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Mom of 5 died after ketamine injection by a paramedic, family alleges in wrongful death suit

The use of the powerful sedative outside hospital settings came under scrutiny after the 2019 death of a Black man, Elijah McClain, in Aurora, Colorado.
Jerica LaCour
Jerica LaCour.Courtesy Daniel Kay

DENVER — The family of a woman who died four years ago shortly after a paramedic injected her with the powerful sedative ketamine have filed a wrongful death lawsuit against the health care worker and the ambulance company.

Jerica LaCour, 29, a Black woman who had been drinking alcohol and walking around in a parking lot in Colorado Springs, Colorado, was lying on the ground and crying uncontrollably when police, firefighters and other emergency personnel arrived the night of Jan. 11, 2018, according to court records.

They were responding to a 911 call about a distressed person trespassing on private property, according to the lawsuit filed last week in El Paso County District Court.

LaCour's family alleges in the lawsuit that Jason Poulson, a paramedic for American Medical Response Ambulance Service, administered 400 milligrams of ketamine to LaCour despite objections from a firefighter who was also an emergency medical technician.

Shortly afterward, LaCour stopped breathing, according to the lawsuit filed on behalf of her and her husband's five preteen children.

In an interview, LaCour’s husband, Anthony LaCour, 55, said he will never understand why she died.

“My wife was taken out of here for no reason,” he said. “I think about her every day, every night and when I dress our kids.

“I take it very, very hard,” he continued before breaking into sobs. “Me and my wife were really close.”

The use of ketamine outside hospital settings has come under scrutiny since the 2019 death of Elijah McClain, 23, a Black man who died in Aurora, Colorado, after being injected with ketamine by paramedics and forcibly restrained by police, an amended autopsy report showed.

A demonstrator carries an image of Elijah McClain
A demonstrator carries an image of Elijah McClain during a rally in Aurora, Colo., on June 27, 2020.David Zalubowski / AP file

The sedative is usually administered when people exhibit signs of excited delirium, erratic behavior said to be related to drug abuse and mental illness, or if there is a perceived threat to medical staff or patients.

A physicians group released a report in March saying excited delirium, which was also part of the George Floyd murder case, has no medical or psychiatric basis. 

The report said the term is based on “racist tropes of Black men and other people of color as having ‘superhuman strength’ and being ‘impervious to pain,’ while pathologizing resistance to law enforcement.”

Last year, Colorado’s health department said emergency workers should not take into account erratic behavior when determining whether to inject someone with the fast-acting sedative.

Nevertheless, the family's attorney, Daniel Kay, said LaCour was not combative before she was given ketamine.

“LaCour’s behavior did not fit the criteria of excited delirium,” the lawsuit stated.

LaCour died from acute alcohol and ketamine intoxication, the El Paso County Coroner's Office said in its report. It also found that she had recently ingested cocaine and was obese.

Two years after McClain's death, Colorado passed a law limiting the use of ketamine by emergency personnel outside hospital settings, requiring them to weigh the person to ensure accurate dosage and to have equipment available to immediately monitor vital signs.

Poulson and American Medical Response Ambulance Service Inc. are named as defendants in the wrongful death lawsuit. NBC News reached a man by phone in Colorado Springs who identified himself as Jason Poulson, but he did not say whether he was a paramedic. He said he did not know anything about a lawsuit or about LaCour.

The ambulance company did not respond to multiple requests for comment.

On the night of her death, the lawsuit said, LaCour was "incomprehensible at times and was crying about her children" and was “completely inconsolable.” She was restrained, put on a gurney and a "spit hood" was placed around her face to prevent officers from being spit on.

Before Poulson, the paramedic in charge of medical care at the scene, administered the ketamine, Leah Grissom, a firefighter and EMT with the Cimarron Hills Fire Department, objected and pointed out that LaCour had already been restrained and had calmed down, the lawsuit stated.

Poulson did not immediately take LaCour to a hospital, and when Grissom told Poulson that LaCour was not breathing, he responded that she was fine, the court document said. Grissom, who is now a paramedic for the fire department, could not be reached for comment. 

The lawsuit went on to say that Poulson owed LaCour “a duty of reasonable care in providing her emergency care at the scene and was negligent by administering ketamine when other means of restraining LaCour were available and already in use.”

The family is seeking unspecified damages.