Law Enforcement Use of ‘Excited Delirium’ Shields Them from Responsibility for Suspect Deaths, Reason Magazine Suggests

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By Ximena Cesa

LOS ANGELES, CA – Reason Magazine, a U.S. libertarian monthly, recently argued that as awareness for police brutality increases, the veil is lifted as to the various methods used by the authorities to avoid taking responsibility for their actions.

One example is the cause of death–excited delirium, and in “Cops Use Phony Diagnoses To Explain Away Stun Gun Deaths,” Reason implies law enforcement hides behind this medical diagnosis in order to continue to use excessive force with little to no repercussions.

Excited delirium is a cause of death titled by a Miami forensic pathologist in the 1980s to explain the numerous unexpected deaths associated with cocaine users in police or correctional custody, said the story, adding the National Association of Medical Examiners provided a formal definition of the phenomena.

“Excited Delirium,” said the association, “describes a state of wild agitation or distress, often resulting from illicit drug use, that can lead to sudden cardiac arrest.”

NAME and other like-minded organizations such as the American Medical Association are, however, refusing to categorize excited delirium as a cause of death due to “its failure to acknowledge police involvement with the deaths,” the article notes.

“Nearly all ‘excited delirium’ victims die after being tased or physically restrained by police. Since 2000, a 2017 Reuters investigation found, excited delirium had been linked to at least 276 deaths following the use of a stun gun, which suggested that electrocution, not excitement or agitation, was largely responsible,” according to the monthly.

With this, C.J Ciaramella, author at Reason, argues that the reason for the use of this medical term seems to align more with liability interests of authorities rather than to explain the death of individuals. By using this term the blame is then shifted to the victims and not the police which facilitates the continuation of excessive force, the author suggests.

Ciaramella goes on to provide an example, 23 year-old Elijah McClain who died in 2019 in Aurora, CO. McClain was walking home from a store when he was violently restrained and injected with ketamine, after being diagnosed by paramedics with excited delirium.

Between 2019 and 2020 the Colorado Attorney General’s Office found that Aurora paramedics injected people with ketamine 22 times after perceiving “excited delirium” in said individuals.

“A year after McClain’s death, police officers in Rochester, New York, tackled Daniel Prude, a man having a mental health episode. The officers forced a spit hood over Prude’s head and pinned him to the ground for three minutes until he stopped breathing. An autopsy report attributed Prude’s death to ‘complications of asphyxia in the setting of physical restraint due to excited delirium due to acute [PCP] intoxication,’” the Reason story noted.

“For decades, excited delirium diagnoses have helped police and correctional officers avoid liability for killing suspects. The NAME announcement is a welcome acknowledgment that medical examiners have an ethical duty to independently report the truth,” concluded the Reason article.

About The Author

The Vanguard Court Watch operates in Yolo, Sacramento and Sacramento Counties with a mission to monitor and report on court cases. Anyone interested in interning at the Courthouse or volunteering to monitor cases should contact the Vanguard at info(at)davisvanguard(dot)org - please email info(at)davisvanguard(dot)org if you find inaccuracies in this report.

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