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Paramedics Change How They Work After Convictions in Colorado


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Medical responders across the U.S. are rethinking how they treat people in police custody after a jury handed down a rare decision, convicting two Colorado paramedics for their roles in the 2019 death of Elijah McClain following an overdose of a powerful sedative, reports the Associated Press.


As one of the paramedics faces sentencing Friday at a hearing in which McClain’s mother could speak about her son’s death, the case has sent shock waves through the ranks of paramedics across the U.S. and thrust their profession into the acrimonious fight over social justice after the 2020 murder of George Floyd by Minneapolis police.

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McClain, a 23-year-old Black massage therapist, was detained by police in the Denver suburb of Aurora while walking home from a convenience store. After officers claimed he was resisting, the paramedics injected him with the sedative ketamine. He went into cardiac arrest and died three days later.


The conviction of the paramedics and one of the police officers highlighted gaps in medical procedures that experts said must be addressed so more deaths can be prevented.


“We failed to realize just how dangerous the restraint and chemical sedation of these individuals can be,” said Eric Jaeger, a paramedic and EMS educator in New Hampshire. “For better or worse the criminal convictions are focusing attention on the problem.”


The response includes revisions to patient protocols aimed at elevating how seriously ketamine injections are treated or avoiding them when alternative drugs are more appropriate.


Some police departments now require comprehensive patient assessments before and after ketamine injections. They’ve also cautioned against using ketamine on people being restrained by police in a prone position — which increases the chances for fatal complications by making it harder for patients to breathe — and stocked medicine kits with alternative sedatives.


They’ve reminded their paramedics not to defer to police when making medical decisions.

In the McClain case, “a lot of these basics were not done,” said Peter Antevy, medical director for several Florida fire departments.


“The legacy of Attorney General Phil Weiser is there is going to be less paramedics to respond to people who need help,” said police union president Edward Kelly, referring to the state attorney general tasked by Colorado’s Democratic governor with reinvestigating McClain’s death in 2020 after protests over the killing of George Floyd.


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