National News

Ketamine Used to Subdue Dozens at Request of Minneapolis Police, Report Says

Posted June 16, 2018 9:10 a.m. EDT

Minneapolis police officers asked emergency medical workers dozens of times over three years to inject suspects and others with the powerful anesthetic ketamine, including some who were already restrained, The Star Tribune reported Friday.

In some cases, the drug caused heart or breathing failure and required those injected to be revived or intubated, according to the newspaper.

The Star Tribune said it had obtained a draft report of an investigation by the Office of Police Conduct Review, a division of the city’s Department of Civil Rights.

Ketamine has for decades been used as an anesthetic for humans and animals as well as abused as a recreational hallucinogenic drug known as Special K. Researchers have also explored its therapeutic uses in treating depression.

The Star Tribune, citing the draft report, said the number of documented injections of ketamine during police calls increased to 62 last year from three in 2012, including four times on the same person.

In one case, officers and emergency medical workers responded to a call about a man who appeared to be in a mental health crisis.

Four officers and two medical responders arrived and decided to sedate the man, according to the report authors, who reviewed body camera footage, The Star Tribune reported.

Upon seeing the needle, the man said he did not want the shot. “Whoa, whoa, that’s not cool!” he pleaded, according to the newspaper. “I don’t need that!”

He was injected with the drug twice and secured to a chair. “Shortly after, he became nonverbal and unintelligible, prompting one officer to remark, ‘He just hit the K-hole,’ a slang term for the intense delirium brought on by ketamine,” the newspaper reported.

Until last month, police had no policy for using the drug, which the department manual classified as a “date rape drug” because it is a powerful sedative that can erase or alter memory.

Side effects of the drug can include changes in blood pressure and heart rate, delirium, agitation, confusion and hallucinations, said Dr. Scott Krakower, assistant unit chief of psychiatry at Zucker Hillside Hospital in Glen Oaks, New York. If it is not administered properly, it could lead to cardiac and respiratory problems and potentially worsen agitation, he added.

John B. Gordon, executive director of the ACLU of Minnesota, said Friday he first learned of the injections from The Star Tribune report.

If officers directed medical responders to administer the drug, it amounted to a “horrible abuse of power,” he said.

Members of Hennepin Healthcare, the main emergency medical service provider in Minneapolis, are authorized to use ketamine when a patient is “profoundly agitated,” unable to be restrained and a danger to themselves or others, according to its policy, The Star Tribune said, adding that the draft report found cases in which emergency medical workers used it on people who did not appear to fit those criteria.

Around the time the draft report was completed last month, police Cmdr. Todd Sauvageau issued an order that officers “shall never suggest or demand” that emergency medical personnel sedate a person. “This is a decision that needs to be clearly made by EMS personnel, not MPD officers,” the order said.

In a statement Friday, Police Chief Medaria Arradondo emphasized that the draft report was incomplete “and devoid of any input from medical personnel,” and that releasing its contents “before its completion was irresponsible.”

The report has not been made public and remained a “work in progress,” a spokesman for the Police Department, John Elder, said Friday.

Hennepin Healthcare said in a statement Friday that it heard in early April that officers were asking that ketamine be used and relayed its concerns to the police on May 3.

“While a police request for ketamine may occur, the final decision is always made by professional medical personnel,” the agency said. “Last year, ketamine sedations were used on 0.095 percent of our 81,500 EMS calls for service.”

Hennepin Healthcare said that the drug had been used by its emergency medical services since 2008, and that it had asked an independent agency to review eight specific cases cited in the report.