Forensic toxicologist testifies on ketamine in trial of Aurora Police officer charged in death of Elijah McClain

Hart Van Denburg/CPR News
The Adams County Justice Center Tuesday, Oct. 17, 2023. Opening arguments in a trial for the last of three Aurora police officers to be charged in the death of Elijah McClain began there at 10 a.m.

Defense attorneys grilled Michael Lamb, a forensic toxicologist at National Medical Services Laboratory, on whether ketamine is dangerous outside of a hospital setting.

Lamb testified on Tuesday at the trial for suspended Aurora Police officer Nathan Woodyard, who faces reckless manslaughter charges in the death of Elijah McClain, a 23-year-old who was forcibly stopped as he was walking home, restrained and given a large dose of ketamine, a powerful sedative. 

The autopsy report for McClain lists the cause of death as complications from the administration of ketamine after forcible restraint. 

Lamb demurred in a lot of questions, saying he was neither an expert on the anesthetic nor a medical doctor.

Lamb was asked to testify by state prosecutors, who are trying to establish that the marijuana in McClain's system when he was detained by police was not harmful and did not contribute to his death. They are also trying to establish that he had ketamine in his system. 

Lamb said McClain had 1,400 nanograms, which is one-billionth of a gram, of ketamine in his blood sample sent to the Pennsylvania lab. That blood sample was taken by a hospital nurse 45 minutes after McClain was given the ketamine by paramedics on the scene, after officers suggested the powerful sedative

Lamb testified that ketamine moves quickly through the system though and the amount can be reduced by half after some period of time, but he also said ketamine affects different people in different ways.

Lamb also said that he's not aware of marijuana in the system making ketamine, or anything else, more dangerous.

After an extended weekend, the jury saw a near two hour-break for lunch and a dismissal by about 2:30 p.m. after Lamb wrapped up his testimony on Tuesday. 

The trial continues Wednesday and prosecutors plan on calling Aurora Police Sgt. Kevin Smyth, who will testify about training protocols and the carotid hold, which Nathan Woodyard used on Elijah McClain that cut blood flow to his brain and caused him to lose consciousness.