from north of Lake Tahoe to south of Yosemite National Park.

“Your safe travel window is over in the Sierra,” the National Weather Service in Reno posted Thursday morning on social media. “Best to hunker down where you are.”

Meteorologists predict as much as 10 feet (3 meters) of snow is possible in the mountains around Lake Tahoe by the weekend, with 3 to 6 feet (0.9 to 1.8 meters) in the communities on the lake’s shores and more than a foot (30 centimeters) possible in the valleys on the Sierra’s eastern front, including Reno.

Winds are expected to gust in excess of 115 mph (185 kph) over Sierra ridgetops, and 70 mph (113 kph) at lower elevations.

“This will be a legitimate blizzard,” UCLA climate scientist Daniel Swain said during an online briefing Thursday. “Really true blizzard conditions with multiple feet of snow and very strong winds, the potential for power outages and the fact that roads probably aren’t going to be cleared as quickly or as effectively as they normally would be even during a significant winter storm.”

Backcountry avalanche warnings were in place around Lake Tahoe, as well as areas around Yosemite National Park stretching down to Mammoth Lakes.

Alpine Meadows, an affiliate of neighboring Palisades Tahoe, will be closed Friday. Palisades planned to open only its lowest elevation runs, and could end up closing those.

Andrew Schwartz, the lead scientist at UC-Berkeley’s Central Sierra Snow Lab, said it is possible they could break their modern-day record of about 3.5 feet (1 meter) of snow in a single day from back in 1989. The lab was founded atop the Sierra in 1946 in Soda Springs, California, northwest of Lake Tahoe.

The California Highway Patrol imposed travel restrictions on a long stretch of Interstate 80 between Reno and Sacramento, requiring drivers to put chains on their tires. A stretch of the highway was closed for hours at midday Thursday while crews cleared the wreckage of a semi-trailer truck that overturned near Truckee, California.

On the bright side, California water officials said the storm should provide a much-needed shot in the arm to the Sierra snowpack, which is vital to the state’s water supplies and sits well below normal so far this season.

Palisades Tahoe ski resort wrote on X, formerly known as Twitter, that the big dump expected over the weekend on top of 8 feet (2.4 meters) of snow in February should allow them to keep the slopes open through Memorial Day. But it warned blizzard conditions are likely to force temporary closures off and on through the weekend.

Todd Cummings decided to drive from Santa Cruz to the Lake Tahoe area ahead of the storm with plans to lay low during the blizzard and then hit the slopes.

“When a storm comes in, people have a tough time getting there, so there’s sometimes less crowds on the mountains and there is untracked, fresh snow that it’s super light and you float on it. It’s fantastic!” he said.

Some remained skeptical it will be as bad as predicted.

Richard Cunningham said he has heard before about forecasts for the storm of the century that didn’t materialize since he moved from Las Vegas to Reno in 1997.

“Same story, different day,” he said. “Sometimes it doesn’t even snow.”

That was before blue skies gave way to clouds and gusty winds that blew the roof off a shed east of Reno Thursday afternoon.

Howie Nave, a radio DJ and stand-up comedian in South Lake Tahoe, said some people may not have been taking the storm seriously earlier in the week because dire forecasts of potentially heavy storms have not materialized several times this winter.

“There were times when I was expecting a Saint Bernard, but you gave me a Chihuahua,” Nave said about the weather forecasters.

But “everybody’s talking about the storm up here,” he said. “This is the first time we’ve had a blizzard warning.”

The Sierra Nevada snowpack stood at 80% of average to date but only 70% of the typical April 1 peak, California Department of Water resources officials said Thursday.

“The results today show just how critical this upcoming month is going to be in terms of our water supply outlook for the upcoming year,” hydrometeorologist Angelique Fabbiani-Leon said during a briefing at Phillips Station, a snowpack-measuring location south of Lake Tahoe.

___

Associated Press reporter John Antczak contributed to this report from Los Angeles. Rodriguez reported from San Francisco.


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Mourners to gather for the funeral of a slain Georgia nursing student who loved caring for others

WOODSTOCK, Ga. (AP) — Family, friends and classmates planned to gather Friday at a church outside Atlanta to say farewell to Laken Riley, the nursing student found slain after she went out for a morning jog on the University of Georgia campus.

A funeral service for 22-year-old Riley was set to follow a visitation Friday afternoon at Woodstock City Church in Cherokee County, where Riley lived before graduating from high school in Atlanta’s northern suburbs.

Riley was enrolled in the Augusta Medical College’s nursing program in Athens when police found her dead Feb. 22 on the neighboring University of Georgia campus. A friend called police after Riley left to go running and didn’t come home.

The killing shocked Riley’s fellow students in Athens, where more than 41,000 attend UGA and another 210 are enrolled in the medical program where Riley studied nursing. Police arrested a suspect, Jose Antonio Ibarra, on murder charges the day after Riley was slain in a forested area with trails for running and walking.

Riley “loved nursing and caring for others,” according to her obituary from Poole Funeral Home. She had remained active in the AXO sorority at UGA, where she studied before enrolling in nursing school.

In addition to her parents, Riley is survived by her stepfather, two sisters and a brother. One of her siblings, Lauren Phillips, posted on social media that Riley was “the best sister and my built in best friend from the very first second.”

“This isn’t fair and I will never understand it but I know you are in heaven,” Phillips wrote on Instagram following her sister’s death. She added, “I’m not sure how I’m going to do this but it’s all going to be for you from now on. I cannot wait to give you the biggest hug someday.”

