The readers’ forum

‘Excited delirium’ not the whole story


Re the Sept. 29 article Controversial, troubling trend, about “excited delirium”: Death resulting from excited delirium is not a trend. Excited delirium was first recognized in 1849 in an asylum and is known as Bell’s Mania. It is a phenomenon precipitated by a number of conditions and associated with a relatively small percentage of deaths, which can occur whether or not force is used.

Most recently, police use of Tasers has been implicated and is being scrutinized; in the 1980s, it was use of the lateral vascular neck restraint, followed by the hogtie. In later years, some deaths previously thought to have occurred because of “positional asphyxia” may actually be attributable to excited delirium.

Law enforcement is under scrutiny whenever force is utilized; regardless of the method or degree of force required. But we should remember the obvious: Injuries and deaths might occur to alleged perpetrators and officers when force is used, regardless of the level of force.

Deaths might also occur in situations that are stressful or involve extreme physical exertion. The physical exertion associated with fleeing or struggling with police, when predisposing factors are present, could result in sudden death without the use of force. Some people are predisposed to sudden death due to certain factors such as disease, including the cardiac abnormality known as cardiomyopathy; mental illness; and drug and alcohol abuse.

Law-enforcement agencies often use a list of behaviors, symptoms and circumstances as a training tool to alert officers that certain events might pose a risk of sudden death for the person being confronted. Also, police departments’ use-of-force policies govern the method of force approved for use and the circumstances surrounding it.

The allegation by victims’ families and the American Civil Liberties Union that excited delirium is built on shaky medical research as a way to cover for overaggressive police tactics insults our law-enforcement officers who risk their lives to protect ours.

How quickly we forget the dozens of officers who have died in the line-of-duty in South Florida since 1974.

Although unfortunate, the deaths of victims allegedly engaged in criminal activities, perpetrators who fled police or otherwise precipitated police action, and those whose actions posed a risk to others, pale in comparison.

Joyce Voschin, Davie

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