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The Use of Excited Delirium to Excuse Canadian Killer Cops

by Jeff Shantz

viarami / pixabay
viarami / pixabay

Excited delirium is one of the favored excuses used by police and their statist supporters when officers kill civilians. It is an explanation considered dubious based on medical evidence and research and has been largely promoted by the makers of tasers as a means of justifying deaths that result after taser deployment. The condition excited delirium is not found in DSM-5 or the ICD-10 (the current versions of the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders and the International Classification of Diseases, respectively). Excited delirium has not been recognized by the American Medical Association or the American Psychological Association. Police psychologist Mike Webster called it a dubious diagnosis during the inquiry into the RCMP killing of Robert Dziekanski by taser at Vancouver International airport.

Unfortunately, supposed police oversight bodies like the Alberta Serious Incident Response Team (ASIRT) also give cops the excited delirium excuse in their investigations when deciding to let killer cops off. Coroners in Canada also continue to use the notion of excited delirium to excuse or legitimize police killings of civilians.

In a previous article I outlined the copaganda basis of excited delirium. In this article I show its use in some specific cases of police killings of civilians in the Canadian state context.

 

Excited Delirium in the Inquest into the Shooting of Michael MacIsaac by Killer Cop Brian Taylor In 2017

Killer cop Brian Taylor provided two days of questionable, even outright unbelievable, testimony during the coroner’s inquest into his 2013 killing of 47-year-old Michael MacIsaac. As witnesses and 911 call evidence contradicted much of his depiction of events, Constable Taylor turned to the bogus and obnoxious “excited delirium” excuse to blame the victim. Notably the inquest testimony was the first time he raised this baseless suggestion, a last refuge of killer cops.

Taylor claims he feared for his life when seeing MacIsaac, yet he was safely inside his police vehicle and decided to exit only after seeing the man he was supposedly threatened by near him. Taylor claimed in his testimony that he heard MacIsaac say “Come on, come on,” and claims that he issued the police challenge, “Police. Don’t move,” to MacIsaac and remembers hearing it.

Taylor testified at length:

“Somebody said ‘Drop it, get down on the ground.’ I thought that if I have to take a shot, don’t miss. There are a lot of people around. Then he moved off the curb. I fired the first round. I didn’t hear the gun go off. I felt it . . . . I didn’t know if I had hit him, because there was no effect. And he continued to move and I fired a second round and I know that one struck him.” (quoted in Gallant 2017a)

Roy Wellington, the MacIsaac family’s lawyer, used cross-examination to note that most of Constable Taylor’s claims about what was said are not captured on a 911 call made by Ron Nino the witness who stopped the arriving Taylor and told him MacIsaac was in the area. On that call a voice is heard telling Nino “get back, get back” (Gallant 2017a). Only seconds later shots are fired. No one is heard at any point either issuing commands to MacIsaac or saying “Come on, come on.” Nino said that Taylor fired almost immediately. The MacIsaac family had that call analyzed by a forensic scientist to see if there were cuts or absences. That report concluded that “there are no definite signs of alterations or breaks found on this recording” (quoted in Gallant 2017b).

Queried Wellington: “I’m having a hard time understanding how we can hear someone further away from Mr. Nino, but we don’t actually hear you issuing any commands at all” (quoted in Gallant 2017a).

Wellington continued: ““Regardless of who shouted commands, there wasn’t much of an opportunity for Mr. MacIsaac to respond. Would you agree with that?” (quoted in Gallant 2017a).

Constable Taylor offered the rather desperate response that perhaps the cell phone malfunctioned. This despite the forensic tests. Taylor’s lawyer, Bill MacKenzie tried to suggest that 911 called Nino back and thus interfered with the call, which, frankly, makes no sense.

Questions have also beeen asked why Taylor shot MacIsaac twice and how he could not see if the first shot hit the man, since he was naked and there were no clothes to obscure a bullet strike and wound. Incredibly, Taylor believed the victim was “still a threat” even after he saw black-red blood streaming out of the stricken man’s abdomen. Two other officers took time to handcuff the dying man rather than giving him any medical attention.

Taylor tried to introduce the phony notion of “excited delirium” to describe MacIsaac and justify the killing. Incredibly, Taylor suggested this was his first thought when hearing over police radio that the person he was seeking might be suffering mental health issues. The family suggests that MacIsaac was in crisis as a result of an epileptic seizure but did not have mental health issues.

Anita Szigeti, a lawyer for the Empowerment Council, an advocacy group for people with lived experiences of mental health and addiction issues noted that organizations including the World Health Organization and American Medical Association do not recognize it as an actual condition (Gallant 2017b). Szigeti rightly pointed out that the only ones who maintain that it is a condition are the “maker of Tasers” and law enforcement members (Gallant 2017b). We might add pro-police criminologists or copagandists.

Szigeti posed this to Constable Taylor. In her words: “But, do you know ‘excited delirium’ is extremely controversial, over whether it’s even a condition at all?” (quoted in Gallant 2017b). Taylor answered simply, “Yes.”

Szigeti said that she was puzzled because Taylor promoted the notion of excited delirium at the inquest but the term does not appear anywhere in his notes on the shooting. Neither does it appear in his interviews with the Special Investigations Unit or the Office of the Independent Police Review Director.