Ibarra is a Venezuelan man who entered the U.S. illegally and was allowed to stay to pursue his immigration case, which has thrust the slaying to the forefront of the U.S. debate over immigration, a top issue in the 2024 presidential campaign.


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Paramedic convictions in Elijah McClain’s death spur changes for patients in police custody

DENVER (AP) — Medical responders across the U.S. are rethinking how they treat people in police custody after a jury last December handed down a rare decision: It convicted two Colorado paramedics for their roles in the 2019 death of Elijah McClain following an overdose of a powerful sedative.

As one of the paramedics faces sentencing Friday at a hearing in which McClain’s mother could speak about her son’s death, the case has sent shock waves through the ranks of paramedics across the U.S. and thrust their profession into the acrimonious fight over social justice sparked by the 2020 murder of George Floyd by Minneapolis police.

McClain, a 23-year-old Black massage therapist, was forcibly detained by police in the Denver suburb of Aurora while walking home from a convenience store. After officers claimed McClain was resisting, the paramedics injected him with the sedative ketamine. He went into cardiac arrest on the way to the hospital and died three days later.

The conviction of the paramedics and one of the police officers brought a small measure of justice to the victim’s family. Yet the case has also highlighted gaps in medical procedures that experts said must be addressed so more deaths can be prevented.

“We failed to realize just how dangerous the restraint and chemical sedation of these individuals can be,” said Eric Jaeger, a paramedic and EMS educator in New Hampshire. “For better or worse the criminal convictions are focusing attention on the problem.”

The response includes revisions to patient protocols aimed at elevating how seriously ketamine injections are treated — or avoiding them altogether when alternative drugs are more appropriate.

Some departments now require comprehensive patient assessments before and after ketamine injections. They’ve also cautioned against using ketamine on people being restrained by police in a prone position — which increases the chances for fatal complications by making it harder for patients to breathe — and stocked medicine kits with alternative sedatives. And they’ve reminded their paramedics not to defer to police when making medical decisions.

In the McClain case, “a lot of these basics were not done,” said Peter Antevy, medical director for several Florida fire departments.

“Everyone kind of assumed people just do them. But more and more you’re seeing with the advent of body cameras that people aren’t doing these things,” he said. “We need to put the basics in black and white.”

The changes have come relatively swiftly within a profession in which it can take up to a decade for the latest medical research to filter down to paramedics on the front lines, Jaeger said. Nevertheless, since McClain’s death, Jaeger has documented five similar cases involving patients dying after receiving ketamine, most recently a 29-year-old man in Baltimore last summer.

In Aurora, the paramedics’ indictment is blamed by union officials for prompting some medical responders to scale back their duties.

The day after the verdicts, Aurora’s fire chief temporarily suspended a requirement that firefighters also serve as paramedics, fearing the convictions would lead to a mass exodus of personnel.

So far about 10% of the department’s certified paramedics have taken a pay cut and are no longer working as paramedics, reverting to the role of emergency medical technicians, or EMTs, who cannot provide advanced life-saving measures.

Fire Chief Alec Oughton said enough paramedics remain for every ladder truck and engine to have an assigned paramedic.

But the president of the International Association of Fire Fighters union said the convictions put lives at risk in the city because EMTs aren’t qualified to provide life-saving drugs, such as for patients suffering heart attacks.

“The legacy of Attorney General Phil Weiser is there is going to be less paramedics to respond to people who need help,” said union president Edward Kelly, referring to the state attorney general tasked by Colorado’s Democratic governor with reinvestigating McClain’s death in 2020 following protests over the killing of George Floyd.

No one was initially charged in McClain’s death, mostly because the first autopsy report could not conclude why he died. The autopsy was updated in 2021 — after Weiser convened a grand jury to examine the case — and it found McClain died because he was given ketamine after being restrained by police.

Kelly said ketamine did not kill McClain, noting the autopsy report’s finding that the amount of the drug found in his system was at the low end of what is normally considered safe.

A 2021 study co-authored by Antevy examined 11,000 instances of patients receiving ketamine over a yearlong period. The drug was a possible contributor to just two deaths outside a hospital setting, the researchers concluded.

“Ketamine when used safely and correctly is a life-saving medication,” Antevy said.

Paramedic Peter Cichuniec — the senior medical responder on the scene during the altercation with McClain — faces a mandatory yearslong prison sentence during Friday’s hearing before a state judge.

A jury in December found him guilty of criminally negligent homicide and felony second-degree assault — the most serious verdict handed down against any of the first responders indicted in the case. The assault conviction carries a sentence of between five and 16 years in prison.

Police had stopped McClain following a suspicious person complaint. After an officer said McClain reached for an officer’s gun — a claim disputed by prosecutors — another officer put him in a neck hold that rendered him temporarily unconscious. Officers also pinned down McClain before paramedic Jeremy Cooper injected him with ketamine. Cichuniec said it was his decision to use the drug.

Prosecutors said the paramedics did not conduct basic medical checks, such as taking McClain’s pulse and monitoring his breathing before administering the ketamine. The dose was too much for someone of his size — 140 pounds (64 kilograms), experts testified.

Defense attorneys for the paramedics said they followed their training in giving ketamine after diagnosing McClain with “ excited delirium,” a disputed condition some say is unscientific and has been used to justify excessive force.


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