Community demands accountability after draft report on sedation of police suspects

At a city meeting Thursday, community members from across Minneapolis said they wanted an outside, independent investigation of the department's policy toward officers asking EMTs to sedate suspects with Ketamine, a powerful tranquilizer known as a "date rape drug."

The call for action came in the wake of a draft report by the Office of Police Misconduct Review that claimed in multiple instances the use of ketamine on a suspect caused heart or breathing failure, with some people needing to be revived or intubated as a result.

"What we are asking all of you to do is take this seriously," said lawyer and activist Nekima Levy-Pounds. "To not just issue statements to the press saying we want a third party investigation hoping to sweep this under the rug."

At a press conference last week representatives from Hennepin Healthcare said ketamine was used in less than one percent of all emergency calls, and that the powerful drug has been in use since the 1950s. Police also noted the report is still a draft and claimed it was missing key findings.

"I strongly encourage everyone not to rush to judgment and critical assumptions without having all the important factual information and data," Deputy Police Chief Henry Halverson said.

Minneapolis Department of Civil Rights Director Velma Korbel said Thursday that her office was first asked to investigate the issue in late 2017. 

Korbel said the Minneapolis Internal Audit Department was reviewing use of force incidents captured through body camera when they noticed several instances of people being injected with an unknown substance. 

As a result, the Office of Police Conduct Review pulled reports from 2010 to 2018 that contained the word ketamine. 159 reports mentioning ketamine were reviewed. From those, eight incidents were observed to include officers being involved in the decision making process prior to sedation.

City Council member Phillippe Cunningham drew on his time as a special education teacher Thursday to push back against those defending the tactic as a way to subdue difficult or potentially dangerous subjects.

“For me to hear people say, ‘Oh, it’s so challenging out there, you wouldn’t understand.’ I actually do understand," he said. "I would never ever, ever dose with Ketamine."

Community members also asked for a breakdown of the race and ZIP codes of the victims, saying they believe it will show the practice was predominantly being used in north Minneapolis.

The City Council is expecting the results of an internal review by the end of July, and does not have a target date for the completion of an outside review.