Before beginning this 2 part series on excited delirium I would like to provide a warning that this topic is going to be extremely triggering and dark. Please take it slowly, and take breaks if you need.
This video is also extremely important to see. At the beginning Minneapolis police officers discuss their plans to ‘hunt’ protestors through the streets the night of May 30th, and this has gotten the most media buzz. However if you view the entire roll that has been released, you will see the the police doing what they do best; beating people lifeless. Cops were cruising the streets in an unmarked van, as they’ve done in Portland and other areas to pull up and snatch people before they know what’s happening. In the body cam footage these thugs are rolling around and taking potshots at random civilians, then they shoot at a man standing in a parking lot and hit him in the chest with a rubber bullet. This man was a shop owner standing in the lot of his store with some friends, armed and protecting his property from rioters. Not realizing who was shooting at him, the owner returned fire. Minneapolis police made no attempt at announcing who they were, simply flooding out of the van and swarming the group. Upon seeing blue and badges the man lays his weapon far away from himself and gets on his stomach as they are 30 or so feet away. This doesn’t stop 2 officers from sprinting up, driving their knees into his back and neck and begin beating him while he is on the ground, the officer at his head unrelentingly punching his face for at least 25 seconds on film. The lead cop on scene twists the mans arms behind his back while he tries to explain, and as he screams in pain the only coherent words are from the officers beating his face in, calling him a piece of shit over and over.
When multiple other officers arrive and question how the man got “shot” (believed so because he was so beaten bloody and unresponsive), the lead officer simply says he was “resisting” (which he clearly was not), to which the questioning officers immediately back off saying, “oh, ok” and turn away. The shipowner was acquitted of charges for shooting at police, MN police received no consequences or pushback for beating a surrendering man unconscious. Though should it be a shock since the same department has murdered multiple children without accountability?
This is sadly a standard interaction between police and citizens. Despite laws that are supposed to dictate use of force and announce their presence, police openly ignore these rules of engagement with no consequence. We’ve discussed how unionization has created even more protection against accountability for a force that already has qualified immunity, and today’s topic will expand upon that picture to show just how untouchable cops and the powers that direct their actions are. Fair warning, this may radicalize you from sheer anger at the injustice. I hope this is the case. Americans need to realize that the image of police we grew up with and believe from propaganda is not an accurate portrayal of reality. We will examine the disgusting truth behind a facade of law and order which preys upon the fears of ruling class white folks to continue brutalizing any American. As with every subject I have written about and will in the future, the reality of our justice system and law enforcement impacts every American outside the upper class; it is not an issue of white working class vs. the black community, it isn’t even a matter of left v. right. The problems I am identifying and writing about are something that everyone should care about changing if they aren’t one of the privileged few who benefit from the status quo, and I can not emphasize enough that I mean the upper class, the 0.1%+. If you think because you make 6 figures or have a solid retirement plan that you can avoid worrying about the police, environment, the fall of our democracy; then you are sorely mistaken.
Now, I apologize that was a somewhat lengthy call to action but it was needed to try and jolt some people out of the complacent stupor they’ve fallen into from years of propagandized brainwashing. I would like to frame the introduction to this miniseries about excited delirium by first providing a look into the forces that control police action with departments at their beck and call. If you remember from my introduction to the American police, early departments were founded by wealthy businessmen looking to protect their investments from devaluation by unionization or theft.
Throughout history elites have systematically consolidated power within housing, business, and educational markets to keep out ‘undesirables’ while hoarding the best services to themselves. Business associations have become governing bodies within our towns for this specific purpose; they can direct police activity, dictate taxes, decide market prices for all commodities, and shut specific populations out with a snap of their fingers.
Wealthy interests are able to control where police are deployed, what the target of enforcement is, and what charges should be brought up. In Portland the assistant DA has their entire salary paid by the Portland Business Alliance (PBA). The group has fully directed the Portland Police Bureau’s (PPB) activity, sending them to sweep homeless camps in wealthy neighborhoods when their patrons ask while dictating the overall use of force by telling cops to viciously defend specific properties. Generally when there is violence or shootings as have happened recently, it takes upwards of 30 minutes for units to respond. But as soon as demonstrations got too close to Ted Wheeler’s house last summer (the mayor), cops responded within seconds to protect Teddy. Further, there are multiple incidents with video evidence of officers from PPB and other Oregon departments, such as in Salem, telling their colleagues to ignore alt right demonstrators and aggressively pursue leftists. Whenever Proud Boys have rolled into Portland and engaged in shootouts during the last couple years PPB has taken a ‘don’t ask don’t tell’ policy where they just avoid protests and counter demonstrations altogether because according to them, anyone being assaulted by the far right deserves it.
