State health department launches new probe into ketamine used on Elijah McClain

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

AURORA | The Colorado Department of Public Health And Environment on Tuesday added its name to the growing list of entities that have launched new investigations into the circumstances surrounding the death of Elijah McClain in Aurora last August.

A spokesman for the state health department confirmed in an email that officials last month received new information regarding the sedative paramedics injected into McClain after police officers detained him in the 1900 block of Billings street on Aug. 24, 2019.

“The Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment received numerous complaints, beginning on June 24, that provided additional information regarding a ketamine administration in August 2019,” Peter Myers, occurrences section manager for the state organization, wrote. “The department launched a complaint investigation which is currently ongoing.”

Myers declined to provide any additional details on the new information outlined in the complaints.

Aurora first responders have received international blowback for their treatment of McClain, who was unarmed and never suspected of a crime when officers stopped him. Police contacted the 23-year-old Black Aurora resident after a passerby called 911 and described him as “sketchy.”

McClain suffered a heart attack shortly after he was given a 500-milligram dose of the drug. Officials claimed McClain was exhibiting extraordinary strength and at one point attempted to grab a police officer’s holstered gun.

In a letter issued by District Attorney Dave Young explaining why he did not have enough evidence to prosecute any of the first responders who interacted with McClain, it was revealed that Aurora Fire Medic Jeremy Cooper gave McClain a dose of ketamine for a person estimated to weigh 220 pounds. McClain weighed 140 pounds at the time of his death.

His blood ketamine level was 1.4 milligrams per liter, according to a toxicology report.

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. The state health department first began granting the waivers in 2013, though Aurora Fire didn’t begin using the substance until January 2019. Officials used the drug 18 times in the city last year and twice in the first six months of this year, according to a spokeswoman for the local fire agency.

Aurora Mayor Mike Coffman has said the city is currently in the process of re-examining its policies surrounding ketamine. The drug will also be the focus of a city probe into McClain’s death that will be headed by a Washington D.C.-based civil rights attorney. An unnamed medical expert will look into the ketamine administration.

Despite Coffman’s calls to reconsider using the drug in Aurora, ketamine remains part of the department’s adopted protocols, a spokeswoman for Aurora Fire confirmed on July 20.

Both Attorney General Phil Weiser and the FBI are also looking into McClain’s death.