The American College of Emergency Physicians (ACEP) has retracted a 2009 paper that delved into the condition termed “excited delirium.” This document, which was employed in court cases to justify police use of excessive force, has now been officially withdrawn by ACEP directors.
For over a decade, this paper influenced police training and became a reference in numerous cases involving in-custody deaths, many of which involved Black men. Notably, the paper played a role in the trial of police officer Derek Chauvin regarding the death of George Floyd in Minneapolis in 2020. It was also cited in trials associated with the deaths of Manuel Ellis, Elijah McCain, and Daniel Prude.
Connecticut emergency doctor, Brooks Walsh, who advocated for the organization to adopt a more definitive position, stated that this retraction ensures that “excited delirium” cannot be used as a defense in deaths resulting from restraint in custody, nor can ACEP’s previous endorsement be used to support such a defense. The 2009 paper characterized the symptoms of “excited delirium” as including unusual strength, increased pain tolerance, and atypical behavior, which some argue bolstered stereotypes.
Joanna Naples-Mitchell, from Physicians for Human Rights, commented that the paper had been leveraged in legal defenses for officers, permitting the introduction of excited delirium testimony in court.
ACEP’s recent statement advises members against using “excited delirium” as a reference in future court testimonies. Though ACEP had distanced itself from the term in the past, this represents its first formal rejection. The withdrawal reflects an effort to make a decisive break from the past, Naples-Mitchell noted. Other significant medical bodies, like the American Medical Association and the National Association of Medical Examiners, have also disavowed the term.