The PBA has been under investigation this year for illegal lobbying, failing to disclose their payments and contact with elected officials. There have been at least 25 violations this year alone with an undisclosed amount of money going directly into Wheeler’s coffers. We can get a sense of what activity the PBA wanted the mayor to engage in with those funds, as he is officially in charge of directing PPB. Thus harassing the homeless, waves of tear gas that causes untold damage, and brutalization of citizens in the name of protecting property are all top priorities for the department.
With power beyond that of elected officials due to money and connections, unelected businessmen who represent fractions of a percent of our country are dictating the policy of major institutions. They maintain a hierarchy specifically conducive to upper class interests and property value that leave the working class stranded further; for example business associations were crucial to ending rent protection programs during the pandemic, subsequently increased rent up to 65% or more in some areas (like LA), then directed law enforcement to brutally sweep out any homeless encampments where evicted people may have found shelter. Business associations have effectively killed single family homes through their rent increases and commodity prices, then once those families are out on the street they send their attack dogs in blue to tear them out of what little shelter they found.
Our democracy is so thoroughly poisoned, which we will of course examine more in depth later, that random unelected people with no qualifications beyond taking advantage of others to hoard money are essentially directing the country and our law enforcement, trying to make their property as profitable as possible. Policies driven by business associations have led to many populations being vulnerable in disasters like Katrina, where people got stuck in the disaster because they didn’t have a car, couldn’t afford to leave, or had elderly parents to take care of as rent became too expensive. Full control over what opportunities people have is the goal of business associations within our new feudalism, and they have been alarmingly successful at it.
Now that we know who controls police it will be much easier to connect the dots in the story of excited delirium.
We’ve become so used to deaths by shooting that we often overlook the more insidious and subtle forms of brutality that police use, with “less lethal” tactics that still leave people disabled or dead. Tasers are one such standard law enforcement device that we view as “safe.” Its manufacturers, namely Axon, have engaged in such aggressive legal campaigns for their products that Tasers have no legal precedent of causing a fatality. However, numerous independent studies have shown otherwise, such as a Reuters investigation which found stun guns to be contributing factors in 150+ of 700 reviewed deaths in custody. There is a very specific legal/medical reason that Tasers and other “less lethal” uses of force have been able to escape scrutiny for so long, why we are starting to now see the truth with cell phone videos that can go viral instead of blindly taking the word of the killers. Death in police custody from anything other than bullets is inexorably linked to excited delirium; a niche medical diagnosis purchased by corporations and co-opted by law enforcement as a convenient excuse for many of the mentally ill or otherwise disabled and innocent people they kill. The public hasn’t questioned this for decades because, after all, what does the layman know about medicine that a certified medical examiner doesn’t? Of all the practices that cops engage in which I will discuss this is going to potentially be the most enraging and triggering, yet undoubtedly one of the most important to stop. Fair warning.
Excited Delirium (ED) is applied postmortem, often during autopsy, almost exclusively to black men who have been engaging in “aggressive,” non compliant, or irrational behavior. This diagnosis has become one of the most psychopathic tools that law enforcement and medical practitioners have used to justify murdering hundreds of Americans, and they are not going to stop until we unyieldingly demand change. Its roots as a modern diagnosis stem from racist medical examiner Charles Wetli, who coined the term while trying to explain the deaths of 32 sex workers in Miami during 1985. The only hint that police had as to the prostitutes’ death was that they were women of color and had cocaine or amounts of other drugs (mainly amphetamines though,) in their systems. Charles decided that cocaine use and sexual arousal was the cause of their death, citing no evidence for this diagnosis beyond a niche mania that Luther Vose Bell coined in the 1800’s, claiming their fatality as excited delirium. Wetli claimed that ED would incite psychosis leading to eventual death in males and near instant death in females from overstimulation in the adrenal glands. When looking further into the bodies of the women that Wetli had used to provide the basis for this new diagnosis, competent medical examiners found that they had been asphyxiated by a serial killer.
