‘Date rape’ drug used to sedate police suspects?

Investigations ordered to assess possible misuse of ketamine

ketamine
MGN Online

For years, Minneapolis Police Department (MPD) officers have reportedly influenced Emergency Medical Services (EMS) personnel’s use of ketamine to sedate suspects, according to a June 15 Star Tribune article revealing the findings of an internal draft report from the Minneapolis Department of Civil Rights’ Office of Police Conduct Review (OPCR).

From 2015 to 2017, MPD officers “urged” EMS responders from Hennepin Healthcare and North Memorial to inject people with the drug — even in some cases when the person was already restrained or “no apparent crime had been committed.”

The article reported an increase in the use of ketamine on emergency calls, from three usages in 2012 to 62 in 2017. It also reported that ketamine use in multiple cases caused cardiac arrest and breathing failure; in some cases, intubation was needed.

Ketamine, also known as “Special K,” is a powerful anesthetic with the ability to put people into a trance-like state and cause hallucination and memory loss. It is also classified as one of the most common “date rape” drugs along with GHB and GBL, according to the MPD Policy and Procedure Manual.

Dr. William Heegaard, chief medical officer of Hennepin Healthcare, said in a press conference that Hennepin Healthcare started using ketamine in 2008. However, he said it wasn’t until early to mid-April that he became aware of “concerns about pressure or discussion that the police may be asking [EMS] to administer ketamine.”

Heegaard also expressed concerns about inaccuracies in the report and said ketamine was used in less than one percent of the more than 81,000 calls responded to.

Following the report’s release, the Minneapolis City Council’s Public Health, Environment, Civil Rights, and Engagement Committee unanimously passed an action on June 18 requesting the OPCR complete its final report by the end of July and for an independent review of the original report.

“We welcome a second set of eyes… Our department is all about transparency,” said Velma Korbel, director of the Minneapolis Civil Rights Department.

Community leaders and activists, including members of Black Lives Matter Twin Cities and the ACLU of Minnesota, held a press conference at the Minneapolis City Hall rotunda on June 19, demanding every MPD officer and EMS personnel involved in the reported misuse of the powerful sedative be terminated.

Speakers called for transparency in the report, reparations for victims, demographics (such as age, sex, race, etc.) of the victims, and information about the precincts in which the use of ketamine occurred.

Korbel told the MSR the report does not include the demographics of those treated by EMS personnel, but there is the possibility that a future report will. However, leaders said there is no need to wait for a report by the OPCR to know that African Americans are being adversely affected by the practice.

Michelle Gross, president of Communities United Against Police Brutality, said the group’s hotline has received more calls in recent years from people claiming to be drugged by police and EMS. She said the people filing these complaints were “overwhelmingly Black.”

“I would say fairly comfortably based on conversations I’ve had with folks [that] it is Black folks who are noncompliant,” that are being affected the most,” Ward 4 Councilmember Phillipe Cunningham told the MSR. “That’s frustrating.”

These sentiments were shared at the Minneapolis City Council’s Public Safety and Emergency Committee meeting held on June 21. Fighting back tears, Toya Woodland, a minister and one of dozens of people who spoke at the meeting, said, “My heart hurts by these procedures, and I am tired of coming [to the city council] and having to beg for you to treat people of color like we’re human.”

So far, said MPD Deputy Chair Henry Halvorson at the committee meeting, no one has been disciplined as a result of the study. The department is waiting until the report is finalized to decide if disciplinary action is needed.

However, Minneapolis Police Chief Medaria Arradondo said the report has already led to a policy change prohibiting officers from demanding that EMS sedate a patient and to leave all medical decisions up to the professional medical responders.

Teresa Nelson, legal director at ACLU Minnesota, said she was “heartened” by Arradondo’s new policy, but said more needs to be done.

While the OPCR has reached out to the National Association for Civilian Oversight of Law Enforcement for a recommendation on an independent reviewer, Mayor Jacob Frey and Chief Arradondo have called for their own separate independent review to be spearheaded by Sally Yates, former acting U.S. attorney general.

The Yates-led review is expected to take place sooner than the OPCR’s review and will focus solely on the interactions between MPD and EMS personnel.

About Keith Schubert

Keith Schubert is a contributing writer at the Minnesota Spokesman-Recorder. He can be reached at kschubert@spokesman-recorder.com.

View all posts by Keith Schubert →