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Doctor's Group Pulls Paper on 'Excited Delirium,' Often Cited in Cases Involving Excessive Force by Police
  • Posted October 13, 2023

Doctor's Group Pulls Paper on 'Excited Delirium,' Often Cited in Cases Involving Excessive Force by Police

A paper that has been used in court cases to justify excessive police force was withdrawn Thursday by the American College of Emergency Physicians, a prominent doctor's group.

The paper, published in 2009, was on a condition referred to as “excited delirium.”

“This [withdrawal] 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,” Dr. Brooks Walsh, a Connecticut emergency doctor who pushed the organization to strengthen its stance, told the Associated Press.

Walsh said the 2009 paper reinforced stereotypes. It said symptoms of the condition included unusual strength, pain tolerance and bizarre behavior.

For nearly a decade and a half, that document has played a role in police training and in-custody deaths, the AP reported. Many of those incidents have involved Black men who died during restraint by police.

Among the most prominent of those cases was in the trial of police officer Derek Chauvin for the death of George Floyd in 2020 in Minneapolis, the wire service said.

It has also been raised during trials for police officers accused of killing Manuel Ellis in Washington state, Elijah McCain in Colorado and Daniel Prude in New York, the AP reported.

Joanna Naples-Mitchell, an attorney and research adviser for Physicians for Human Rights, told the AP that attorneys defending officers have cited the paper to admit testimony on excited delirium.

Withdrawal of the paper happened following a vote by ACEP's directors. Going forward, the term “excited delirium” should not be used in court testimony by ACEP members, according to the group's statement.

ACEP has previously tried to separate itself from the term, but has not until now refuted it.

“This is why we pushed to put out a stronger statement explicitly disavowing that paper,” Naples-Mitchell said. “It's a chance for ACEP to really break with the past.”

Other medical organizations have also rejected the term, including the American Medical Association and the National Association of Medical Examiners.

California just barred its use in autopsies and in police reports, after Gov. Gavin Newsom signed legislation to that effect on Sunday, the AP reported.

More information

Physicians for Human Rights has more on the term “excited delirium” and deaths in police custody.

SOURCE: American College of Emergency Physicians, statement, Oct.12, 2023; Associated Press

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