June 14, 2021

Neguse bill would ban law enforcement from using ketamine in arrests

A bill introduced Monday by U.S. Rep. Joe Neguse would prohibit state and local law enforcement agencies from using the powerful sedative ketamine during the arrest or detention of suspects.

The legislation comes on the heels of a Colorado bill to restrict use of the drug in law enforcement encounters. That bill, which awaits Gov. Jared Polis' signature, was in response to outrage over the 2019 death of Elijah McClain, a 23-year-old Black man who was injected with the drug while under arrest in Aurora.

Neguse said he was moved by McClain's death to work on the federal bill.

“In far too many circumstances ketamine is being used to help effectuate arrests without a full appreciation of the health risks,” Neguse said in a statement.

“The tragic death of Elijah McClain in Colorado underscores the clear need to rethink the use of this drug in cases of arrest and detention to ensure nothing like this ever happens again to a member of our community."

The Lafayette Democrat's bill would withhold millions of dollars in federal law enforcement grants from state and local government entities unless they certify that they prohibit "administration of ketamine to an individual during an arrest or detention other than in a hospital for medical purposes."

The bill's co-sponsors include U.S. Rep. Jason Crow of Aurora, as well as House Judiciary Committee Chairman Jerry Nadler, Sheila Jackson Lee, Pramila Jayapal and Mondaire Jones.

“Elijah McClain should still be alive today," said Crow in a statement. "While no legislation can bring back Elijah or ease his family’s pain, we must learn from this injustice. As a legislator, our community deserves more than my thoughts and prayers, they deserve action."

McClain was stopped by Aurora police officers, who put him in a now-banned chokehold and pressed their weight into him before transferring him into an ambulance. There, paramedics dosed McClain with 500 milligrams of ketamine — more than 1.5 times the proper dose for his weight, according to medical guidelines. He went into cardiac arrest on the way to the hospital and was taken off life support six days later.

Crow is sponsoring legislation to require states to mandate independent investigations after use of deadly force by law enforcement resulting in death or injury. The Force Accountability Act, he said, was a response to a review conducted by the city of Aurora into McClain's death, which found that the initial investigation "was flawed and failed to meaningfully develop a fulsome record."

An attorney for McClain's mother, Sheneen McClain, said she "strongly supports the federal legislation" and believes the legislation will save lives.

"Ketamine is extremely dangerous and should never be used strictly for law enforcement purposes,” said Qusair Mohamedbhai, McClain's attorney, in a statement.

State Rep. Terri Carver, a Colorado Springs Republican and ranking member on the state's House Judiciary Committee, told Colorado Politics it's important to understand the roles of law enforcement and emergency medical personnel.

"It is the paramedics who are at the scene who make the decision on whether to give ketamine, not law enforcement," she said.

"It's unfortunate if legislation is sanctioning law enforcement when that's not where the decision is being made."

Carver opposed the state bill, which would make it a crime for police or sheriffs' deputies to encourage paramedics to administer ketamine at the scene of an arrest, among other provisions aimed at restricting the drug's use.

By:  Ernest Luning
Source: Colorado Politics