The finding of “excited delirium,” which makes its primary appearance in medical contexts usually only ever as justification for police killings of civilians, is an ideological tool used to excuse lethal police force. It has been used by police forces as a way to simultaneously blame victims for their own killings and give killer cops an answer where no real answer exists.
This dubious piece of copaganda has been offered up once again in Alberta to excuse Edmonton Police Service officers who killed a 25-year-old man on April 29, 2015. This despite well established debunking of the notion of excited delirium. The Alberta Serious Incident Response Team (ASIRT) offered the excited delirium defense in findings released on April 18, 2017, two years after the young victim died after being subjected to force by multiple officers while in police custody.
Sadly, the victim was targeted by police for the trivial act of supposedly trespassing in the City Centre Mall after nervous security staff called them. The security staff had tweaked to him because they suspected him of being under the influence of alcohol or drugs. So an effort at moral regulation by private security ultimately resulted in a young man having his life taken by police. The ASIRT report added to the moral regulatory approach by suggesting the man had been uncooperative with police, saying he refused to follow directions.
For many police officers refusing to follow directions is an invitation to a beating or worse an extrajudicial execution. In this case ASIRT reports that at least four officers used force on the man supposedly to get him into restraints. After being violently removed from the mall and taken into Downtown Division the man was placed on the floor in the detention area. At this point Edmonton Police Services officers noticed he was unconscious, and in medical distress. Paramedics took the man to hospital but he could not be stabilized and was declared dead there.
Notably, the ASIRT reports makes clear that the man was acting in a way that suggested both to private security and police that his issue was health related not criminal. According to the ASIRT release the man “exhibited bizarre behaviour” (ASIRT). The report continues: “He was observed twisting and attempting to pull away. He was observed to be breathing heavily, mumbling and yelling, mostly incoherently” (ASIRT). Yet the intervention was, once again, repressive violence and thuggish force rather than health care.
This is a case in which private security and police intervene against someone who is, at most, dealing with substance abuse issues. Police should not be intervening in this situation. Yet they do so with force. And when force becomes lethal they turn to “excited delirium” in an attempt to justify the unjustifiable. And it routinely gets them off. And mainstream media repeat the claim uncritically.