Aurora City Council on Monday banned the city’s emergency services from using ketamine pending an independent investigation into Elijah McClain’s death.
The council unanimously voted to temporarily cease paramedics’ use of the potent sedative that Aurora paramedics injected McClain after he was forcibly arrested by police last year.
“I think it makes sense to take a break,” said Councilor Curtis Gardner, who sponsored the resolution.
Questions about how the drug contributed to McClain’s death go unanswered as the Adams County Coroner Office has been unable to determine the cause or nature of his death. The autopsy found that ketamine levels in McClain’s blood were at “therapeutic levels” despite paramedics overestimating his weight, but the coroner did not rule out an unexpected side effect of the drug as a cause of death.
The temporary ban in Aurora won’t take effect until Aurora Fire Rescue has time to rewrite its logs and train its staff on those changes, Gardner said. The ban remains in play for 30 days after the investigation, led by an outside attorney, is closed.
“It is only right to suspend use until it is determined that it is safe,” Aurora Mayor Mike Coffman said during Monday’s city council meeting.
McClain’s death and increased international attention to the case during the summer protests against police brutality have resulted in increased investigations into the use of ketamine by paramedics in agitated people in an out-of-hospital setting. The Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment, which gives departments exemptions to allow them to use the sedative in this way, reopened an investigation into the McClain case in July and into paramedic nationwide use of the substance again in September. Paramedics have used ketamine more than 900 times in an ambulance service in the past three years, the department said.
The city council is expected to hear further amendments to the use of ketamine and other sedatives in an emergency situation in the future, according to city council members.
“As the Committee for Public Safety, we will continue to hold these talks,” said City Councilor Allison Hiltz, chairwoman of this committee.