An Aurora man who claims he was given the potent sedative ketamine against his will during an encounter with Lakewood police in 2020 sued officers, paramedics, medical service providers and others involved in the incident.
The Pro-Se federal lawsuit filed on Friday is the latest of several drug use challenges in Colorado since the death of 23-year-old Elijah McClain in Aurora in 2019, who died after being forcibly stopped by police and nearly doubled Ketamine had been administered as it should have received without his consent.
The sedative is used by first responders to treat extreme agitation in an out-of-hospital setting. Like McClain, says Jeremiah Axtell, who filed a lawsuit Friday that he was injected with the drug when he was arrested by police.
Axtell, 46, alleged in the lawsuit that he worked with police during the January 28, 2020 incident at the home of his friend, Lakewood Councilor Anita Springsteen. She witnessed the incident, was a lawyer and helped Axtell prepare the federal complaint.
That day, officials responded to an argument between Axtell and staff in an assisted dormitory across from Springsteen’s home. Staff there told officers that Axtell claimed to have a knife in his pocket during the confrontation, according to an affidavit from a Lakewood police officer.
The affidavit states that Axtell yelled at and yelled at officers, called them swear words, and withdrew when they tried to handcuff him.
Axtell claims that he was never physically combative and that he did not resist the officers, but “used a language that the officers did not like because he was angry,” the lawsuit says. The 28-page complaint alleges that a paramedic from the West Metro Fire Department injected ketamine into Axtell without warning after his arrest and knocked him unconscious.
Axtell was charged with seven offenses; The most serious were later released at the request of prosecutors according to court records. He is still being charged with handicapping a police officer and behaving in a messy manner, according to court records, which are offenses and minor offenses.
Ronda Scholting, a West Metro Fire Protection District spokeswoman, declined to comment on the lawsuit, but said the Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment had investigated a previous complaint about Axtell’s treatment and found no reason to approve the agency discipline.
“Nothing was found to support the complaint, there was no evidence, and West Metro providers followed established protocols and procedures,” she said.
A Lakewood police spokesman declined to comment on the pending litigation.
The lawsuit said Axtell suffered complications after taking ketamine, which the Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment says are available to about 90 fire and rescue services across the state to treat unrest.
The drug can have significant side effects – 20% of the approximately 427 Colorado patients injected with ketamine for arousal between August 2017 and July 2018 were later intubated because they had difficulty breathing after receiving the drug.
After McClain’s case attracted national attention during protests against racial justice that summer, Aurora temporarily banned the use of the drug by first responders, and the CDPHE promised a nationwide review of the use, though a spokesman told KDVR in December that the review had been suspended until the Colorado Attorney General has closed its independent investigation into McClain’s death. The agency did not respond to a request for comment.
The Attorney General’s independent investigation is ongoing. In January, the bureau said they had opened a grand jury investigation into McClain’s death.
State lawmakers are also considering passing a new law this year to restrict the use of ketamine in interactions with the police, such as banning the police from ordering paramedics to use the drug.
Aurora Fire Rescue has stopped using ketamine since the city was banned in September, Lt. Dan Pollet on Tuesday, adding that crews have used other, similar drugs to deal with combative or agitated patients.