Ketamine bill advances again at Colorado Capitol

Politics

DENVER (KDVR) – In a vote 3-2, the Senate Judiciary Committee advanced the House ketamine bill, aimed at increasing requirements for medics who administer the drug in a pre-hospital setting and at reducing a law enforcement officer’s involvement in cases in which police and medics are at the same scene.

“I think we need to be mindful of how serious this drug is,” said Sen. Rhonda Fields, a prime co-sponsor of the bill. “Elijah should still be alive today,” she added, referencing Elijah McClain.

McClain, 23, died in 2019 after medics injected him with ketamine following a rough police altercation. A coroner could not determine McClain’s official cause of death and could not rule out an adverse reaction to the sedative.

Since then, the FOX31 Problem Solvers have uncovered a handful of other cases in which the drug was delivered under questionable circumstances following police altercations.

“This bill has gone through a very long process and is a very important matter of public policy for us to grapple with,” said Sen. Julie Gonzales, the Vice-Chair of the Senate Judiciary Committee, and a prime co-sponsor of the bill.

However, Senate Republicans who sit on the Judiciary Committee said they would not support the legislation after hearing several hours of testimony from medical directors and emergency medical services providers.

“Very respectfully – because I think the bill is well-intended – nevertheless, not the right solution, I will be a very-committed ‘no,’” said Sen. Bob Gardner prior to voting no on the bill.

“If passed, House Bill 1251 may prevent or hinder law enforcement from providing all necessary information to EMS for fear of being criminalized,” said a statement representing the Colorado Association of Chiefs of Police, the Colorado Fraternal Order of Police, and the County Sheriffs of Colorado. “The state Legislature should not create disincentives for law enforcement officers to provide needed information to medical providers in emergency life or death situations,” the statement said.

The bill says, “A peace officer shall not unduly influence an EMS provider’s medical decision or diagnosis, and an EMS provider shall not base its medical decision exclusively on information provided by a peace officer; except that a peace officer may provide critical medical information or any other pertinent information about the individual or the scene of the emergency that may assist the EMS provider’s assessment of the need to administer ketamine.”

The bill would also require an EMS provider to report any peace officer who violates these rules to the Peace Officer Standards and Training Board for potential discipline.

“Upon receipt of the report, the P.O.S.T. board shall submit the report to the peace officer’s employing agency who shall conduct an internal investigation of the alleged violation and transmit the findings to the P.O.S.T. board. If the findings are substantiated, the peace officer’s certification is subject to revocation,” the proposed legislation says.

Medical professionals also testified that they fear their ability to protect themselves and their patients will be hindered with the bill’s passage.

“What will those of you who pass this bill, as written, say to my loved ones when I am injured or possibly die because my ability to provide the best patient care was taken away from me?” said Yolanda Amezcua, a paramedic with Denver Health.

Meanwhile, a bill proponent, Jeremiah Axtell – who was injected with ketamine in 2020 after a police altercation – said his experience has left him with long-term effects.

“I understand there’s a place for it. I do, but it should be in that place,” he said of the drug. “Drugs that people don’t want to do, they shouldn’t have to do,” he said. Axtell received an injection after verbally telling authorities that he would comply with their commands.

Axtell’s girlfriend, Anita Springsteen, a Lakewood City Council woman, expressed concerns about other cases in which ketamine was used after police altercations, including a 2019 incident with a man named Steven Reycraft, who was pulled over for committing a traffic violation.

He refused to give his name to police, and police officers took him to the ground to cuff him, causing him to scrape his head.

Body camera video shows a Manitou Springs Fire Department paramedic explaining to a Manitou Springs police officer the reason she would eventually sedate Reycraft. 

“I’m going to sedate him because I don’t like that you guys are having to hold him down,” she told a police officer. “I’m going to give him Versed though,” she explained, of a sedative also known as Midazolam, “because he’s not excited delirium.”

Other than for pain, medics are only allowed to administer ketamine under their medical director’s state waiver if a patient exhibits symptoms of extreme agitation, also referred to by state officials as excited delirium.

However, later in in the interaction, the medic administers ketamine into Reycraft’s rear despite her initial assessment.

“People in the United States should not be forcibly injected this way or given death sentences this way without due process,” said Springsteen.

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