robert dziekanski’s death: excessive force or excited delirium?

police officer mo cho used to hope paramedics arrived at some scenes before he did.

those were the “M-1s,” the calls involving mentally ill people.

“i had no idea what to do,” cho said.

that’s the beginning of an article by deedee correlltraining helps cops deal with mentally ill“.

did the RCMP at vancouver airport have that training when they shot robert dziekanski? it’s hard to imagine. according to the video, they never engaged with him, never tried to talk him down.

the idea to train police in this area came out of memphis in 1988 after police fatally shot a mentally ill young man.

according to the article, police there are learning not to go into such an emergency situation with a confrontational attitude. “they’re already in that state,” says one of the officers. “you have to bring yourself down to their level, as opposed to being badge-heavy. you talk to them, let them know everything will be ok, instead of saying, ‘obey what i have to say!’ ”

traditionally, police first order a person to comply. when that does not happen, more force is used. that’s exactly what happened in the dziekanski case.

however, that approach has been found to be counterproductive when dealing with people who are mentally ill. it does not appear that robert dziekanski had a diagnosis of mental illness. however, the thought that a mental illness was involved must have crossed someone’s mind, and it is impossible to understand why the officers did not first attempt to deal with him in a calm manner.

he didn’t speak english? so what. you can’t tell me that a) police don’t receive training in non-verbal communication and b) in a highly multicultural city like vancouver, police don’t know how to interact with someone who doesn’t speak english.

the autopsy hasn’t revealed anything conclusive. now the idea of “excited delirium syndrome” as a cause of death is being bandied about. whether that’s a useful train of thought to follow seems to be questionable.

in case you’re interested, here are some links to this supposed syndrome.

this document is a grand jury report in miami on the use of tasers, including a lengthy report on excited delirium syndrome and related conditions.

from a book on death in custody: “excited delirium accounts for 1% of our EDP (emotionally disturbed persons) cases and 99% of our headaches.” this comment, made some years ago at a new york city conference of police chiefs captures the managerial and legal concerns of this entity.

an emergency room expert:

regarding prone position – beware of patients with an excited (agitated) delirium – the factors (per stratton – amer jour emerg med) always associated with sudden death of patients requiring restraint include the following:
1) excited delirium = 100%
2) hobble restraint (a.k.a. total appendage restraint procedure, &
hog-tying) = 100%
3) prone position = 100%
4) forceful struggle against restraint = 100%

from a brief on in-custody deaths:

experts contend that maximal, prone restraint techniques can have suddenlethal consequences. this potential is increased in intoxicated, delirious, and/or violent individuals. law enforcement personnel should employ alternative restraint methods …

and finally, wikipedia on excited delirium

excited delirium is a controversial term used to explain deaths of individuals in police custody, in which the person being arrested, detained, or restrained is highly agitated and may be under the influence of stimulants. the term is not recognized in DSM-IV, but has been listed as the cause of death by some medical examiners.some civil-rights groups argue that the term is being used to absolve police of guilt, in overly restraining people, during arrests. the cause of death only appears where police are involved in restraining individuals.

eric balaban of the american civil liberties union said: “i know of no reputable medical organization ” certainly not the ama american medical association or the american psychological association that recognizes excited delirium as a medical or mental-health condition.”

nathaniel jones: his death while in custody of cincinnati police was first attributed to excited delirium. in a lawsuit over the death of mr. jones, some facts related to excited delirium were disputed. the defendants in the trial court proceedings asserted that: 1) the decedent was resisting arrest; 2) that reasonable force was used in an attempt to restrain him; and 3) that excited delirium was the cause of death.

the plaintiffs claimed: 1) that the officers used excessive force; 2) that the decedent died from compressive asphyxia caused by police officers whose entire weight was on his body; 3) the decedent was not resisting but rather attempting to reposition his body so he could breathe. the trial court found that the plaintiffs sufficiently stated a claim of excessive force.

(this article can be found in the all women blogging and the 22nd brain blogging carnival)

13 thoughts on “robert dziekanski’s death: excessive force or excited delirium?

