CENTENNIAL, Colo. (KDVR) — A local fire department that found “protocol was followed” when a man was hospitalized after being sedated with a 750mg dose of ketamine last summer, conducted a two-month self-review of the incident without making any notes, sending any emails or writing any documentation that would reveal how it arrived at its conclusion, according to South Metro Fire Rescue (SMFR).
“It’s not part of our process to document everything and record everything,” said Kristin Eckmann, a spokesperson for SMFR off-camera, after approaching the FOX31 crew during a public fire board meeting. FOX31 attended the meeting after SMFR declined an on-camera interview.
The FOX31 Problem Solvers repeatedly asked the department to provide documentation and an interview to explain their findings in what they called a “thorough and in-depth” review of the incident, but fire officials declined. They did, however, provide documentation showing that the state health department’s investigation of the same incident found no grounds for disciplinary action against them for the case involving Elijah McKnight in August 2019.
The case is separate from the one involving Elijah McClain, which occurred the same month in nearby Aurora.
South Metro Fire Rescue and the Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment re-examined McKnight’s case after the FOX31 Problem Solvers reviewed body camera footage of the incident and found discrepancies in SMFR’s October statements to FOX31 about how and why ketamine would be used and what was seen in the video – including how quickly a paramedic decides to administer the drug, how much impact law enforcement has on the decision and why someone would receive a second dose of the medication.
“The internal review that South Metro conducted was based on the official documentation of the patient care report, review of the body-camera footage, review and discussion with our medical director, as well as a review and discussion with our paramedic (and crew) who were involved with the incident. In addition, it was very important for the SMFR internal review to also include the overall findings of CDPHE investigation – and that notice was received on July 16th stating that the paramedic followed protocols,” Eckmann said in an email.
FOX31 has reported extensively on the ketamine administration which occurred after McKnight was involved in an altercation with police for which he is now facing criminal charges.
Body-camera footage obtained by the FOX31 Problem Solvers shows McKnight was shouting but also coherently and accurately answering several questions from SMFR about the president of the United States, the year, the city, and how many quarters are in a dollar. A paramedic later referred to him as “alert,” and a first responder said he did not need to be transported to the hospital.
The state’s Ketamine Waiver Guidance says, “EMS providers should not engage in restraining people for law enforcement purposes,” and Michael Porter, who is now listed as the “former” chief officer involved with medical care at SMFR, told the FOX31 Problem Solvers in the fall that “unequivocally,” law enforcement personnel have no influence on a medic’s decisions.
However, after medics declared McKnight as “alert,” the body camera footage shows a deputy asking them, “You guys can’t give him anything, can you?”
To which a paramedic responded, “We can give him ketamine, and he’ll be sleeping like a baby.”
The footage shows McKnight was lying face-down. The first responders referred to him as strong and “bucking” the three people who were holding his body and legs.
Within minutes after that, the paramedics injected the first dose of the drug.
“They shouldn’t have injected me with ketamine. That shouldn’t have happened,” said McKnight.
The FOX31 Problem Solvers also found that McKnight was given a second dose despite barely moving or talking for nearly five minutes just prior to the injection.
“Because this footage has not been fully made public due to pending criminal proceedings, we cannot speak publicly about this,” said Eckmann in an email. “Although some clips of the body camera footage have since been released through the media, it is South Metro’s practice to not speak publicly about individual patient care, as well as discuss specific details on cases that are under investigation or in litigation.”
While it was unable to provide any records related to its own review of the incident, SMFR did share internal emails with the FOX31 Problem Solvers, showing their reaction to FOX31’s first report about McKnight’s case, which aired in November.
The piece aired months before the Problem Solvers obtained the body camera footage and included an interview with Dr. John Riccio, who serves as the medical director for SMFR.
“I have worked in the media/communications industry for many years, and I can tell you that I’ve never been so proud of how individuals and leadership have handled a sensitive topic like this with such class, humbleness, and integrity. It’s clear that patient care and taking care of our citizens is top priority,” Eckmann wrote. “I’d like to use this for future reference of a use case of how critical effective media relationships are…and our willingness to be transparent is a critical effective communications and brand strategy that can be beneficial for everyone.”
An email from Porter, who had not reviewed the body camera footage at the time, echoed Eckmann’s comments, “…being transparent is just the best practice in the long run,” he said.
Last week, the state health department renewed the ketamine waiver that allows SMFR to give the drug to agitated patients.