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Physician Group May Disavow 'Excited Delirium' Police Defense

A largely discredited theory called “excited delirium” has been increasingly used in the past 15 years as a legal defense to explain how a person experiencing severe agitation can die suddenly through no fault of the police, KFF Health News reports. Now, the American College of Emergency Physicians will vote this month on whether to disavow the theory’s 2009 position paper. Excited delirium was used to defend police in the 2015 case of Sheldon Haleck, who police In Hawaii tased, restrained and pepper-sprayed after they found him behaving erratically. An initial autopsy ruled Haleck’s death a homicide. The theory has also been cited as a defense in the cases of George Floyd and Daniel Prude.


“It’s junk science,” said Martin Chenevert, an emergency medicine physician at UCLA Santa Monica Medical Center, who often testifies as an expert witness. The theory has been used to provide a cover for police misconduct, he said. “It had an agenda.” Passing the resolution wouldn’t bring Haleck back, but his parents hope it would prevent other families from experiencing their agony. “May that excited delirium die here,” said his mother, Verdell. Most major medical societies, including the American Medical Association and the American Psychiatric Association, don’t recognize excited delirium as a medical condition. This year, the National Association of Medical Examiners rejected excited delirium as a cause of death. Starting in the mid-1990s, the leading proponents of excited delirium produced research with funding from Taser International, a maker of stun guns used by police, which later changed its name to Axon.

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