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Wednesday, February 28, 2007

Taser alone didn't kill Geldart: pathologist

February 28, 2007
CBC News

A temporary condition, not an electronic stun gun used by Moncton police, was likely to blame for the death of a psychiatric patient, an inquest heard Wednesday.

Kevin Geldart, 34, who had walked away from the psychiatric unit at the Moncton Hospital, died in the Right Spot bar on May 5th, 2005, after police used a Taser in a bid to subdue him.

Ken Obenson, the pathologist who examined Geldart's body, told the inquest that in his opinion the primary cause of Geldart's death was "excited delirium," a condition in which a mentally ill person is acutely agitated, violent, sweating profusely and showing an insensitivity to pain.

Geldart showed many of those symptoms, according to previous testimony from four police officers who confronted him at the Right Spot Bar in Moncton. The officers used pepper spray and a Taser, an electronic stun gun, to try to subdue Geldart, who was six-feet-six inches tall, weighed more than 350 lbs., and suffered from asthma.

Obenson said that because an agitated Geldart was wrestling with police, his adrenaline level would have been high.

His potassium level would also have been high, Obsenson said, and that would have protected his heart. However, once restrained, his potassium level would have dropped, Obenson said, and that would have lead to arrthymia, an upset in the heart's normal rhythm.

Obenson said the Taser, pepper spray and Geldart's obesity might have been contributing factors in his death. But even if those factors had not been present, he said, the outcome still would have likely been death.

However, if the condition of excited delirium were removed, and every other factor left in place, Obenson said, Geldart likely wouldn't have died.

Tasers rarely kill, inquest told

February 28, 2007
Canadian Press

N.B. man died as police applied repeated shocks to subdue him

MONCTON -- A bioelectricity expert has told an inquest into the death of a man who had been tasered by police that there are almost no recorded cases of the devices killing people.

"There have been deaths following taser use, such as the one before you, but in no case was it caused by the taser," J. Patrick Riley said yesterday.

In each case, he said, "other factors were present."

Mr. Riley was testifying at the inquest into the death of Kevin Geldart, 34, of Riverview, N.B., who died May 5, 2005, after being shocked several times by RCMP officers.

Mr. Geldart, who suffered from bipolar disorder, left the psychiatric unit of the Moncton Hospital that night. Police were called when he showed up at a bar and began acting strangely.

He was heavily medicated and likely experiencing a psychotic episode.

Mr. Riley is an electrical engineer who works at Johns Hopkins University in Baltimore. He's an expert on the effects of electricity on living creatures and this is the third time he's testified at a Canadian inquest into a taser-related death.

Mr. Riley said aside from the death of a seven-month-old child who was shocked repeatedly by her foster mother, there are no cases where a person died solely because they were shocked by a conducted-energy weapon such as a taser.

But he also said more research needs to be done on tasers to fully understand how they affect people.

For example, inquest legal counsel Nicole Poirier asked Mr. Riley about the effects of a taser on an individual who was mentally ill, heavily medicated, recently pepper-sprayed or suffering from asthma -- all factors that applied to Mr. Geldart.

Mr. Riley said he's not familiar with any research that covers those specific circumstances.

He did list several factors that could make an individual more sensitive to this kind of electrical shock. They include people high on illegal drugs such as cocaine, pregnant women, young children, the elderly, thin or small people, and people with physical conditions such as muscle injuries.

Women would likely be affected more by tasers because they're smaller, on average.

Large people -- like the 6-foot-6, 360-pound Mr. Geldart -- tend to be less affected.

"The larger person tends to be less sensitive so they require a larger dose of electricity to have the same effect as a smaller person," Mr. Riley said.

Mr. Geldart had been tasered in November of 2003 and didn't stiffen and fall down, like most people do. He simply kneeled down and allowed police to cuff him, the inquest was told.

Police testified that at the bar the night of his death, he didn't react or slow down when they shocked him.

Four officers struggled with him and pinned him to the floor as he tried to escape. Police wanted to take him back to the hospital, but he wouldn't go and witnesses said he looked scared of the officers. When they finally had him cuffed, they realized he was no longer breathing.

At various times, police, firefighters and paramedics worked on Mr. Geldart, but he never recovered.

Mr. Geldart's death is being blamed on excited delirium, a condition that will be explained as the inquest proceeds.


How a taser weapon works

A taser weapon uses compressed gas to launch a pair of small darts at its target. The darts are connected to the weapon with wires. When the darts make contact, an electrical charge is released from the weapon through the wires. The charge is strong enough to disrupt the human body's electrical impulses. This disrupts the central nervous system, causing the muscles to contract. The target usually recovers within several minutes.


Air cartridge: Uses compressed nitrogen to fire darts.

Fine sight: Allows user to line up the target.

Screen: Shows power level remaining.

Laser sight: Activated when safety off.

Blast doors: Fly off when fired.

Darts: Fired at 60 metres per second.

Wires: Carry the electrical pulse to the target.

ID tags: Are dispensed when the gun is fired making the use traceable.


