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Man files lawsuit over ketamine injection

A Minneapolis man alleges police brutality, after he being involuntarily sedated with ketamine and hospitalized.

MINNEAPOLIS -- John Powell went to North Memorial Hospital to visit a cousin, but ended up as a patient himself, after an involuntary injection of the powerful sedative ketamine.

What happened to Powell that night, in July of 2015, is now the subject of wrongful arrest and police brutality lawsuit in federal court against the cities of Robbinsdale and Brooklyn Center and North Memorial Ambulance Service.

Officers from the Robbinsdale Police Dept were in the area after a North Memorial nurse spotted a man in car in the hospital parking ramp with a handgun, who appeared to her to be possibly suicidal.

Powell, who had been inside the hospital at the time, went outside to get his car. It was raining at the time, so he planned to pull back around to the entrance to pick up his wife and mother.

That's when the Robbinsdale officers approached him, and ordered him to the pavement.

"When they first grabbed me they had me on the ground, in the storm, in the rain, about an hour," Powell recalled, during an interview with KARE Thursday.

"I asked them what was going on, and he replied that someone had brandished a gun in the parking ramp. My first thing I said to them was, 'I’m not in the parking ramp'."

The nurse had described the suicidal man as a light-skinned Hispanic or white person, according to the lawsuit. Powell, by contrast, is African American. And he wasn't armed.

He said officers continued to hold him against his will for some time, and that he began to get agitated because nobody would tell his wife what was happening.

"You don't even treat a dog that way, leave them on the street in the rain, like that for so long."

Eventually they drove him to the hospital entrance, to show him to the nurse who'd made the original emergency call.

"They had a lady come out and security guard and they looked at me, and they said, 'That’s not him'," Powell said.

But officers continued to detain him, in handcuffs, and question him.

"I told them, 'They said I wasn't the one, so you've got two choices: charge me with something or let me go.' And he said to me, 'Shut up or you'll be going out of here on a gurney'," Powell said.

He said a North Memorial Ambulance Service squad arrived, and he saw officers and paramedics huddle. Then he saw an EMT walking over with a syringe and a vial of fluid.

"I was handcuffed, and he snatched my arm out the car, put his gloves on, grabbed my arm out the car, and he stuck the needle in my arm. All I remember is falling over."

Powell immediately had trouble breathing, and was admitted to the hospital.

When he woke up the next day he was in a hospital bed with a breathing tube in his throat. His wife told him doctors had placed him in an induced coma, and told her he may never regain consciousness.

"And what mistake had he made? He had made the mistake of being a black man who dared to question police about why he was being arrested," Kenneth Udoibok, Powell's attorney, told KARE.

"It’s because he’s a black man at 12:00 midnight, walking down the street to get his car."

Robbinsdale response

Jason Hively, an attorney representing the City of Robbinsdale in the lawsuit, gave KARE the following account:

"As the officers searched the ramp and surrounding lots, Mr. Powell approached them cursing and yelling and exhibiting strange behavior. He ignored all of the officers’ initial commands and, combined with his erratic behavior, raised suspicions he may have been the reported armed suspect."

Hively said officers were prepared to release Powell once they learned he was not the suspect they were seeking. But he said they didn't let him go, because of his "erratic" behavior.

He also rejected the notion that officers requested the ketamine injection.

"At no time during their interaction with Mr. Powell did the officers request or in any way encourage North Memorial staff to use any medication on Mr. Powell. The decision to sedate him was an independent medical determination made by NM staff based on their overall evaluation of Powell’s medical and emotional condition."

Powell and his attorney, Udoibok, disputed both of those statements. Powell clearly saw officers speaking to the paramedics immediately before he was involuntarily sedated.

And, in the lawsuit, they allege that officers falsified their police reports to justify their actions, in light of Powell's near-death experience after the injection.

At some point a Brooklyn Center officer was called into assist with the arrest, which is why that city is also named as a defendant.

North Memorial Health Care was initially named in the lawsuit as well, but a judge dismissed the hospital from the case.

Ketamine controversy

Ketamine has been in the spotlight since June when an internal report was leaked to the Minneapolis Star Tribune, showing that incidents of Minneapolis Police officers asking paramedics to involuntarily inject suspects with ketamine had risen sharply in recent years.

Hennepin County Medical Center initially defended the practice, as a means of protecting extremely agitated people from hurting themselves and others while thrashing uncontrollably.

But the public outcry over the trend led HCMC to begin a voluntary review of the practice. The hospital also decided to suspend a long-term study of patients who've been sedated with ketamine.

The Hennepin County Board and state lawmakers also confronted hospital leadership about the practice of sedating citizens against their will.

"We believe an urban hospital that treats a large number of people of color and low-income Minnesotans must take extra care,” Hennepin County Commissioner Peter McLaughlin and Sen. Jeff Hayden of Minneapolis wrote.

"Anything less disregards the history of maltreatment for these communities as test subjects for new drugs and medical procedures."