This led Szigeti to conclude: “I’m going to suggest to you that you never thought about ‘excited delirium’ at all until long after the events when you shot Mr. MacIsaac” (quoted in Gallant 2017b). This at base the nature of this phony claim. It is an after the fact justification for killer cops desperate for an answer when all reasonable explanations are absent.

Joanne MacIsaac, Michael MacIsaac’s sister, is also asking if the SIU bothered to listen to the Nino 911 call in its investigation into the killing which resulted in a decision not to bring criminal charges against Constable Taylor.

Taylor ended his testimony, on its second day, with the admission, in response to a question from a juror: “With hindsight being 20/20, yes, there probably could have been a better way to resolve it” (quoted in Gallant 2017b).

You think? Cops do not seek the better way. They quickly resort to the way they know best—violence.

 

Excited Delirium and ASIRT

The Alberta Serious Incident Response Team (ASIRT) seems particularly fond of using these excuses to justify killings of civilians by police. On August 28, 2017, ASIRT trotted out the excited delirium excuse once again to justify the police killing of a 49-year-old man, Marcel Henry Moisan, in the late evening/early morning of December 7-8, 2015, involving multiple taser deployments and physical restraint.

In a media release ASIRT executive director Susan Hughson claimed the victim died as a result of excited delirium syndrome brought on by drugs in his bloodstream (not the use of tasers and/or restraints). Incredibly, Hughson congratulated the Edmonton police for their use of “less-than-lethal force.” In her words: “Indeed, the resort to less-than-lethal force should be commended.” But they killed the man. Their use of force was exactly, precisely, lethal. It was not less than lethal.

ASIRT noted that Moisan (not named in the report) was experiencing some mental distress, and police had a record of a Mental Health Act encounter with the man in October of the same year. Yet no mental health care givers were dispatched to the scene. According to Hughson the man was clearly exhibiting distress to officers present and appeared to be rehearsing self harm actions. In her words: “He brought the knife to his throat. He appeared agitated, distraught, and confused.” He made “overt suicidal motions” appearing to slash at his neck with a knife.

In response police tased him again and placed him in leg restraints. Notes Hughson, in her release: “Within approximately two minutes and 55 seconds, the man went into medical distress. The restraints were immediately removed and CPR was commenced.” The man was transported to hospital where he was pronounced dead.

The coroner who repeated the bogus excited delirium excuse said: “It is the opinion of the [medical examiner] that the man died as a result of excited delirium syndrome that was due to methamphetamine toxicity; struggle during police restraint was considered a significant contributory condition.” Yet the police were exonerated despite acknowledgement of the use and role of restraints (the excusing of taser use is right out of the company playbook).

This dubious piece of copaganda was also offered up in Alberta to excuse Edmonton Police Service officers who killed a 25-year-old man on April 29, 2015. 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.

 

Excited Delirium and the Police Killings of Maurizio Facchin and Simon Chung

The excited delirium excuse was used to let killer cops off the hook in two cases within a three week period over October and November of 2016. These cases involved the police killing of Maurizio Facchin (50) in Burnaby, British Columbia, in 2014 and Simon Chung (34) in Edmonton, Alberta, in 2013. Both cases involved the use of tasers by police and the men went into fatal distress only after a taser was used on them. Chung was also subjected to attempts by two Edmonton police to restrain him forcefully. He was tased twice by an officer while restrained, including one blast that lasted 28 seconds. In both cases the role of the taser in the men’s deaths was acknowledged yet both deaths were ruled accidental.

Notably in the case of the police killing of Simon Chung one of the officers claimed to suspect that the victim was experiencing excited delirium yet chose to restrain and taser him anyway. This would suggest culpability in his death given the claims of police that excited delirium could lead to a fatal response to either restraint or tasing.

 

Baseless Recommendations

In the case of the coroner’s inquiry into the police killing of Maurizio Facchin, the coroner’s jury suggested that police receive training in identifying and properly responding to instances of excited delirium. It was also recommended that 911 dispatchers receive such training so that they might identify and inform police of potential excited delirium cases upon dispatch. Finally, the jury suggested that officers contact emergency services when a taser is going to be deployed in such cases.

In the case of the police killing of Simon Chung, Provincial Court Judge Lloyd Malin provided two recommendations. In the first he suggested that while Edmonton Police Service mentions excited delirium syndrome in its policy and procedure manual on use of force, officers should also be trained to recognize the symptoms in all situations, not only during arrests. Malin also recommended that officers be trained to call for emergency medical services as soon as excited delirium is suspected. This call should be made regardless of the need for police to restrain an individual.

These recommendations are based on the dubious diagnosis of excited delirium and will do little to change police behavior, particularly violent behavior. They will not address police killings of civilians. The recommendations are based on treatment of a social fiction.

 

Conclusion

Excited delirium is pure copaganda. It is the fabrication and deployment of pseudoscience in the service of letting killer cops off and providing an excuse, however dubious, for police violence. While it has no psychological or medical basis, it is routinely used to let police officers walk away from any accountability when they kill civilians. And, as we can see in numerous cases, it has been effective in its copaganda function. Despite the recognition that excited delirium has no basis in scientific, psychological, or medical, reality, it is still used in investigative cases on police killings, by so-called watchdog agencies and by coroners’ offices in the Canadian context.


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