Black Teen Allegedly Handcuffed and Given Ketamine by Police

A woman from Vermont has filed a civil action against the Burlington Police Department, alleging that during an incident in May 2021, her then-14-year-old Black son who has behavioral and intellectual disabilities was the victim of excessive force and prejudice.

Cathy Austrian, the mother, initiated police involvement when her son returned home with stolen electronic cigarettes from a gas station. 

According to the lawsuit and police body-camera footage released by the American Civil Liberties Union of Vermont, officers physically confronted the teenager after he failed to surrender the last of the stolen items. 

The situation escalated as he was handcuffed, pinned to the ground, and eventually injected with a sedative, ketamine, before being taken to a hospital.

“The police chose to respond to my son with unprovoked violence and use of force, when they could and should have followed their own procedures and used safe, supportive methods,” said Austrian in a statement provided by the ACLU of Vermont.

The incident raised concerns about how officers are trained to deal with people who have mental health issues and impairments. Opponents believe that police should not respond to nonviolent mental health emergencies; instead, they should call in therapists, EMTs, or paramedics.

Due to their previous visits to the residence, the complaint discloses that Burlington police officers were aware of the teen’s difficulties beforehand. Since the youngster was two years old, Austrian had fostered and adopted him, despite his cognitive and intellectual difficulties.

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Police Controversy Spurs Vermont Reform Calls

black-teen-allegedly-handcuffed-given-ketamine-police
A woman from Vermont has filed a civil action against the Burlington Police Department, alleging that during an incident in May 2021, her then-14-year-old Black son who has behavioral and intellectual disabilities was the victim of excessive force and prejudice.

Body-camera footage displayed officers conversing calmly with the teen initially, attempting to establish rapport. However, the situation took a turn when officers decided to use physical force to retrieve the remaining stolen e-cigarettes, despite the lack of urgency or immediate threat.

Legal experts, such as civil rights attorney Adante Pointer, noted that the officers’ initial approach was appropriate, emphasizing the turning point when they resorted to physical confrontation.

In addition to monetary damages and the teen’s relief, the complaint demands punitive penalties against the city. It also demands that the city adjust its policy on the use of ketamine and establish police training in order to accommodate those with disabilities in dealings with law enforcement.

The use of ketamine has faced scrutiny in recent cases, notably in Colorado, where paramedics injected a sedative overdose into Elijah McClain, leading to his death. 

In response to the allegations, a city spokeswoman stated that Burlington police and EMTs acted according to city policy and state law during the incident.

Mayor Miro Weinberger ordered a review of ketamine use by the Burlington Fire Department after the investigation. Updated protocols now require doctor permission for sedation of patients with combative behavior.

The complaint urges a reevaluation of law enforcement’s role in reacting to such circumstances and draws attention to the vital need for thorough police training in managing those with disabilities and mental health difficulties.

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