excited delirium, police

Medical Groups Nic Support Of ‘Excited Delirium’ Which Was Used To Justify Excessive Force

On Oct. 12, a leading group of doctors formally retracted its approval of a 2009 academic paper discussing the concept of “excited delirium,” which has been used to defend police officers who employ excessive force. According to the Associated Press, the American College of Emergency Physicians (ACEP) released a statement condemning the concept as outdated. It stated that it should not be used by any of its members who are called to testify in court.

Dr. Brooks Walsh, who was one of the members who pushed the organization to make a principled stand, told the AP, “This means if someone dies while being restrained in custody … people can’t point to excited delirium as the reason and can’t point to ACEP’s endorsement of the concept to bolster their case.”

This follows the National Association of Medical Examiners’ rejection of the term in March, saying it should not be used when listing a cause of death. The term excited delirium has been receiving backlash in the medical community over its racist undertones before the groups came out this year and rejected the term outright. The emergency physicians’ 2009 report listed the symptoms of excited delirium as unusual strength, pain tolerance, and bizarre behavior.

Physicians for Human Rights (PHR) produced a report on the term in 2022 that linked it with deaths in police custody. The report noted, “many people, disproportionately people of color, whose deaths at the hands of police have been attributed to “excited delirium” rather than to the conduct of law enforcement officers.” The report also mentions that as recently as 2020, during the trial of former Minneapolis police officer Derek Chauvin, it was used to defend the officer who murdered George Floyd. 

The concept was also used to argue that Elijah McClain, Natasha McKenna, Daniel Prude, and Manuel Ellis—all of whom died at the hands of police—suffered from the alleged condition. In Prude’s case, the New York District Attorney’s office used the paper to investigate Prude’s death, which ended in a grand jury declining to pursue charges against officers. 

Joanna Naples-Mitchell, a research advisor and attorney for PHR and a member of ACEP, told ABC News, “This is why we pushed to put out a stronger statement explicitly disavowing that paper. It’s a chance for ACEP to really break with the past.”

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