from the time-to-start-thinking-up-a-new-excuse dept
In October, California became the first state in the nation to ban “excited delirium” as an official cause of death. While this was a positive development, the question remains: why did it take so long?
“Excited delirium” was never a real thing. It has always been a convenient excuse for deaths at the hands of law enforcement officers. Almost without exception, “excited delirium” diagnoses only occur after officers have killed someone.
That’s why it’s not recognized by any medical association as an actual medical condition. The last holdout — the American College of Emergency Physicians — withdrew its paper supporting the diagnosis the same month the California government enacted its ban.
The term became part of the mainstream thanks to Taser (now Axon). The stun gun company’s lawyers needed something to distance it from the deaths caused by its devices. It landed on “excited delirium” and urged officers (and their lawyers) to push this as a cause of death. Law enforcement complied and “excited delirium” began to appear pretty much anywhere someone had been choked, suffocated, beaten, or Tased to death by police officers.
The change in California law doesn’t mean cops will stop killing people. It just means they’ll have to be a bit more creative when blaming victims for their own deaths. The same thing will now be happening in Colorado, although this is a result of police action, rather than legislation.
Colorado’s law enforcement officers will no longer recognize “excited delirium” after a state regulatory board voted to strike the controversial diagnosis on Friday from all training documents starting in January.
The move, which was passed at the state Peace Officers Standards and Training board meeting unanimously and without debate, comes as two Aurora paramedics face felony charges for giving Elijah McClain, an unarmed, innocent Black man, an overdose of ketamine, in part, because they believed he was suffering from the condition.
You may notice this involves felony charges against two paramedics. But they didn’t act alone. The entire chain of events was set into motion by Aurora police officers, who brutalized McClain before handing him over to EMTs, along with a narrative about the now-brain-dead man’s superhuman feats of strength.
McClain, a 23-year-old massage therapist, was walking home from a convenience store in August 2019 when three Aurora police officers stopped him after receiving a call about a suspicious person. He was forcibly taken to the ground, given two carotid holds, which cut blood flow off to his brain, and handcuffed while he was vomiting into the mask he was wearing and inhaling it.
When paramedics arrived, he was given, involuntarily, 500mg of the powerful sedative ketamine, which was too large a dose for his body weight.
McClain was catatonic and not speaking at that time, but law enforcement officers can be heard on body-worn cameras telling the medics that he was exhibiting “crazy” strength and that he nearly did a push-up with all three officers holding him down at one time.
It’s only the paramedics currently facing charges. Two officers were charged and acquitted. The third officer was convicted of criminally negligent homicide. If the paramedics weren’t thinking “excited delirium” as they drove to the medical emergency, they were certainly thinking it after hearing the officers’ attempt to explain why they had nearly killed McClain. The ketamine, however, finished McClain off.
In defense of their actions, the paramedics chose the go-to excuse for cops:
Cooper and Cichuniec, who are amid their trial now as co-defendants, followed their protocol for “excited delirium” in 2019, their attorneys said in opening statements, which calls for use of chemical sedation.
Fortunately, this will no longer be an option, at least for the state’s law enforcement officers. Presumably, the medical community in Colorado will be making its own changes to strike this term from its lists of credible diagnoses, as well as terminating any protocols that suggest paramedics should treat anyone at all for any reason with lethal amounts of sedatives.
Sure, this means officers will have to be a bit more creative when attempting to separate themselves from deaths they’ve caused. The good news is the POST board has already taken a couple more exonerative terms off the table:
State officials also voted to strike other terms from law enforcement training manuals, including “cocaine psychosis” and “sudden in custody death.”
It’s good to see a law enforcement entity take the initiative to remove a few go-to terms from cops’ mouths. Whether this will ultimately result in better handling of people suffering actual medical/mental crises remains to be seen. And as much as I’d like to believe this alone would deter a certain amount of police violence, the rot in cop culture runs too deep to be rooted out by removing some convenient excuses for killings committed by officers. Still, it’s a positive step. Hopefully, we see more of this elsewhere in the near future.