Colorado city bans ketamine use amid Elijah McClain probe

DENVER (AP) — City council members in a Denver suburb have voted to ban the use of a powerful sedative by first responders until officials finish a review of its use in the 2019 death of Elijah McClain, a Black man put in a stranglehold by officers and injected with the drug, ketamine.

The ban in the city of Aurora, adopted unanimously on Monday, will stay in effect until the city-sponsored independent investigation of McClain’s death is complete, the Sentinel reported Tuesday. Federal and state officials are conducting separate investigations.

McClain was stopped by Aurora police in August 2019 after a 911 caller reported a person on the sidewalk wearing a ski mask and waving his arms.

Officers put the 23-year-old in a stranglehold and paramedics later injected him with 500 milligrams of ketamine — 1.5 times the correct dose for his weight, according to medical standards. He suffered cardiac arrest and was taken off life support six days later.

The city council members’ decision came after concerns from several groups about the growing use of ketamine by first responders when police believe suspects are out of control. McClain was injected with ketamine after first responders said he suffered “excited delirium.”

But the Colorado Society of Anesthesiologists warned last week against the use strong sedatives for agitation and questioned whether excited delirium exists. The widely contested medical term has varying definitions but is often associated with substance abuse and mental illness.

The anesthesiologists also said that they oppose the use of ketamine or other sedatives or hypnotics “for a law enforcement purpose and not for a legitimate medical reason.”

The Colorado health department last month announced a review of ketamine use by first responders, which fueled calls from advocacy groups for racial justice and police reform and raised additional concerns about the drug’s use during arrests.

An Associated Press analysis of policies and cases where ketamine was used during police encounters uncovered a lack of police training, conflicting medical standards and nonexistent protocols that resulted in hospitalizations and deaths.

At Monday’s City Council meeting, a majority of members also voted to prohibit police from executing so-called no-knock search warrants and to require officers to announce themselves before entering homes or businesses when executing a warrant, the Sentinel reported.

Council member Angela Lawson said her proposal was inspired by the police slaying of Breonna Taylor, a Black woman, in Louisville, Kentucky.

Taylor was fatally shot March 13 in her home by police executing a no-knock narcotics search warrant as part of a police operation targeting Taylor’s former boyfriend.


Nieberg is a corps member for the Associated Press/Report for America Statehouse News Initiative. Report for America is a nonprofit national service program that places journalists in local newsrooms to report on undercovered issues.