DENVER — Police stopped Elijah McClain on the street in suburban Denver last year after deeming the young Black man suspicious. He was thrown into a chokehold, threatened with a dog and stun gun, then subjected to another law enforcement tool before he died: a drug called ketamine.
Paramedics inject it into people like McClain as a sedative, often at the behest of police who believe suspects are out of control. Officially, ketamine is used in emergencies when there’s a safety concern for medical staff or the patient. But it’s increasingly found in arrests and has become another flashpoint in the debate over law enforcement policies and brutality against people of color.
An analysis by The Associated Press of policies on ketamine and cases where the drug was used during police encounters uncovered a lack of police training, conflicting medical standards and nonexistent protocols that have resulted in hospitalizations and even deaths.
On Monday, it will have been a year since McClain, 23, was stopped by officers responding to a 911 call about a suspicious person wearing a ski mask and waving his arms. Police put him in a chokehold twice and multiple officers pressed their body weight into him.
Paramedics were called and injected McClain with ketamine, but they incorrectly estimated his weight, giving him more than 1.5 times the dose he should have received. He got 500 milligrams because they thought he weighed 220 pounds, but he was only 140 pounds and should have received 315 milligrams.
He suffered cardiac arrest, was later declared brain dead and taken off life support.
“The case where somebody’s got six officers on them, in a chokehold, and needs ketamine is really pretty exceptional. That just doesn’t happen very often,” said Dr. George Lindbeck, chairman of the National Association of State EMS Officials medical director’s council. “The vast majority of these scenarios get managed at a much lower level with much less physical restraint, no need for chemical restraint or sedation.”
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