Widow sues S.C. county, 4 EMS providers for negligence

Tabitha Britt said the EMS workers' actions when administering ketamine to her husband amounted to an "unlawful, unjustified, and unreasonable use of force"


Simone Jasper
The News & Observer

CHARLESTON COUNTY, S.C. — First responders injected a handcuffed man with ketamine — and should have known the drug's risks, his South Carolina wife said in a lawsuit.

Tabitha Britt said her husband, James Britt, didn't regain consciousness after he was given the injection during an arrest in 2019. Now, she's suing Charleston County and four of its EMS workers for negligence in his death, according to the lawsuit filed this month.

The lawsuit said that despite James Britt's objections to getting medicine, one of the workers
The lawsuit said that despite James Britt's objections to getting medicine, one of the workers "pushes the maximum allowable amount of the sedative, Ketamine, into Decedent's bloodstream." (Photo/ADF.org)

When reached for comment about the lawsuit, a spokesperson said Charleston County doesn't comment on pending litigation.

James was driving on Sept. 30, 2019, when a tire blew out and he pulled into a private neighborhood, according to his wife's lawsuit. A Mount Pleasant police officer arrived to help James change his tire and after other officers arrived at the scene, the first officer told James she was going to put him "under arrest for public intoxication," the lawsuit states.

James asked to speak to a supervisor to try and avoid being arrested, saying he needed to be at work the next morning to "provide for his family and wanted to call someone to come get his car," the lawsuit said.

Police tried to handcuff him and James "questioned the authority of the police physically and verbally," according to the lawsuit.

James' wife said her husband was forced to the ground and had trouble breathing after he was handcuffed. But when two Charleston County EMS workers got to the scene, they didn't medically evaluate him, according to the lawsuit.

James repeatedly said "I can't breathe," according to the lawsuit.

The lawsuit said that despite James' objections to getting medicine, one of the workers "plunges the needle into Decedent's arm and pushes the maximum allowable amount of the sedative, Ketamine, into Decedent's bloodstream." He reportedly stopped breathing within minutes of receiving the injection and was never conscious again before he died on Oct. 16, 2019.

Ketamine, a dissociative anesthetic, can cause a person to hallucinate, stop responding to stimuli or have an increase in blood pressure and heart rate. Overdoses can lead users to become unconscious and have "dangerously slowed breathing," according to the U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration.

"Ketamine is a dissociative anesthetic that has some hallucinogenic effects," the DEA said on its website. "It distorts perceptions of sight and sound and makes the user feel disconnected and not in control."

Dr. Keith Borg of the Medical University of South Carolina said first responders can use ketamine while helping to relieve pain, inserting breathing tubes, or sedating patients they have trouble controlling, according to WCSC.

"But like any tool, if not used properly, it could get you into a lot of trouble very quickly," Borg told the news outlet in 2020.

In court documents, his wife said he was "completely subdued at the time" he was given ketamine and that the EMS workers' actions amounted to an "unlawful, unjustified, and unreasonable use of force."

"These Defendants knew or should have known injecting Mr. Britt with ketamine posed a substantial risk of serious harm and demonstrated a conscious disregard for his constitutional rights, his health, and his safety," the lawsuit said.

The court document also accuses Charleston County and two of its EMS supervisors of being liable in the case.

His wife is seeking damages and restraint in the use of "ketamine for law enforcement purposes" in the lawsuit, which was filed about a month after news outlets report she settled with the town of Mount Pleasant for $3 million. The town, which didn't immediately respond to McClatchy News on Monday, didn't "comment on the settlement" to WCSC.

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McClatchy-Tribune News Service

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