Distance: The optimum shot is from 2 to 3 metres away from the target to achieve maximum effect.

Effectiveness: As long as the spread of the probes is at least 10 centimetres, the taser will be extremely effective.

Through clothing: Will work through up to 5 cm of cumulative clothing, even leather jacks.

Recovery time: Varies by individual - generally several minutes.

Automatic impulse regulation: Once the probes are launched, unit stay active for 5 seconds to keep target reliably down.


There are 2 stun electrodes on the front of the unit that can be used to incapacitate the person by making direct contract.


Tuesday, February 27, 2007

February 27, 2007
Craig Babstock, Canadaeast News Service

"Almost 18 months before Kevin Geldart died after being Tasered by police, he had an encounter with Codiac RCMP officers and a Taser, an inquest into the man's death heard Monday. It was the afternoon of Nov. 12, 2003, and Geldart was reported to the police after leaving The Moncton Hospital. Officers found him nearby, on MacBeath Avenue, and Const. Denis Hache approached him on the sidewalk. Hache had brought him to the hospital two years earlier at the request of his parents. He went to the Geldart home in neighbouring Riverview and spent more than an hour convincing the mentally ill man to go to the hospital. So when Hache approached Geldart on MacBeath, they were familiar with each other. Hache, supported by several other officers, said they were going to bring him back to the hospital, but Geldart refused. The six-foot-six, 360-pound Geldart sat down on the sidewalk. Hache warned he would use a Taser if he had to, but it didn't change Geldart's mind. Two officers approached, grabbing an arm each and lifting the large man up. Geldart stood, but then pushed the two Mounties away. One took out a baton and struck him on the back of the legs. Hache then shot him with the Taser. He expected Geldart to fall, stiffen or become incapacitated, but none of those things happened. The big man casually got down on his knees and lay on his stomach, allowing them to cuff him. Hache then walked him up the street to the hospital, because he wouldn't fit in the back of the patrol car. They talked about the Taser as they walked along. "He said shock therapy hurt more," Hache testified Monday at a coroner's inquest. "He said if he really wanted to, that little toy wouldn't stop him."

On the night of May 5, 2005, four officers were trying to subdue Geldart after the hospital's psychiatric unit reported he'd gone missing. He died after being Tasered several times. The officers testified Monday that the electrical shock seemed to have no effect on the man. "We were on the cusp of losing control of him," testified Const. Zane McLure. "It was a sick feeling because if he got control of us, we were done." The inquest began last Wednesday and continues all this week in Court of Queen's Bench. New Brunswick's chief coroner Dianne Kelly is presiding and Nicole Poirier of the Office of the Attorney General is serving as legal counsel. The inquest won't lay blame, but will clarify the facts and circumstances of the death. On Friday, a jury will make recommendations for preventing such deaths in the future.

On the opening day, Kelly said evidence would be heard that Geldart's death was blamed on excited elirium. An expert will testify about that later in the inquest. It's still not clear how many times Geldart was Tasered in 2005, with evidence indicating it could be anywhere from three times to a half dozen.

Geldart, 34, was brought to the hospital May 2, after suffering a psychotic episode. He was diagnosed with bipolar disorder, or manic depression, in his late teens and had spent time in the psych ward on different occasions. He had been in the locked portion of the ward on this visit, until he was transferred to the unlocked part of the unit the morning of May 5. He left the hospital that night for a cigarette and never came back, eventually showing up at the Right Spot bar. Staff called police because Geldart was acting strangely and talking to himself in the mirror. Three RCMP officers showed up and entered the bar, with a fourth arriving halfway through the encounter. Staff Sgt. Al Parker was the first Mountie through the door that night. The 30-year veteran, who retired from the force last month, told his two colleagues he would take the lead. "We get 500 to 600 of these calls a year," Parker testified, referring to cases involving mentally ill or suicidal individuals. "99.9999 per cent of the time, we talk to them and give them a drive back to the hospital." That's what he tried, but it didn't work.

The officers went to the back of the bar, Parker in the lead, followed by Const. Dominique Pharand and Const. Pierre-Luc Hache, who both had a year of service with the Mounties at the time. Police had been warned by the hospital Geldart could be dangerous and were also concerned because of earlier reports about his behaviour, so Parker told Hache to have his Taser ready. They found Geldart talking to himself in the mirror. Parker called him by his name and asked if they could give him a lift. "He turned around to face me and that's when I knew I was in trouble," he said. Geldart was breathing heavily, sweating profusely and his pupils were completely dilated. "I figured I'd tell it like it is and not baloney him."

Parker told him he had to go back to the hospital and asked him to put his hands on the pool table so they could search him. He put his hand on Geldart's shoulder. "He said, 'You put your hands on the table,' in a very slow and slurred way," said Parker. "That's when he shoved me out of the way." The staff sergeant thought the man was on drugs. He told the jury he's had many experiences dealing with intoxicated people and Geldart appeared to be on something. (Geldart was medicated while at the hospital.) Geldart then ran past the officers and vaulted over a short wall, landing on a table and falling to the floor. They caught up to him and made a semi-circle around him as he stood against a wall. Parker said Geldart got up and bolted at him, like a football player.

