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Two years after man’s death, lawsuit filed against Charleston County over ketamine usage

Published: Oct. 15, 2021 at 6:50 PM EDT|Updated: Oct. 15, 2021 at 9:43 PM EDT
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MOUNT PLEASANT, S.C. (WCSC) - More than two years after a man died following a sedative injection from Charleston County EMS, a lawsuit has been filed against the county government and several of its employees.

Attorneys for Tabitha Britt, widow of James Britt, Jr., submitted the complaint on Friday in common pleas court.

“James Britt was lethally injected with Ketamine as a direct and proximate result of Defendants’ negligent, grossly negligent, reckless, willful and wanton acts and/or omissions, including the use of Ketamine for a law enforcement objective without medical need or justification,” the document says

The ketamine injection occurred in September 2019 after an encounter between Britt and Mount Pleasant Police outside of the Snee Farm community.

Lawyers for the Town of Mount Pleasant alleged that Britt was intoxicated near a disabled car and caused minor injuries to both himself and an officer, while the lawsuit says, “Believing he was well within his rights to pull over on private property and change his flat tire [Britt] questioned the authority of the police action physically and verbally.”

Mount Pleasant Police called Charleston County EMS to the scene.

The complaint states that Britt objected to EMS employees “giving him any medicine or doing anything to him,” but that a needle was put in his arm and the “maximum allowable amount” of ketamine was injected.

Britt is alleged to have then said, “I’m going to die.” The complaint says that he stopped breathing a few minutes later.

James Britt, Jr. died in October 2019. The Charleston County Coroner’s Office ruled his death a homicide, saying it was caused in part by “restraint asphyxia and the toxic effects of ketamine.”

“My family is still grieving from the loss of my husband and how inhumanely he was treated,” Tabitha Britt said in a statement on Friday night. “This is a tragedy that no one should ever have to go through.”

Mount Pleasant’s municipal government previously agreed to a $3 million settlement in connection with James Britt, Jr.’s death.

Ketamine has increasingly been utilized by EMS departments in South Carolina counties such as Charleston, Colleton, Berkeley, Greenville, and Dorchester in recent years, while other counties such as Georgetown, Richland, and Williamsburg have avoided ketamine usage.

Keith Borg, a doctor at the Medical University of South Carolina, said last year that ketamine can be an “important tool” for paramedics and can be at a scene for several reasons, such as putting a breathing tube in, lessening an individual’s pain, or for sedating patients who are agitated or difficult to control, possibly because of mental illness or drug use.

“But like any tool, if not used properly, it could get you into a lot of trouble very quickly,” Borg added at the time.

“The policy, practice, and/or custom adopted by CCEMS allowing Ketamine sedation for a law enforcement objective and without medical need or justification violates the Fourth and Fourteenth Amendments to the United States Constitution,” the new lawsuit claims in part.

“As the policy is clearly unconstitutional, Charleston County must be enjoined from using Ketamine in the law enforcement context until such time as Charleston County ceases the use of Ketamine and/or implements material changes to policy, procedure, and custom that will prevent the unconstitutional use of sedation going forward,” the document adds.

Charleston County did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

“This lawsuit is not only about the tragic events of that night, but also the decisions and choices made by Charleston County officials that directly led to the violation of Jamie’s rights and ultimately, his death,” attorney Michael Cooper said.

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