Excited delirium isn’t a medical condition. It’s just post-death rationalization that shifts the culpability for deaths at the hands of law enforcement to the corpses the cops created. This supposed medical diagnosis didn’t reach critical mass until the introduction of one of the most infamous “less-lethal” weapons ever created: the Taser.
Taser is a cattle prod for humans. But it has never been extensively tested on humans for obvious reasons: it has the capacity to be lethal. Taser has since rebranded as Axon, but its legacy lives on. And some of that legacy is the mainstream law enforcement adoption of “excited delirium” as the x factor in officer-involved killings that involve multiple or prolonged deployments of Taser’s modified stun gun.
Taser may have distanced itself from its only-slightly-less-lethal weapon, but there’s no escaping the death toll. And there’s no escaping Taser’s culpability in these deaths — a company that has lawyered itself up to the teeth and hired a shitload of medical experts to find any other reason than the most obvious for deaths in custody. Let’s not forget what inspired Taser and (kind of) gave it its product name: Tom Swift and His Electric Rifle, a young adult novel that featured a main character who carried a weapon that was anything but “less lethal.”
Of foremost notice is Swift’s invention of the electric rifle, a gun which fires bolts of electricity. The electric rifle can be calibrated to different levels of range, intensity and lethality; it can shoot through solid walls without leaving a hole, and is powerful enough to kill a rampaging whale, as in their steamer trek to Africa. With the electric rifle, Tom and friends bring down elephants, rhinoceroses, and buffalo, and save their lives several times in pitched battle with the red pygmies. It also can discharge a globe of light that was described as being able to maintain itself, like ball lightning, making hunting at night much safer in the dark of Africa.
“Pitched battles with red pygmies.” “Making hunting … safer in the dark of Africa.” Hmm. Problematic, to say the least. From those beginnings flows a marketing wing that got this weapon in the hands of law enforcement all over the world — one that had the capacity to kill but was sold as “less than lethal.” This marketing led cops to believe it could be deployed as often or as long as possible without killing people. But it did kill people, and when it did, Taser sent lawyers, NDAs, and its own medical experts to combat lawsuits against law enforcement officers.
Its lawyers and medical experts arrived in court with the novel theory that “excited delirium” had actually caused these deaths. The experts pointed to problems officers encountered subduing people and made the most of any illegal substances found in the systems of victims of police violence.
Years after the damage has been done, things may be changing. There’s enough criticism of the “excited delirium” medical theory — one not accepted by most medical regulation and oversight boards — that police oversight entities are starting to push back. In Minneapolis, Minnesota — ground zero for the latest nationwide protests against police brutality — a police oversight board has stated its unwillingness to allow officers to continue blaming police violence victims for their own deaths.
This is notable because Tasers weren’t involved in the murder of unarmed black man George Floyd (suspected of nothing more than passing a counterfeit $20 bill) by police officer Derek Chauvin. The killing here was committed by Officer Chauvin, who placed his knee on the neck of the black man in perhaps the most unsubtle depiction of systemic police racism engaged in by a cop. He did this for more than nine minutes — and for more than three minutes after another officer failed to detect a pulse.
The excited delirium theory was in play as Chauvin defended himself in court. His lawyer suggested this unrecognized “medical condition” contributed more to Floyd’s death than the asphyxiation caused by the officer’s knee to his neck. This faux medical condition has also been used by Minneapolis cops to suggest the use of ketamine by EMS responders — a tactic that has led to even more in-custody deaths.
The Minneapolis Police Conduct Oversight Commission — with input from the medical community — is strongly suggesting the PD walk away from this oft-abused excuse for in-custody deaths, citing both its questionable history as a medical condition as well as its tendency to be deployed to excuse the killing of minorities.
A Minneapolis police oversight board has recommended the police department replace what the board calls “outdated training” about excited delirium, a controversial medical diagnosis that police say can give people “superhuman” strength.
The diagnosis has not been recognized by the American Medical Association, the American Psychiatric Association or World Health Organization, but has been widely used by police to justify force and explain deaths of people in custody.
Abigail Cerra, chair of the PCOC, wrote to Mayor Jacob Frey and Police Chief Medaria Arradondo recommending that MPD re-educate officers on the issue, especially given the city will be hiring more than 100 police officers in 2022.
Good. And this request should receive no pushback from the Minneapolis Police Department. I mean, it probably will but the PD and the medical professionals contributing to the PD’s training have already disavowed use of this “diagnosis.”
Dr. Nicholas Simpson, chief medical director at Hennepin EMS, told the Minneapolis Police Conduct Oversight Commission earlier this month that Hennepin EMS and the Minnesota Department of Human Services are no longer using “excited delirium” in their practice and education. Hennepin EMS physicians have been revising medical training materials for law enforcement officers, including the Minneapolis Police Department.
According to the mayor, the PD has removed “excited delirium” training from officer education courses. If true, then the PCOC’s request will be adopted without argument. If untrue, the PD will start pushing back. Documents posted by the PCOC include “excited delirium” training presentations — documents the Minneapolis PD has yet to confirm have been removed from its training programs.
Let’s hope they have. The presentations argue that “excited delirium” sufferers — ones most often diagnosed after being declared dead following interactions with police officers — have both “superhuman strength” and the tendency to die at the drop of a Taser/knee. The sooner cops stop pretending “excited delirium” is nothing more than a convenient post-facto justification for unjustified deadly force, the sooner more people with start surviving their “interactions” with law enforcement.