By Colleen Slevin, The Associated Press
Colorado health officials have opened an investigation into the use of a sedative given to a Black man by paramedics during a police stop in suburban Denver before his death last year.
The inquiry is the latest in a series of new reviews of the case of Elijah McClain that has received renewed attention as part of protests over police brutality and racial injustice.
Authorities have said McClain was given 500 milligrams of the sedative ketamine to calm him down, but there have been calls for a closer inquiry into what role that might have played in his death. A county pathologist said last year he could not determine exactly what caused McClain’s death.
McClain was stopped by police as he walked home from a store in Aurora after someone reported him as being suspicious. Police placed him in a chokehold that cuts off blood to the brain, and paramedics gave him the sedative.
He suffered cardiac arrest and was later declared brain dead and taken off life support at a hospital.
His autopsy report found that that levels of the sedative in McClain’s blood were at tolerable levels but that an unexpected reaction to the drug could not be ruled out, along with other possibilities like an asthma attack or an irregular heartbeat.
The Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment said Wednesday it is investigating the use of ketamine on Aug. 24, 2019, by paramedics from Aurora’s fire department and a contracted ambulance service after receiving numerous complaints.
The agency refused to say which case that involved, but it’s the same day those agencies were involved with treating McClain.
Department spokesperson Peter Myers declined to offer any further details about the investigation because it is still active.
The health department inquiry comes as the Colorado attorney general investigates whether any criminal charges should be filed and the city conducts its own investigation of its policies on the use of force and ketamine.
Federal authorities have also been looking at whether to launch a civil rights investigation.
Based on the pathologist’s inconclusive ruling about what role the officers’ actions might have played, a district attorney last year declined to charge any of the three officers who confronted McClain.
Earlier this month, three Aurora officers were fired over photos showing police reenacting a chokehold used on McClain. That included a white officer who helped stop McClain for wearing a ski mask and “being suspicious.”
A spokesperson for Aurora Fire Rescue, Sherri-Jo Stowell, said it welcomed the additional attention McClain’s case was receiving.
“We also welcome the forthcoming investigation,” she said of the health department’s probe.
Stowell said she was not aware of any other ketamine administrations involving the department on the date cited by the health department.
Jeff Lucia, a spokesman for the contracted ambulance company, Falck Rocky Mountain, said the company welcomed the investigation and would cooperate fully in it.
The McClain family’s lawyer, Mari Newman, said she was not notified of the investigation but the department should examine the role that ketamine played in McClain’s death. She said he was speaking rationally to officers when he was needlessly given the drug in an amount appropriate for someone twice his size.
“I’m disappointed that it takes international outrage before there’s any indication of an investigation but better late than never,” she said.