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EXPLAINER: What is excited delirium?

MINNEAPOLIS (AP) – Counsel for the officer on trial in the death of George Floyd has raised the concept of excited delirium as testimony examines whether reasonable force was used against Floyd.

Derek Chauvin, 45, who is white, is charged with murder and manslaughter. Floyd, a 46-year-old black man, was arrested on May 25 outside a neighborhood market on charges of attempting to pass a fake $ 20 bill. A panicked Floyd twisted and pretended to be claustrophobic as police attempted to put him in the team car.

Thomas Lane, another officer at the scene, can be heard on body camera video as officers hold Floyd to the ground, asking if Floyd might be suffering from excited delirium.


It happened on Tuesday when Nicole Mackenzie, a Minneapolis police officer who trains other officers in medical care, testified for the prosecution. Chauvin’s attorney, Eric Nelson, asked Mackenzie to define excited delirium and explain how officers are trained to recognize and respond to it.

Mackenzie described it as a combination of “restlessness, psychosis, hypothermia, a wide variety of other things you might see in a person, or some pretty weird behavior.”

When asked by Nelson, Mackenzie agreed that people exhibiting “something like excited delirium” have often taken drugs. She also agreed that a person suffering from this disease could have “superhuman strength”.

On Thursday, Dr. Bill Smock – a forensic expert who works as a police surgeon for the Louisville Metro Police Department in Kentucky and as a professor of emergency medicine at the University of Louisville – testified that ‘he thought the excited delirium was real. But he said Floyd didn’t meet any of the 10 criteria developed by the American College of Emergency Physicians. A minimum of six signs are required for diagnosis, he said.

“How many have you seen?” asked District Attorney Jerry Blackwell.

“Zip,” Smock replied.


A key question in Chauvin’s trial is whether he used reasonable force to pin Floyd to the sidewalk for 9 minutes and 29 seconds. Police officials said he didn’t – that Floyd was under control and the force should have ceased quickly.

Nelson pointed to Floyd’s larger height compared to Chauvin and suggested that people can be dangerous even when handcuffed, and handcuffs can fail.


Some coroners in recent decades have attributed deaths in custody to excited delirium, often in cases where the person has become extremely agitated after taking drugs, having a mental health episode or having a health problem. But there is no universally accepted definition of it and the researchers said it is not well understood.

The American Psychiatric Association’s diagnostic manual does not list it, and a study last year concluded that it was primarily cited as the cause only when the deceased had been immobilized.

A New York medical examiner concluded that Daniel Prude was in a state of excited delirium in 2020 when Rochester police put a hood over his head and pressed his naked body against the sidewalk. Prude, a black man, passed out and died. State Attorney General Letitia James released a report recommending that officers be trained to recognize the symptoms of excited delirium.

Elijah McClain – a black man clamped down by officers in Aurora, Colo. In 2019 – was injected with ketamine after first responders said he was suffering from excited delirium. He ended up on life support and later died.


Find full AP coverage of George Floyd’s death at:

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