Ketamine Injection Leads to Lawsuit in Colorado

A Colorado man is suing firefighters and police officers responsible for administering the sedative ketamine during an encounter last year. Jeremiah Axtell filed suit last week naming the Lakewood Police Department, West Metro Fire District and numerous individual officers and firefighters.

The suit was filed in US District Court for the District of Colorado alleging violations of the First, Fourth, and Fourteenth Amendments, along with unlawful arrest, false imprisonment, medical malpractice, assault, battery, conspiracy, and defamation.

Axtell alleges the following in the complaint::

  • On the morning of January 28, 2020, Defendants were dispatched to a reported disturbance near a group home located at 1570 S. Newland Street in Lakewood, Colorado.
  • Upon arrival to the scene, police encountered Jeremiah Axtell who had asked group home employees to take care of medical waste from their trash that was lying in the street.
  • The group home employees false reported because of an ongoing neighborhood dispute over the disposal of their medical waste and concerns over elder abuse in their home.
  • Although an employee at the group home reported in the 911 call that Plaintiff, “Says he has knives in his pockets or something like that”.
  • Agent Palomo’s report states that he observed and searched Plaintiff and he had no knife.
  • Plaintiff retreated back to his own property’s driveway, but Agent Palomo followed him.
  • Plaintiff asked agents for identification multiple times, which officers failed to provide.
  • Back up Agent Maez came upon the scene and immediately took out her taser and pointed it at Plaintiff, although he was unarmed, retreating, and on his own property.
  • Plaintiff’s girlfriend, Anita Springsteen, was standing on the driveway with her telephone in hand.
  • Plaintiff asked her to video record the incident, which she did.
  • Agent Maez put her taser away when she realized she was on video.
  • Plaintiff at first used language with the officers that they did not like because he was upset that they would not identify themselves or listen to his side of the story.
  • Plaintiff then sat down, and then laid down spread eagle, on the driveway so as to appear unthreatening and submissive to officers and to calm the situation.
  • However, officers came up onto his property, forced him to a seated position, and handcuffed him.
  • Repeatedly officers used excessive force in handcuffing Plaintiff, causing him pain in his shoulders and wrists and violating protocol by putting a knee into his spine and forcing his arm and wrists into painful positions.
  • Officers questioned witnesses and Plaintiff sat calmly on the driveway in handcuffs for 45 minutes.
  • West Metro Fire District was dispatched, and paramedic Austin Onstott evaluated Plaintiff.
  • He spent only 60 seconds attempting to speak with Plaintiff, before then ignoring him and speaking with law enforcement instead.
  • Plaintiff expressed his willingness to cooperate 40 times and walked willingly toward the police car when asked.
  • However, instead of putting Plaintiff into the police car, first responders brought a gurney over and sat Plaintiff on it.
  • Without consent or warning, Austin Onstott then injected Plaintiff with 450 mg of ketamine, rendering him unconscious.
  • This injection was not done as part of a valid medical procedure or in line with protocol under the ketamine waiver system.
  • It was done in retaliation for speech and at the behest of law enforcement.
  • There was no medical history taken or consideration for contraindications with other drugs.
  • Paramedics diagnosed “excited delirium”, but had no basis for that diagnosis.
  • Plaintiff was transported non-emergent to St. Anthony Hospital, requiring Advanced Life Support in transport.
  • He arrived protecting his airway, in nystagmus, and a victim of ketamine toxicity – which led to four more bouts of sedation (including three of Haldol and one of Lorazepam).
  • When Plaintiff finally came to, Lakewood Police transported him to the Jefferson County Jail, still under the influence of ketamine and other sedation.

Axtell filed the suit pro se, but had the assistance of attorney Anita Springsteen, a Lakewood City Councilwoman. Axtell refers to Springfield in the complaint as his girlfriend, and she reportedly witnessed the arrest.

The Denver Post quoted West Metro Fire spokeswoman Ronda Scholting as saying the Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment investigated a complaint into Axtell’s claims, concluding: “It found nothing to support the complaint, there was no evidence to support it, and that West Metro providers followed established protocols and procedures.”

This is the second ketamine-related suit in Colorado in the last year. Aurora firefighters were sued in 2020 for a 2019 incident that claimed the life of Elijah Javon Mcclain. More on that suit.

Here is a copy of Axtell’s suit:

Here is a copy of Mcclain’s suit:

About Curt Varone

Curt Varone has over 40 years of fire service experience and 30 as a practicing attorney licensed in both Rhode Island and Maine. His background includes 29 years as a career firefighter in Providence (retiring as a Deputy Assistant Chief), as well as volunteer and paid on call experience. He is the author of two books: Legal Considerations for Fire and Emergency Services, (2006, 2nd ed. 2011, 3rd ed. 2014) and Fire Officer's Legal Handbook (2007), and is a contributing editor for Firehouse Magazine writing the Fire Law column.
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