Aurora lawmakers temporarily ban ketamine, move toward ending no-knock police raids

Screen shot from Aurora Police press conference and body cam video regarding the officer-involved death of Elijah McClain

AURORA | Aurora lawmakers temporarily barred Aurora first responders from administering ketamine and indicated support to outlaw “no-knock” warrants during a Monday city council meeting.

The proposals, submitted by council members Curtis Gardner and Angela Lawson, targeted police and first responder practices that have been at the center of two high-profile cases: Breonna Taylor, who died in Louisville, Kentucky, and Elijah McClain, who died last August after an encounter with Aurora police.

McClain, a Black massage therapist, was detained by a trio of Aurora police officers last August on his way home from a north Aurora convenience store. He was placed in a now-banned control hold and injected with 500 milligrams of ketamine after a passerby described him as “sketchy” to 911 dispatchers. He legally died three days later and was taken off life support three days after that.

Documents have revealed that the paramedic who injected McClain overestimated his weight by nearly 80 pounds.

Councilmember Curtis Gardner sponsored the proposal temporarily barring Aurora Fire Rescue and city contractors from administering ketamine. The city council unanimously approved the resolution Monday night.

The temporary ban will be in effect until a consultant hired by the city, Washington D.C.-based attorney Jonathan Smith, submits his report on polices related to McClain’s death. That probe will include scrutinizing how ketamine was used in McClain’s encounter with APD officers and first responders. 

“I think it’s really important that, as we go through that review, we take those results and then make a more permanent decision,” Gardner said. 

He said Aurora Fire Rescue and first responders have alternatives to subdue patients or criminal suspects.

In a statement, Aurora Fire Rescue said the department would purge ketamine from service vehicles 8 a.m. on Sept. 15.

McClain suffered a heart attack shortly after he was given the drug. Officials claimed McClain was exhibiting extraordinary strength and at one point attempted to grab a police officer’s holstered gun.

Aurora Fire is one of several dozen emergency medical providers in the state with a waiver from the state health department to use ketamine on patients. First responders used the drug 18 times in the city last year and twice in the first six months of this year, according to Aurora Fire Rescue. 

In July, the Colorado Department of Public Health And Environment launched an investigation into first responders’ use of ketamine on McClain. 

The Colorado Society of Anesthesiologists said last week first responders should stop injecting people with ketamine until CDPHE finishes its review. Councilmember Nicole Johnston said Monday she supported a statewide moratorium. 

In a Monday study session, a majority of city lawmakers supported Councilmember Angela Lawson’s proposal to bar APD from executing so-called no-knock search warrants.

The law would require Aurora police officers to announce themselves before entering a home or business when executing a search warrant.

The ordinance will move to a future city council meeting, where it will require two more votes of approval before becoming law.

Lawson said Monday the proposal was inspired by Breonna Taylor’s death in Louisville, Kentucky. Taylor was shot eight times and killed in her apartment after police officers burst into her home, while she was sleeping, as part of an investigation targeting a pair of drug dealers.

According to media reports, the Louisville police officers had originally obtained a no-knock warrant, allowing them to enter the premises without announcing their presence and authority. Drugs were never found in the apartment. 

The Louisville police officers said they announced their presence before entering the home. Taylor’s boyfriend, Kenneth Walker, has said police did not announce themselves. He maintains he fired on officers in self-defense. 

Councilmembers Francoise Bergan, Dave Gruber and Marsha Berzins objected to Lawson’s proposal. 

Lawson said that, with the law, she wanted to prevent police from barging into homes and putting people’s lives at risk in mix-ups. 

“I think it is a dangerous situation in certain circumstances,” she said of the warrants. The plan is part of “reimagining and looking at police,” she said. 

Aurora police Chief Vanessa Wilson spoke Monday in opposition to the plan. 

“It’s something that we use very sparingly, and something (where) a judge actually has checks and balances in place, and it’s not something that the police department does on their own,” Wilson said.

Judges approved 10 no-knock warrants since 2018, according to APD data requested by Lawson. But APD leadership says the department only executed five of those warrants without announcing their presence first.

In the same period, APD executed 315 “knock and announce” warrants.

Wilson said Aurora police only execute no-knock warrants when there’s evidence of guns and drugs in the home. Police need to rush into homes to prevent suspects from lashing out against police, she said. 

Councilmember Alison Coombs noted that, in 1999, Denver police shot and killed resident Ishmael Mena after rushing into his home in a drug investigation. No drugs were found.

Police later admitted the search warrant contained the wrong address, according to the Denver Post. 

This story was updated with a comment from Aurora Fire Rescue.