Police Killings and the Pseudoscience of “Excited Delirium”

Physicians for Human Rights released a report on excited delirium, a “scientifically meaningless” cause of death often cited in fatal police encounters.


A New York-based advocacy organization, Physician for Human Rights (PHR), released a report this month on the lack of scientific grounding for “excited delirium,” which has been repeatedly cited as a cause of death in fatal police encounters.

Persons with mental illnesses frequently become entangled with the criminal legal system rather than engaged in treatment or critical social supports. As many as one in four people with mental disorders have been arrested. Police are often the first and only agency to respond to a mental health crisis, and their presence can escalate a crisis, leading to the use of lethal force.

Police involvement in involuntary psychiatric commitments has been steadily increasing, and Black people are more likely to become involved with mental health services through law enforcement and involuntary commitment. In 2015, according to an analysis by the Washington Post police “shot and killed someone who was in mental crisis every 36 hours in the first six months of this year.”

Yet even when lethal force is used, it is often not reported as the official cause of death resulting from a police encounter: “excited delirium” has increasingly been offered by coroners and forensic pathologists as a cause of death. Coined by Charles Wetli and David Fishbain in 1981, the term was explicitly used to account for the deaths of Black men and women and aggressively offered even after an accurate, forensically acceptable cause of death was revealed. Indeed, as the PHR report notes:

“’Excited delirium’ does not have a clear or consistent definition, established etiology, or known underlying pathophysiology. Instead, “excited delirium” has become a catch-all, misleading explanation for many deaths occurring in the context of law enforcement restraint, often coinciding with substance use or mental illness, and disproportionately used to explain the deaths of Black men in police encounters.”

Crime scene tape in the foreground with a blurred police car in the background at a crime scene.The PHR study was the first of its kind to combine a medical literature review, deposition transcripts, news archives, and extensive interviews with medical, legal, and policing experts, as well as with family members of people whose deaths in police custody were attributed to “excited delirium.”

The report “traces the history of “excited delirium,” its baseless scientific underpinnings and roots in anti-Black racism, and the profound harms caused by the continued use of the pseudoscientific phrase.”

The report’s authors held an online briefing on March 2, 2022, along with other experts and family members of Angelo Quinto, who died in December 2020 in a police encounter, and whose cause of death was reported as “excited delirium.” As the report co-author Julia Sherman writes:

“This landmark report confirms what civil rights lawyers and their clients have known for years – ‘excited delirium’ is a baseless diagnosis aimed at protecting police who kill people during restraint, and denying the victims and their families justice.”



Physicians for Human Rights (2022). “Excited Delirium” and Death in Police Custody. Available at: https://phr.org/our-work/resources/excited-delirium/ (Link)


  1. In my State, public officers commit the offences, fabricate the evidence and forge sworn statements, and then rely on their colleagues to “edit” the legal narrative, and then knowingly utter with the fraud by presenting it to ‘civil rights lawyers’, who then pretend to make a complaint to authorities, and forge a response from that authority, and provide that forged response to their ‘client’.

    This ensures that the human rights record of the State remains excellent (and they can point fingers at others), and the acts of arbitrary detentions, torture and ‘unintended negative outcoming’ of ‘citizens’ is only seen by those who understand why these methods are necessary. It also explains why people are saying that this is a government “totally obsessed with secrecy”. (“Do not conceal the truth when ye know what it is”. “They will conceal the truth with falsehoods”)

    The ability to breach trust and confidence in ‘professional relationships’ is possible the best tool this Police State has in it’s favor (“They will take their oaths as a cover”). Something noted by Frantz Fanon in Wretched of the Earth, where those who trusted their lawyer and psychiatrist ALL found themselves being separated from their heads by the guillotine (with much laughter on the part of those who sent them to their end.)

    Trust in haste, regret at leisure. The only right you have in my State is the same as that experienced in National Socialist Germany, “right this way”. Right to privacy is an absolute joke, right to legal representation, not a chance of that happening when it is the States misconduct your complaining about…… somebody make a referral, preferably Police to ensure the protection of the law is not available…… and the right to not be tortured? Well, lets call it medicine and “edit” the documents to make the ‘citizen’ an “outpatient”. ‘Woops, there’s been a terrible accident.’ Quick, “edit” the documents to meet the standards set in the Voluntary Assisted Dying legislation before the lawyers get to look. (“over a hundred protections” we were told when these laws were passed without discussion before an election. Not one of those protections worth anything if the State is enabling acts of fraud when legal representatives with a right to examine documents can be corrupted to not ask any questions, or perform their duty. Care to examine the “editing” Police were so concerned about me having the proof of? So concerned they tried top refer me, and then threatened to arrest me for having my medical records.)

    Ever wonder why they are constantly producing reports that point out the “abysmal” treatment people are receiving, often resulting in deaths? And then in the same breath tell people that should they require assistance as a result of anything heard in the report, to call the very people whose abysmal treatment resulted in the story?

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  2. First, yes, with lots of MINOR, DETAIL differences, “boans”, above, accurately describes the state of affairs as I have PERSONALLY EXPERIENCED, WITNESSED, and heard about, as to how so-called “mental patients” are treated, regardless of which specific bogus “diagnosis” a person has been labelled with. Any “psychiatric diagnosis” is BOGUS, and represents the CIVIL equivalent of a CRIMINAL SENTENCE of “life, in a socially-constructed PRISON, without possibility of parole”…. Have you EVER heard of a “CURED” “mental patient”?…. Who PROFITS MOST, when society as a whole believes that “once mentally ill, always mentally ill”?….
    As for so-called “excited delerium”, yes, SOMETIMES, “it” IS exactly that. TOXIC SITUATIONAL PTSD….any encounter with a TRAINED KILLER, i.e., ANY COP, can result in “excited delerium”…. SOME cases of it, are in fact “it”…. And, in the so-called “mentally ill”, psych drugs are almost always a factor…. “Neuroleptic Malignant Syndrome”, anybody….????….
    “Physicians for Human Rights”, is basically VIRTUE SIGNALING, and “SJW-wannabes….
    How can I respect such quacks, frauds, & posers….poofters & tossers the lot of them!….
    Maybe someday the “excited delerium gene” will be discovered in Afro-American Folks of Brown & Black Color…. No doubt the Mongoloid & Caucasoid Races have it, too….or they did in the mid-1800’s, when the “3-races” theory reigned supreme in settled science circles….
    Of course we ALL KNOW, that in 2022, there are EXACTLY 5 RACES:, black, brown, yellow, red, and white….some of them are almost human…. so it goes….

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