Mind you though, this was at the height of the war on drugs, and Wetli had essentially just created a way for someone to be blamed for their own death. Despite its proven invalidity, cops instantly seized upon this ultimate incarnation of individualistic and unempathetic thought. Law enforcement began using excited delirium to explain dozens of black men dying in custody from underlying drug use or manic behavior, conveniently explaining death was not as a result of police brutality that had been so happily inflicted. Since 1989 the people diagnosed with ED by police have been overwhelmingly (very very overwhelmingly,) African American men. These victims have two commonalities; they have been physically restrained or otherwise assaulted by police immediately before death, and often have cocaine or some stimulant in their system. However, Robert Evans does a great job of pointing out that the level of substances in the systems of these individuals is far less than the threshold of actual overdose death, as seen in white victims who have had their hearts fail from massive amounts of cocaine use in what would be the same attempted application of ED.
The symptoms of this diagnosis include “acting bizarrely,” showing inhuman strength, extreme mania, and behavior that necessitates calling the police. Police are also taught that people displaying ED will spontaneously die from the condition, with an emphasis on drugs being the cause. Beyond the symptoms listed they are told it also includes resisting arrest, a lack of pain perception, and violent attempts at freedom. Are you beginning to see how a condition that police can justify sudden death with, no matter what actions they are taking to restrain the individual, is a problem?
Funnily enough, ED is almost exclusively diagnosed after a victim has been subjected to a TASER or chokehold restraint directly prior to police custody, most commonly one places pressure on an individual’s neck and most vital arteries. Robert Evans does a great job of pointing out that the level of cocaine in the systems of these individuals is far less than the threshold of actual overdose death, as seen in white victims who have had their hearts fail from massive amounts of the drug in what would be this same attempted application of ED. In 21 cases of death by ED analyzed in the 90’s, they were all found to have been black men who were restrained in a position that put direct pressure on the carotid artery, usually while prone. All of these instances found levels of cocaine that were consistent with average, or even slightly less than average, recreational use. Nowhere near overdose levels. Yet today we see a very frequent diagnosis of excited delirium death in police custody, with 53 – 85 attributed to the phantom term in Florida alone during the last decade.
The logic that has driven police using ED as a diagnosis is rooted in medical jargon that justifies their racism and propensity for violence. Cops are taught that symptoms for those afflicted by excited delirium include the very need for police presence, resisting arrest, aggressive behavior, a lack of pain awareness, and most importantly, spontaneous death. Cops are approaching these victims, pretty much all black men, with the idea that they are already going to die. Therefore, they can twist this line of thinking for the symptoms of ED to say that the person who is resisting arrest needs to be physically restrained in a vicious manner, they can’t feel it anyways, and they’re already dead. Thus, it wasn’t the carotid choke hold that cut blood off, or the multiple taser shots fired into them that were the cause of death. It was the elusive excited delirium. Couple this with the racist idea that African Americans have an inherently higher pain tolerance (used to justify brutality), the outward desire of police forces to oppress POC communities with higher presence and response to their neighborhoods, and there is now an epidemic of murders. These are all being justified by a made up term that allows for white supremacists in blue to beat black people to a pulp, since they are already dead as soon as the cops need to be called.
Statements made by law enforcement will almost always blame the victim for their own death, while making it seem they were the most dangerous threat to the lives of officers present that had ever been encountered. I want the reader to understand, and will continue driving this home for the entire chapter; victims of police brutality are often not violent criminals. They are brothers, fathers, children, mothers, and loved members of a family. Police either respond to these community members in crisis or profile them on the street, seeing only a criminal through the lens of racism and prejudice that is ingrained in law enforcement training. That is if their racism didn’t already exist before the officer enlisted. As such, law enforcement uses their authority to beat people’s heads in, twist their arms out of sockets, smash their faces into the concrete, standing over them with TASERs and pepper spray, gleefully inflicting suffering from the ultimate position of power. Gregory Loyd Edwards was a US Army veteran with severe PTSD, formerly a medic in Iraq. He was taken into custody by Florida sheriff’s deputies in 2018 after a particularly bad episode at Walmart, where he assaulted a charity worker in the parking lot. When police had shown up to make an arrest, they tased, beat, and restrained Edwards, taking him to the county jail to be booked where his respiratory system and heart later stopped functioning.