  1. Linda Young

    I am trying to find help. This is an urgent matter. I had an operation last year to remove hyperplastic Parathyroids. Up to that point I had mental illness. To a degree i still do. The cause of the mental illness as well pancreatic stones, osyeoporosis, and my kidney’s too are failing from calcium stones. These all originated from the parathyroid hyperplaisia. The doctors that I had gone to for the 30 undiagnosed years have manufactured lies in my records. They say some truth but basically I believe they are trying to discredit me and now My physical problems caused by THEIR failure to diagnose me at the age of 33 has cost me so much. I need advice as to how or who I can contact for advocacy. I am 54 and on SSI .I am poor . I wonder if there is some mental health organizations or attornies that help with problems of this sort. I had to diagnose myself with the parathyroid disease and these doctors actively tried to sweep it under the rug.. I persisted and found caring doctors in Seattle who found that contrary to what the doctors told me in Spokane. That I was a very ill woman and the cause of ALL my health issues including the mental health was likely due to parathyroid disease complicated by hypercalcemia. I am becoming more and more despondent. I need help and the hospitals after being in them for appx. 45 times in the last 4 years are not even helping me and turning me away due to the Spokane doctors lies and disparaging comments contained in the electronic records they now , rapidly recieve. Please any ideas you have would be greatly appreciated. Sincerest regard Linda Young

  2. Scott

    That video makes me very angry. There was a similar death in Halifax a few days ago of a man who died after he was tazered in police custody.

    I saw on the CBC the other day that Canada is jailing more and more people who suffer from mental illness. The system is failing to help these people, and using made-up mental conditions to justify police violence is only going to make things worse. The police have a responsibility to serve and protect all citizens, not just those ones who do not suffer from mental illness.

    Anyway, the guy was running around Vancouver Airport for hours. Most major airports have specialists trained in managing distraught passengers, and they have multi-lingual capabilities. I’m with you, Isabella. Why did the GVAA send in armed mounties instead of a social worker?

  3. Robert (Bob) Gagnon

    Dear isabelle,

    The way I see it this unfortunate man was killed by a process that we have let get into the hands of heartless bureaucrats, who have little imagination and most of all little sense of responsibility for their actions, or lack of action. There were several breakdowns in the processing of this non-English speaker in Vancouver Airport.

    To begin with he must have shown signs of agitation on the plane and then going through Canada Immigration at YVR. Why was this simple fact not recognized by anybody responsible right away and within the first hour of his getting off the plane and onto YVR premises?

    Our bureaucrats who are in charge of the no-contact zone in YVR between exiting the plane and going into the arrivals area took no real responsibility for this unfortunate man for 10 hours.

    Then there is the case of how YVR officials dealt with inquiries by his mother during the six hours that she was in YVR waiting and looking for her son! Once again the issue of the complete blackout that has been allowed to exist in the process between exiting the plane and getting to the arrivals area caused this man’s only contact in Canada to turn away from the airport while her son experienced more and more isolation and disorientation with a process that completely failed him when he was most in need of simple human decency and understanding.

    Is there no person in charge of what happens to anybody in that process? Is it really necessary that people who have exited a plane at YVR and who are being processed by Immigration Canada and Customs Canada must be held in a virtual no-mans land with no possibility of communications to the outside or communications into it?

    Given the almost completely negative record, over the last few years, of handling people exhibiting extraordinary behaviours in Vancouver it seems that we all condone heartless and brutal handling by agents responsible for “peace and protection”.

    We includes newspapers, TV, political leaders, and all of us apparently normal people who know how to navigate our way from the exit of a plane arriving at YVR to the arrivals area, without the threat of taser assault, forced asphixiation, or delirium

    Mr. Dziekanski was killed by a process handled by unfeeling and robotic bureaucrats, no matter the direct or indirect causes of his final death struggle.

  4. Counseling Seattle

    It is always easy to judge on hindsight whether police has used excessive force. Stand in the shoes of a police officer when saving what he perceived as imminent danger, and you may understand why he made the final judgment to use great or even lethal force.

  5. Therapy New York

    The man was speaking another language then the police should have brought in somebody that spoke the guy language. It seems that the police could have isolated or corner the guy so he didn’t hurt anyone until they could get him help. It’s kind of hard for the guy to comply if he doesn’t know the language that the police are speaking.

  6. isabella mori

    @counselling seattle – i have never been a police officer but i have worked in pretty volatile inner city areas and know there are a wide variety of ways to deal with a person who seems agitated.

    @therapy new york – a year later now, i’ve been told that vancouver airport is now “armed” with many, many more languages. from what i understand, that is a direct outcome from this case.

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