At the center of the outrage surrounding Elijah McClain’s death is the administration of the powerful anesthetic ketamine while McClain was being detained by police. And after “numerous” complaints, the Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment said, the agency has opened an investigation into the use of that drug in an incident from August 2019, when McClain died.
McClain was walking home from a corner store in Aurora on the evening of his death when he was stopped by police, who had gotten a call about him because he was wearing a ski mask. McClain continued to walk despite being told to stop and so a struggle ensued where an officer put him in a hold that restricted blood flow to his brain. Soon after, paramedics gave him ketamine to tranquilize him.
McClain, who had been vomiting, was put into an ambulance, where he suffered cardiac arrest. He died several days later, and his death has received renewed attention in the wake of the killing of George Floyd, a Black man who died in custody of Minnesota police.
District Attorney Dave Young has not pressed charges against the officers involved in the incident, saying in June that he believed “a serious heart condition” led to McClain’s death. Young cited a report from the Adams County coroner that McClain had a “therapeutic level” of ketamine in his system, but family attorney Mari Newman disputes that claim.
“He weighed 140 pounds and the dosage he got was for somebody who was at least twice that weight,” Newman said.
Newman argued to ABC News that McClain should not have been given ketamine at all, given that he was handcuffed and on the ground, held down by multiple officers who were bigger than him. She also argued against the paramedics’ diagnosis that McClain possibly suffered from a condition called “excited delirium.”
“The only time you even hear about excited delirium is in the context of law enforcement agents defending the amount of force they used against a person,” Newman said. “You’ll never hear of a person who is sitting in their living room and then experiences excited delirium.”
According to the Denver Post, no deaths have ever been reported to the Colorado state health department as a result of ketamine. However, out of 427 patients who received it for agitation between August 2017 and July 2018, about 20% later had to be intubated at a hospital.