Federal excessive force lawsuit filed in ketamine case that received national attention

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DENVER (KDVR) — A civil rights attorney has filed a federal, excessive force lawsuit in the case of Elijah McKnight, who was restrained and tased by Arapahoe County sheriff’s deputies, in August 2019, and twice injected with the sedative ketamine by paramedics before being hospitalized for several days.

“There was really no other way to get justice for Mr. McKnight,” said Igor Raykin, the attorney who filed the federal complaint against South Metro Fire Rescue, Arapahoe County, two sheriff’s deputies, and three fire personnel who were on the scene.

“We knew that no one was going to apologize for anything, and we thought this was his only recourse,” said Raykin.

The FOX31 Problem Solvers first brought McKnight’s case to light in 2019, after he said he was placed on a ventilator after receiving two doses (750mg) of ketamine following a drunken altercation with police.

The state health department investigated the paramedics’ involvement in the case and found no grounds for discipline.

“The Department…found that the provider’s decision to administer chemical restraint was…warranted for the safety of the patient and the emergency responders,” a Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment spokesperson told the Problem Solvers in July.

However, McKnight’s incident happened within days of another controversial case, involving a man named Elijah McClain, 23, in the city of Aurora.

In that case, Aurora police placed McClain in a carotid control hold, and paramedics later sedated him with 500 mg of ketamine. A coroner could not rule out either action as a possible contributor to McClain’s death.

“It’s wrong that my life was almost taken, and Elijah McClain’s life was taken in a similar incident,” said 25-year-old McKnight.

McKnight’s suit alleges that Arapahoe County sheriff’s deputies and paramedics used force that was excessive and unnecessary in violation of McKnight’s Fourth Amendment rights.

“The force used by (the deputy defendant)…caused Plaintiff to call out in pain several times; specifically, Plaintiff pleaded with Defendants that he ‘was trying to comply,’ and to ‘get off my leg, don’t break my leg,'” according to the lawsuit which calls the use of force “excessive and objectively unreasonable under the circumstances.”

The FOX31 Problem Solvers counted at least 27 times when McKnight yelled about his leg pain or asked the deputies to get off him.

“It just felt like they were provoking me at that point, poking me, trying to get me to react, doing things like twisting my legs…after tasing me and after I’m telling them I’ll be cooperative…and then (the paramedics) injected me with stuff, that’s very unnecessary. They could have just put the handcuffs on me and threw me in the back of the cop car,” said McKnight.

“Mr. McKnight was completely cooperative once he was actually restrained by the police, and there was no reason to inject him with this stuff,” said Raykin.

The suit alleges that the medical personnel on scene had a “duty to protect (McKnight) from harm and unconstitutional treatment at the hands of South Metro Fire Rescue.” It also alleges the paramedic and the fire department violated McKnight’s Fourteenth Amendment right with a “forcible administration of ketamine.”

McKnight is currently facing criminal charges in the case.  A statement of probable cause for arrest warrant suggests McKnight punched and kicked a deputy during the altercation, prior to the paramedics arriving on the scene. 

The deputy “gave Elijah (McKnight) several commands to roll over on his stomach or he was going to get tased….Elijah intentionally kicked his left foot upward while he was laying on his back striking (the deputy)on the left side of his jaw,” according to the probable cause statement.

According to court records, McKnight is facing four criminal counts, including two counts of assaulting a peace officer, which is a Class 4 Felony, and two counts of obstructing a peace officer, which is a Class 2 Misdemeanor.

“That doesn’t even make sense,” said McKnight. “The  body camera doesn’t match up with their affidavit that they filed in court at all.”

The suit was filed Wednesday morning in federal court.

The Arapahoe County Sheriff’s Office told the Problem Solvers they had not yet been served with the lawsuit.

“The policy of the Sheriff’s Office is to not comment on pending litigation,” said Deputy John Bartmann, a public information officer for the Arapahoe County Sheriff’s Office.

South Metro Fire Rescue issued a similar response:

“The practice of South Metro Fire Rescue is to not comment on any pending litigation,” said Kristin Eckmann, a spokesperson for SMFR.

FOX31 has also requested a comment from the other named defendants and is waiting to hear back from them.

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