Warren police training includes lesson on excited delirium

By Ed Runyan



City police officers received training on how to recognize and manage a growing and potentially fatal condition called “excited delirium.”

The trainer, Dr. Tom Gifford, an emergency-room specialist with St. Joseph Warren Hospital and St. Elizabeth Boardman Hospital, on Wednesday showed officers videos of people having an excited-delirium episode, many of the videos coming from police officer body cameras.

The videos showed men acting out in the streets or inside a building, talking gibberish, frequently with little or no clothing on. The reason for lack of clothing is they are overheating, their brain reacting to drug combinations such as psychiatric medications and street drugs such as cocaine, Dr. Gifford said.

It’s a growing problem because of the amount of drug abuse in society and the increasing number of people taking psychiatric medications, Dr. Gifford said.

The individual – almost always a man – is usually breathing fast, possibly clenching or grinding their teeth, possibly drooling and usually displaying increased muscle activity.

Dr. Gifford said they are often combative but not usually aggressive toward officers. They don’t understand or follow officer commands.

The person, usually 20 to 40 years old, is likely to have incredible strength and stamina but unaware of his surroundings.

When an officer recognizes the person to be having an excited delirium episode, the best response is to have the least amount of contact with the person possible, to wait for additional officers, to wait for an emergency medical technician if possible, and to decrease stimulation from lights and siren or a flashlight in the person’s eyes.

Dr. Gifford, who worked as a full-time police officer as a young man, showed videos of men who died in an excited-delirium episode involving police officers and jail officers.

Multiple officers could be seen expending a great deal of energy subduing the individuals.

In one video, the person suddenly stopped fighting. It was at that point the individual’s heart had stopped and he died, Dr. Gifford said. Such incidents have often resulted in civil suits filed against police officers. The suits frequently site “lack of training,” he noted. One showed jail officers subduing an inmate and leaving them alone in a chair afterward. The inmate died, and his family sued.

When Dr. Gifford’s presentation ended, several officers said they already had seen cases of excited delirium. One officer saw it last fall in Lordstown, a case that made it to the emergency room at St. Joe’s and Dr. Gifford.

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