Civil rights groups demand accountability following Minneapolis sedation allegations

“We find the incidents surrounding use of ketamine on individuals egregious and unacceptable.”

Edgar Linares
June 19, 2018 - 6:11 pm

By Edgar Linares

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Twin City community activists and advocacy groups gathered Tuesday to demand accountability following a report last week showing that officers repeatedly asked medical personnel to sedate people in police custody with a powerful drug called ketamine.

“We find the incidents surrounding the use of ketamine on individuals egregious and unacceptable,” said Nekima Levy-Pounds, a civil rights attorney and former President of the NAACP Minneapolis.

Levy-Pounds, along with organizations like Black Lives Matter Twin Cities, The Minnesota Chapter of the ACLU, the Twin Cities Coalition for Justice for Jamar and the Racial Justice Network gathered at the Minneapolis City Hall rotunda on Tuesday afternoon.

Last week, the Minneapolis Star Tribune obtained a draft city report showing Minneapolis Police urged EMTs to use ketamine to sedate people in police custody. It showed the use of the powerful sedative jumped from three cases in 2012 to 62 last year. The report also showed that some people who were administered the drug sedated had their heart stop and needed to be medically revived or intubated.

“We are asking our elected officials to take swift actions upon the final release of the report by the Office of Police Conduct Review and the Minneapolis Department of Civil Rights,” said Levy-Pounds.

On Monday, Minneapolis Mayor Jacob Frey and Police Chief Medaria Arradondo issued a joint statement promising that a third-party investigation will be conducted into the use of ketamine once the city's report is complete. 

“The people of Minneapolis deserve transparency from their government. Contracting with a trusted expert will help ensure that public and all parties involved have a full understanding of what happened during the relevant activity between 2015 and 2017,” the statement read.

City leaders are now searching for candidates to conduct the independent investigation.

On Tuesday, activists said they want a credible out-of-state group to do the investigation. They also want accountability and discipline for the officers and medical staff who administered the sedatives. Finally, they’re also asking for a public release of demographics data for the people who were given ketamine, including race, gender and geographical locations where the incidents took place.

“Medical decisions need to be left to medical professionals, not police officers,” said Teresa Nelson, legal director of the ACLU in Minnesota. “Equally EMS and other medical professionals have a responsibility to their patients. And they should be making healthcare decisions that are in the best interest of those patients, not healthcare decisions that are in the best interest of police officers.”

HCMC chief medical officer Doctor William Heegaard defended the use of ketamine.]

"Ketamine sedations were used in .095 percent of the 81,500 EMS transports, or calls for service, that we did last year," he said.  "I know it seems paradoxical. You're really reassuring the patient is safe, the other personnel are safe, that we'll be able to transport safely and quickly transport to the hospital."

Hennepin Healthcare is also investigating. The Minneapolis Police Department's policy was changed last week to now prohibit officers from directing medical professionals.