Colo. man sues over ketamine administration during police encounter
The plaintiff sued the officers, paramedics and others involved in the incident, claiming he suffered complications after receiving the sedative
The Denver Post
AURORA, Colo. — An Aurora man who says he was given the powerful sedative ketamine against his will during a 2020 encounter with Lakewood police sued the officers, paramedics, medical providers and others involved with the incident.
The pro se federal lawsuit filed Friday is the latest of several challenges to the drug's use in Colorado since the 2019 death of 23-year-old Elijah McClain in Aurora, who died after he was violently stopped by police and given nearly twice as much ketamine as he should have received, without his consent.
The sedative is used by first responders to treat extreme agitation in a non-hospital setting. Like McClain, Jeremiah Axtell, who filed Friday's lawsuit, says he was injected with the drug as he was detained by police.
Axtell, 46, claimed in the lawsuit that he cooperated with police during the Jan. 28, 2020, incident at the home of his girlfriend, Lakewood councilwoman Anita Springsteen. She witnessed the incident, and is also an attorney and helped Axtell prepare the federal complaint.
On that day, the officers were responding to a dispute between Axtell and staff at an assisted living home across the street from Springsteen's house. Staff there told officers Axtell claimed to have a knife in his pocket during the confrontation, according to an arrest affidavit filed by a Lakewood police agent.
The affidavit says Axtell yelled and screamed at officers, called them profanities and pulled away when they attempted to handcuff him.
Axtell claims he was never physically combative and did not resist the officers, but rather "used language the officers did not like because he was upset," the lawsuit states. The 28-page complaint claims a paramedic with West Metro Fire Protection District injected Axtell with ketamine without warning after he was arrested, knocking him unconscious.
Axtell was charged with seven criminal counts; the most serious were later dismissed at the request of prosecutors, according to court records. He is still accused of obstructing a police officer and disorderly conduct, according to court records, which are misdemeanor and petty offenses.
Ronda Scholting, a spokeswoman for West Metro Fire Protection District, declined to comment on the lawsuit but said the Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment investigated an earlier complaint about Axtell's treatment and found no reason to discipline the agency.
"It found nothing to support the complaint, there was no evidence to support it, and that West Metro providers followed established protocols and procedures," she said.
A Lakewood police spokesman declined to comment on the pending litigation.
The lawsuit says Axtell suffered complications after receiving ketamine, which the Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment allows about 90 fire departments and emergency medical service agencies across the state to use to treat agitation.
The drug can have significant side effects — 20% of the about 427 Colorado patients injected with ketamine for agitation between August 2017 and July 2018 were later intubated because they struggled to breathe after receiving the drug.
After McClain's case garnered national attention amid racial justice protests over the summer, Aurora temporarily banned the use of the drug by first responders, and the CDPHE promised a statewide review of its use, though in December a spokesman told KDVR the review was put on hold until the Colorado attorney general's office finishes their independent investigation into McClain's death. The agency did not answer a request for comment.
The attorney general's independent investigation is ongoing; in January, the office said they'd started a grand jury investigation into McClain's death.
State legislators are also considering passing a new law this year that would limit how ketamine can be used during interactions with police, like prohibiting police from telling paramedics to use the drug.
At Aurora Fire Rescue, ketamine has not been used since the city's ban was put in place in September, Lt. Dan Pollet said Tuesday, adding that crews have been using other, similar medications to deal with combative or agitated patients.
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