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Attorney for McClain family says new APD video shows concerning pattern of ketamine use in policing

Elijah McClain died after medics gave him a heavy dose of ketamine
Posted at 4:43 PM, Dec 09, 2020
and last updated 2023-09-19 19:09:09-04

AURORA, Colo. – The attorney for Elijah McClain’s family says newly released Aurora police body camera video obtained by Denver7 Investigates shows a concerning pattern of the use of ketamine in policing.

“I wasn’t surprised one bit to see the report that you did,” attorney Mari Newman said.

Records show Aurora paramedics have administered ketamine 25 times since 2018, most notably during the detainment of McClain in August 2019.

Aurora Paramedics injected McClain with a heavy dose of ketamine after incorrectly estimating his weight.

The decision to sedate a patient is supposed to rest with medical professionals, but Denver7 Investigates recently uncovered video that shows an officer suggesting the use of a sedative by paramedics in a separate incident not involving McClain.

The incident happened in March 2019, five months before McClain died in Aurora police custody.

“What we saw in that video was a fire department that is taking orders from police about what medications to use,” Newman said.

It took more than three months for the Aurora Police Department to release the video through an open records request.

An officer is heard on the body camera video telling paramedics, “Let’s give him some juice to go to sleep.”

The APD officer then turns directly to paramedics to ask again for powerful sedatives.

“Hey, can we get like Versed and calm this dude down or Haldol or something,” the officer says. “Let’s give him some juice to go to sleep ... and then we can deal with him.”

Minutes later, Aurora Fire paramedics inject the suspect with ketamine, a rapid tranquilizer.

“This young man was lucky. He survived it, but Elijah didn’t,” Newman said. “What that body camera video showed is exactly the same thing that happened when Aurora Fire Rescue gave ketamine to Elijah McClain — using it as a law enforcement weapon rather than a medical treatment, which is what ketamine is designed for.”

Denver7 Investigates asked to sit down with both Aurora Fire and Police. Both agencies declined our request for an interview and provided lengthy statements.

“This incident occurred nearly two years ago, long before the national conversation surrounding the use of ketamine,” Aurora Police Chief Vanessa Wilson said in the statement. “Officers have already been reminded they are not to suggest or attempt to direct medical treatment.”

The chief called the officer's choice of words “not ideal,” but said he was trying to get the man in crisis help to prevent injury to himself or other officers.

Wilson said she understands the concerns and has spoken to the officer, who is remorseful.

Aurora Fire Rescue said in its statement the Aurora Police Department does not influence its decision-making for treating patients, and that its paramedics maintain medical control.

Aurora city leaders have since temporarily banned paramedics from using ketamine until an independent investigation into McClain’s death is complete. The report is expected to be released in January.

“When medication is used as a weapon, that’s a problem and that needs to stop immediately,” Newman said. “Just like Elijah McClain, this is an example where they got caught doing what they’ve apparently been doing all along.”