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State health agency looking into the administration of ketamine after the death of Elijah McClain

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Posted at 10:41 AM, Jul 29, 2020
and last updated 2020-07-29 12:41:38-04

DENVER — The drug that can’t be ruled out as a possible contributor to Elijah McClain’s death is under investigation by Colorado’s health agency.

The Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment (CDPHE) confirmed Tuesday they are looking into the administration of the drug ketamine by health care professionals after receiving numerous complaints from the public beginning on June 24.

McClain was administered a dose of ketamine by paramedics after a struggle with police the night of Aug. 24, 2019, "due to the level of physical force applied while restraining the subject and his agitated mental state," officials said.

McClain suffered a heart attack on the way to a hospital after the incident, which happened in the 1900 block of Billings Street. Officers had responded to a call about a suspicious man wearing a ski mask and waving his arms. When they arrived, they contacted McClain, who they claimed resisted when the officers tried to detain him, police said.

The Adams County Coroner conducted the autopsy on McClain and ruled that the manner of his death was "undetermined," saying it could not determine whether his death was an accident, due to natural causes or a homicide.

The autopsy report references multiple abrasions on the victim's face, back and legs. It also references some hemorrhaging around his neck.

"The decedent was violently struggling with officers who were attempting to restrain him," the report stated. "Most likely the decedent's physical exertion contributed to death. It is unclear if the officer's action contributed as well."

The autopsy noted the ketamine dosage was detected in his system, but it wasn’t at a high level. However, the coroner states that McClain could have had a bad reaction to the drug.

"The blood ketamine concentration was at a therapeutic level," the report stated, "but an idiosyncratic drug reaction (an unexpected reaction to a drug even at a therapeutic level) cannot be ruled out."

The officers involved in McClain’s death were cleared of any criminal charges and returned to the force after an investigation found that the officers "had a lawful reason to contact Mr. McClain." However, the city changed department policies directly tied to McClain’s death.

On July 20, Aurora City Council unanimously adopted a resolution calling for an independent investigation into McClain’s death.

The resolution calls for a three-member independent investigation team that will have at least three consultants and will be led by Jonathan Smith of the Washington Lawyers Committee for Civil Rights and Urban Affairs in Washington, D.C.

At the same time, Colorado Attorney General Phil Weiser is investigating whether criminal charges are warranted against anyone involved in the death.