Indictment of Paramedics in Elijah McClain's Death Is First of Its Kind, Experts Say
A Colorado grand jury has indicted two paramedics and three police officers in the August 2019 death of Elijah McClain. McClain, 23, died after being violently detained by the officers and injected with the sedative ketamine by paramedics. The felony manslaughter and reckless homicide charges against the paramedics could be the first of their kind in the United States and could have broad implications for the emergency medical field. Interviews by the Denver Post with medical practitioners, former prosecutors, civil rights lawyers, and medical attorneys suggest that criminal cases against paramedics are extremely uncommon. The indictment states that the two paramedics "deviated from the standard protocols governing when to administer ketamine such that the administration of ketamine to Mr. McClain was unlawful." It further states the paramedics did not physically check McClain, incorrectly diagnosed him with excited delirium, injected him with a dose of ketamine larger than recommended for his size, and did not monitor him for complications after the injection. Steve Wirth, a former paramedic and attorney whose practice focuses on emergency medicine, notes that paramedics often must make rapid decisions that might not be laid out in policy. The indictment "could have a stifling effect," he says. "You can't practice check-list medicine because no one patient is the same." The grand jury classified ketamine as a "deadly weapon" in this case. However, notes Dr. Brent Myers, former president of the National Association of EMS Physicians, many drugs commonly used by paramedics can be deadly if used incorrectly. "If someone makes an honest mistake, and now that's criminal — that’s paralyzing," Myers says. "I'm not saying that errors are OK, but if you're criminalizing honest mistakes?" Earlier this year, Colorado lawmakers passed a bill that bans the use of ketamine to treat excited delirium, a controversial diagnosis of a type of extreme agitation. The state Department of Public Health and Environment recently suspended all of the waivers that allowed emergency medical providers to use ketamine to treat excited delirium while it reviewed the new law.
Read the full article through the Denver Post.