Excited delirium

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Editor-In-Chief: C. Michael Gibson, M.S., M.D. [1]

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Excited delirium is a controversial term used to explain deaths of individuals in police custody, in which the person being arrested, detained, or restrained is highly agitated and may be under the influence of stimulants. [1] The term is not recognized in DSM-IV, but has been listed as the cause of death by some medical examiners. There may also be a link between excited delirium deaths and the use of Tasers to subdue agitated people. [2]

Excessive force

Some civil-rights groups argue that the term is being used to absolve police of guilt, in overly restraining people, during arrests. The cause of death only appears where police are involved in restraining individuals. [3] [4] This does not include those deaths in chemical dependance treatment, EMS, hospital, or psychiatric care facilities who die while being restrained or while in seclusion.

Eric Balaban of the American Civil Liberties Union said: "I know of no reputable medical organization — certainly not the AMA American Medical Association or the American Psychological Association that recognizes excited delirium as a medical or mental-health condition." [3] Melissa Smith of the American Medical Association said the organization has "no official policy" on the disorder. [4]


Those signs/symptoms typically associated with excited delirium are:

  • Bizarre and violent behavior, most common violence towards glass
  • Removal of clothing, public nudity (even in cold weather)
  • Aggression
  • Hyperactivity
  • Paranoia [5]
  • Hallucination
  • Incoherent speak or shouting [5] [6]
  • Grunting or animal-like sounds
  • Incredible strength or endurance (typically noticed during attempts to restrain victim) [5] [6]
  • Imperviousness to pain (observed during violent acts or restraint)
  • Hyperthermia (over-heating)/profuse sweating (even in cold weather) [6]

Other medical conditions that can resemble excited delirium are hyperthermia, diabetes, head injury, delirium tremens, thyroid storm [7].


Nathaniel Jones: his death while in custody of Cincinnati police was first attributed to excited delirium.[6] [3] In a lawsuit over the death of Mr. Jones, some facts related to excited delirium were disputed.[8] The defendants in the trial court proceedings asserted that: 1) the decedent was resisting arrest; 2) that reasonable force was used in an attempt to restrain him; and 3) that excited delirium was the cause of death.[8] The plaintiffs claimed: 1) that the officers used excessive force; 2) that the decedent died from compressive asphyxia caused by police officers whose entire weight was on his body; 3) the decedent was not resisting but rather attempting to reposition his body so he could breathe.[8] The trial court found that the plaintiffs sufficiently stated a claim of excessive force.[8]

Toney Steele: one of the first high-profile cases involving question of excited delirium; died in San Diego in the back of a patrol car. [6]

Kevin Geldart: died after police, in an effort to restrain him, shot him multiple times with a Taser gun and sprayed him with pepper spray.[4]

Roger Holyfield: the 17-year-old died October 29, 2006, the day after Jerseyville, Illinois police shocked him repeatedly with a Taser gun. "Holyfield died of natural causes after being restrained by the police, which occurred as a result of an episode of excited delirium," according to Jerseyville officials. [2]

Frederick Williams: died hours after police shocked him repeatedly with a Taser while in custody. After Williams' family announced they were suing, Taser International asserted that they would argue he died from excited delirium. [9]


  1. "Suspects' deaths blamed on 'excited delirium'. Critics dispute rare syndrome usually diagnosed when police are involved". Associated Press. Retrieved 2007-04-29.
  2. "Tasers Implicated in Excited Delirium Deaths". NPR. Retrieved 2007-04-29.
  3. 3.0 3.1 3.2 "Death by Excited Delirium: Diagnosis or Coverup?". NPR. Retrieved 2007-02-26.
  4. 4.0 4.1 4.2 "Excited Delirium: Police Brutality vs. Sheer Insanity". ABCNews. March 2, 2007. Retrieved 2007-03-13.
  5. 5.0 5.1 5.2 Alan W. Benner, Excited Delirium, 1996
  6. 6.0 6.1 6.2 6.3 6.4 "Was It 'Excited Delirium' Or Police Brutality?". 60 Minutes. December 10, 2003. Retrieved 2007-02-26.
  7. "What other medical emergencies can look like excited delirium?". PoliceOne.com. October, 2006. Retrieved 2007-03-26. Check date values in: |date= (help)
  8. 8.0 8.1 8.2 8.3 Jones v. City of Cincinnati, No. 1:04-CV-616, 2006 U.S. Dist. Lexis 75430, 2006 WL 2987820 (S.D. Ohio)
  9. "NPR : Tasers Implicated in Excited Delirium Deaths". NPR. Retrieved 2007-09-07.

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