The version of events Florida police tell is that deputies followed protocols of force to detain Edwards, and Sheriff Wayne Ivey claimed that Edwards was a “violent criminal who savagely resisted being booked,” refusing to release the video of Edward’s time in Brevard county jail for months. The thing is, Ivey was full of bullshit, completely lying to save face for the department. He stated that it was the veteran’s own fault for his death because of his aggression and symptoms of excited delirium while deputies did nothing wrong, “simply controlled” a violent individual. Video was released two years later and upon investigation, Sheriff Ivey’s deputies committed at least 14 departmental violations while Edwards was in their custody.
On video Edwards appears completely calm while being escorted through the facility, checking into his cell after changing into a jumpsuit. About an hour passes and Edwards suddenly appears to begin another PTSD episode, talking to himself and striking the window of his cell. There had been no officers monitoring Edwards, so when he struck the window Cpl. Brian Otto came over, saw his distress,and decided to remove him from the cell while attempting to book him alone. Dr. Mark Bedard observed the video while providing commentary on its events, pointing out that Otto would have had no idea that Edwards was calm until an apparent “psychotic” episode. The officer placed his hand firmly on Edward’s shoulder, while the inmate appeared to comply and move in the desired direction. Now, this is where two versions of events collide; one from Sheriff Ivey that is based on a racist cover up, and a factual version based upon the released video that a Staff Services Unit conducted.
Ivey claims that Edwards began fighting like a “caged animal,” viciously swinging at officers and taking Otto to the ground while dominating him and pinning his arms so that he could beat his head and body. Now reality. In the video it is clear that Edwards is annoyed at Otto’s hand on his shoulder, shrugging to remove it and tensing as though he wants to strike at the officer. However he relaxes, tenses, and repeats a couple of times before Otto notices and attempts a leg sweep takedown on the veteran. In the process Otto knocks himself off balance, bringing both of the men to the ground. Two other officers immediately rushed over and threw themselves into the fray, and during the initial momentary scuffle where Otto got pinned under his fellow officer, Edwards struck two blows to the deputy, the only punches that the ex medic actually landed. The other officers quickly grab at his arms as Otto recovers, pepper spraying Edwards from inches away. The vet put up a mighty struggle, lasting nearly 5 minutes and involving 9 officers by the end. At one point a female officer steps in and uses her taser on Edwards, firing it into his lower back while pulling the trigger 6 times and subjecting Edwards to nearly a minute’s worth of high voltage electric current running through his body. A restraint chair is then wheeled in and 7 officers cuff Edward’s hands behind his back, secure a spit hood entirely over his head, and tie him into the chair while the barbs from the taser are still lodged in his back and pepper spray coats his face.
Gregory Lloyd Edwards never fully regained consciousness after being tased, paper sprayed, beaten, and left bound to a chair with a hood over his dripping head. He was left gasping for life in an isolated cell for more than 15 minutes before staff even took notice of his condition, and even then they clearly had no sense of urgency to save a dying man as it was nearly another 15 minutes before oxygen and CPR was administered. 7 months later a letter was sent from Florida’s State Attorney, Phil Archer, clearing deputies of any wrongdoing based on the discovery of excited delirium as cause of death. Archer then proceeded to commend the Sheriff’s department and Ivey for their “brave” actions.
This is where we will end part I. Please take care of yourself after reading this, it is tough subject matter to say the least. I will pick up with part II where we ended after Edwards death, and we will discuss one doctor who was particularly vocal about his murder being justifiable. I know that this is a disheartening topic at best, but it is extremely important to understand why the police need reform. If the status quo continues the same people who defending police in their current state will be in for a rude awakening when that force is inevitably turned on them. The goal of my writing here, and the other issues I cover, is to show the audience that no matter how isolated you may individually be from injustice we need to take notice and demand change if we want to say we care about others, if we want to be able to say America is a great country.
- Position statement on concerns about use of the term “Excited Delirium” and appropriate medical management in out of hospital contexts. APA board of trustees 2020. In response to Statement on police interactions with persons with mental illness in 2017, and the recent murders of George Floyd and others.
- “How cops invented a disease” Behind the Bastards, Robert Evans. I really appreciate Robert’s work, I’ve said this multiple times probably, but it is nice when I can rely on him to do some reading for me haha.
- American College of Emergency Physicians statements on ED
- Canadian Medical Association Journal – Excited Delirium
- “U.S. Army vet died in custody after his arrest. Brevard Jail video shows what happened,” Block, Bobby & Sassoon, Allessandro. 2020. Florida today.
- “Exploiting black labor after the abolition of slavery,” Forde, Kathy, Bowman, Bryan. 2017.