Ketamine use criticized in Mpls. City Council committee

An attendee holds up a sign behind the speaker.
An attendee holds up a sign behind the speaker that reads "City Council - we need your raise to pay for lawsuits," during the Public Safety and Emergency Management committee meeting at Minneapolis City Hall on Thursday.
Lacey Young | MPR News

The director of the Minneapolis Department of Civil Rights says it's "unfortunate" and "regrettable" that a draft report alleging forced sedation of people in police custody was leaked to the Star Tribune.

The newspaper reported last week that in some cases police officers suggested or urged emergency medical staff to use the drug after a person was already in handcuffs or restrained.

Civil rights director Velma Korbel said staff from the Office of Police Conduct Review (OPCR), which is a part of the civil rights department, monitored body camera footage of use of force incidents last fall.

"During this review process, several instances were observed of individuals being injected with an unknown substance by emergency medical professionals," said Korbel at a Thursday meeting of the council's Public Safety and Emergency Management committee.

Nekima Levy-Pounds speaks to the panel of committee members.
Nekima Levy-Pounds, civil rights attorney and founder of the Racial Justice Network, speaks to the panel of committee members.
Lacey Young | MPR News

Staff members suspected the substance was the sedative ketamine. Korbel said the OPCR looked for any mention of the use of sedatives in the police department's policy handbook, but found none. Staff also searched police reports going back to 2010 that contained a mention of ketamine and reviewed corresponding body camera footage if it was available.

"A total of 159 reports mentioning ketamine from 2010 to 2018 were reviewed," said Korbel. "And a total of eight incidents were observed to include instances of MPD-involved decision making prior to sedation."

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Korbel said there is still work to be done on the draft report. Other involved parties have yet to go back over the findings and make corrections or additions. Korbel expects the draft should be finalized by the end of next month.

When asked if any officers had been disciplined, Deputy Chief Henry Halvorsen said the department is still looking into the findings.

City council members listen to a public statement.
City Council members Phillipe Cunningham, Linea Palmisano, Steve Fletcher, Andrea Jenkins and Jeremiah Ellison listen to a public statement.
Lacey Young | MPR News

"The study is still in draft phase so we don't have a lot of the information," said Halvorsen. "We have not gone forth and fully identified all the officers yet on our end regarding the information the OPCR has. So nobody has been disciplined on this."

Halvorsen says the department has issued a policy change making it clear that officers are prohibited from taking part in medical decision making.

The leaked report has sparked anger and concern from advocates for police accountability. In a public comment session during the meeting, Michelle Gross of Communities United Against Police Brutality, said allegations in the report are examples of police abuse. And she said the problem is more widespread than what is outlined in the draft report.

"A few years ago we started to hear about people telling us, 'the police made them drug us,' ... at first you think, 'you've got to be kidding me,'" said Gross.

In some cases, she said, people reported having injuries after their encounters with police, but they didn't remember how they got hurt.

An attendee makes a statement to the committee.
An attendee makes a statement to the committee during.
Lacey Young | MPR News

"The drug ketamine does have an amnesiac effect," said Gross. "And so it makes people forget what happened to them — which is pretty appalling. This, to us, represents a violation of people's constitutional rights."

Gross and others called for a "credible" third party investigation into the allegations outlined in the report. Earlier this week police Chief Medaria Arradondo and Mayor Jacob Frey released a statement saying the city is close to selecting an independent investigator.