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Mount Pleasant to pay $3 million to family of man killed in custody

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Mount Pleasant has agreed to pay $3 million to the family of a man who died in police custody after he was held down and injected with ketamine.

The Charleston County Coroner's Office ruled James Britt's death a homicide caused primarily by "restraint asphyxia and toxic effects of ketamine."

Britt was arrested in September 2019 when officers were called to a report of a man urinating on a Mount Pleasant roadway, according to a police incident report.

Britt struggled with officers, who held him face down on the ground "with pressure on his back, head and neck" for about 15 minutes, according to an autopsy report.

According to the police report, EMTs injected Britt with 500 mg of ketamine, a sedative sometimes used as an illicit drug. Its use outside of hospitals hasn't been deeply studied, and 500 mg is the maximum dose allowed by county guidelines.

First-responders kept Britt face down on the ground for another three to four minutes before he went unconscious, according to the report. His heart stopped briefly when he was being transported in an ambulance and he never regained consciousness.

More than two weeks later, Britt was pronounced dead at Medical University Hospital.

Because ketamine can be dangerous for people who are taking other substances or have preexisting conditions, some municipalities have cautioned paramedics against administering it until patients are at the hospital.

Autopsy records show Britt had alcohol and THC in his system, and his heart showed signs of disease.

Attorneys for the town of Mount Pleasant and the Britt family weren't available for comment Wednesday.

Britt's widow and their son will receive $3 million from the South Carolina Municipal Insurance and Risk Fund — $2.7 million for the survival claim, and $300,000 for the wrongful death claim. The family will use a third of the money for attorney's fees, according to a Monday filing.

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Reach Sara Coello at 843-937-5705 and follow her on Twitter @smlcoello.

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