Aurora City Council temporarily bans ketamine use while city investigates Elijah McClain’s death

A proposal to ban “no-knock” warrants also moves forward after being discussed in a study session

A temporary mural of Elijah McClain painted on a building in Denver, Colo.. (Photo courtesy of Thomas Evans)

Aurora City Council members on Monday voted unanimously to temporarily ban the use of ketamine until the city’s independent review of its usage is published.

The resolution directs Aurora Fire Rescue and city-contracted officials to halt the practice until the city’s independent investigation by D.C.-based attorney Jonathan Smith is completed. The moratorium will expire 30 days after the review is released.

The proposal was brought by Councilman Curtis Gardner in response to the high-profile death of Elijah McClain at the hands of Aurora Police in August last year.

“It’s important to make sure that we are giving the right tools for our firefighters or paramedics to use to do their job and also clear direction on what tools we want them using,” Gardner said. “I think it’s really important that we go through this review, we take those results, then we make a more permanent decision.”

The review is one of five pending investigations into the Aurora Police Department and the case of 23-year-old McClain, who died days after a violent encounter with police while walking home from a convenience store on Aug. 24, 2019. McClain was put into two choke holds and injected with 500 mg of ketamine. He died three days later in the hospital.  

“Police should not have the authority to tell medicts to inject anyone on the street much less shoot them or put a knee to their necks,” said Darlene Jones, who was the only one to speak during public comment. “Anesthetics belong in a supervised setting by a trained anesthesiologist in a hospital.”

On Sept. 8, the Colorado Society of Anesthesiologists issued a statement expressing “great concern” about the use of ketamine by paramedics and emergency medical personnel regulated by the Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment.

“This resolution is a step in the right direction, but it’s not enough,” said Kelci Newman, a Denver-based community activist. “We won’t be satisfied until Elijah’s killers are arrested and charged.”

A proposal to ban “no knock” warrants moves forward

During a study session before the official city council meeting, members moved forward a resolution to ban “no knock” warrants, which allow law enforcement to enter a property without giving notification. 

The proposal, in response to the high-profile police killing of Breonna Taylor in Louisville, Kentucky, in March, elicited a lengthy and somewhat tense discussion among council members. 

The proposal was brought by Councilwoman Angela Lawson, who stressed that it would be a proactive police reform and that a handful of other city councils and police departments across the country are evaluating similar reforms.

According to Lawson, there were 10 no-knock warrants issued between 2018 to 2020 to law enforcement in Aurora.

Aurora Police Chief Vanessa Wilson spoke in opposition to the resolution, echoing sentiments she expressed during last week’s Public Safety meeting. “I’m just really concerned about taking this tool away from the safety of my officers,” she said.

Warrants are issued through the district attorney’s officer, according to Wilson, and no-knock warrants have to be approved by a judge. “It’s something that we use very sparingly,” she said. “And something that a judge actually has checks and balances in place, and it’s not something that the police department does on their own.”

Councilman Dave Gruber opposed the proposal, stating that he wanted to see more data presented from police organizations about the need for the ban. He also suggested that council members should be held liable if the law resulted in a police officer being harmed.

“If we make this a law, and a police officer is killed based on this law, the police officer should be able to sue city council, each of us for up to $25,000,” Gruber said. “I think that would get a little more weight to the decisions that we’re making.”

Aurora Mayor Mike Coffman also expressed concern about the proposal to ban no-knock warrants.

“I believe that taking away this tool will not only make it more dangerous for our police officers, but actually will make it more dangerous for the occupants inside by giving them a warning, however short,” Coffman said.

More potential police reforms will be discussed at the Public Safety, Courts & Civil Services Policy Committee from 11 a.m. to 12:30 p.m. on Thursday, Sept. 17.