Police keep using ‘excited delirium’ to justify brutality. It’s junk science

Restraint Methodsource: Washington Post
published: 17 July 2020

Last year, after police had placed Elijah McClain in a chokehold, then handcuffed him, paramedics injected him with a dose of ketamine, a powerful sedative. They said he “appeared to be” exhibiting signs of “excited delirium”; he subsequently went into cardiac arrest and died.

Earlier this year, police officers in Tacoma, Wash., cited excited delirium in the case of another unarmed black man, Manuel Ellis, who died in custody. And as Derek Chauvin knelt on George Floyd’s neck for the final moments of his life, a fellow police officer said, “I am concerned about excited delirium or whatever.” This may be part of Chauvin’s defense against murder charges.

Across the United States, police officers are routinely taught that excited delirium is a condition characterized by the abrupt onset of aggression and distress, typically accompanying drug abuse, often resulting in sudden death. One 2014 article from the FBI’s Law Enforcement Bulletin describes “excited delirium syndrome” as “a serious and potentially deadly medical condition involving psychotic behavior, elevated temperature, and an extreme fight-or-flight response by the nervous system.”

The American College of Emergency Physicians published a controversial position paper in 2009 stating its consensus that excited delirium is a valid disease, associated with a significant risk of sudden death.

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