"He was halfway to me and I told Pierre-Luc to give it to him, let him have it," said Parker."

Taser didn't stun giant man, inquest told

February 27, 2007
Craig Babstock, Canadian Press

Tasers Implicated in Excited Delirium Deaths

February 27, 2007
Laura Sullivan, NPR (National Public Radio)

The second in a two-part report

The medical diagnosis called excited delirium is the subject of intense debate among doctors, law-enforcement officers and civil libertarians. They don't even all agree on whether the condition exists. But to Senior Cpl. Herb Cotner of the Dallas Police Department, there's no question that it's real.

"This is when you have someone doing push-ups with two 150-pound officers on their back," Cotner says, describing how the condition can manifest itself.

Excited delirium is a term more medical examiners are using to explain why people — often high on drugs or alcohol — die suddenly while in police custody. Symptoms are said to include extreme agitation, aggressive, violent behavior and incoherence.

Cotner had to subdue several men. One man smashed through a plate-glass window, fell from a fence, broke his leg several times and still walked two blocks to fight with police.

"[I] had a guy that was handicapped, with a bad leg and a bad arm," Cotner said about another man. '[He] dragged us across a parking lot, and we had him half-controlled."

"These fights leave us exhausted," he adds. "There is no one thing that simply describes this. It's a totality of characteristics that you can't explain."

One minute, a person is fighting and screaming; the next minute, he's dead, Cotner says.

Cotner trains officers to give the person space and try to calm them — unless the person poses a danger to someone else. In those cases, a fight often results.

And in a growing number of cases, police officers end up reaching for their Tasers. That is where the debate over excited delirium becomes more complicated.

Medical Condition or Legal Cover?

Civil-liberties groups fear that the diagnosis is being used to cover up police abuse — and to protect companies like Taser International from lawsuits.

Taser International, the company that makes stun guns, says its product helps police deal with people suspected of having excited delirium. A company spokesman told NPR that Tasers could be the only way to subdue a person fast enough to get medical attention.

But according to civil-liberties groups and legal filings, Taser may have financial reasons to support — and even encourage — the use of the excited delirium diagnosis.

Take the case of Frederick Williams. On a grainy video, Williams is screaming, 'Don't kill me! I have a family to support. I've calmed down!" as several officers carry him into the Gwinnett County Detention Center in a suburb of Atlanta. One officer takes out his Taser and fires it directly onto Williams' chest.

The officer yells, "Relax! Stop resisting!" But the shock keeps jerking Williams' chest upward. As several officers hold Williams down, he is stunned six more times. A few minutes later, the officers realize Williams is not breathing. Williams died a few hours later.

Williams' family is now suing the county and Taser International. The company has made it clear in proceedings so far that it intends to argue Williams died of excited delirium — not because of the Taser or excessive force. The medical examiner could not determine the exact cause of death.

Williams, a deacon in his church and father of four, had no drugs or alcohol in his system.

Publicizing the Diagnosis

Excited delirium has helped Taser International in the past. In recent years, the company has successfully defended itself against at least eight lawsuits involving people who died in police custody, arguing that the cause of death was excited delirium, not the Taser.

Taser International spokesman Steve Tuttle acknowledges that each year, his company sends hundreds of pamphlets to medical examiners explaining how to detect excited delirium. Taser also holds seminars across the country, which hundreds of law-enforcement officials attend. But Tuttle says his company is only providing information that has been vetted by researchers.

"We're not telling departments [that] excited delirium is always the cause of death following a Taser application," Tuttle said. "We're simply pointing out the facts: that excited delirium is an issue out there, and they need to treat this as a medical emergency if they see these signs."

Taser is also reaching out to the medical community.

John Peters is president of the Institute for the Prevention of In-Custody Deaths, a prominent consulting company in Henderson, Nev. His firm specializes in training law-enforcement officers, coroners, emergency-room physicians and others in the medical community about sudden death from excited delirium.

A Conflict of Interest?

Peters is also one of Taser International's star witnesses against claims that the weapon kills people. He and his staff were paid by Taser for a year and a half to instruct at the company's training academy.

Peters says that training law enforcement to embrace excited delirium does not affect his impartiality on the stand.

"Some people would say, 'Well, obviously you're on their side,'" Peters said. "But the Taser is just one piece of this. I'm not a Taser instructor. I don't hold stock in Taser. So we try to maintain a distance or separation."

But Eric Balaban, a staff attorney with the American Civil Liberties Union, worries that the messages police receive about excited delirium may actually exacerbate confrontations with people in custody.

"If police officers are being trained about this condition known as excited delirium, and are being told the people suffering from it have superhuman strength, and [these people] are being treated as if they are somehow not human, it can lead officers to escalate situations," he said.

Balaban says the fear is not just that excited delirium may not exist, but that it is already being overused — in lawsuits and on the streets.

Former officer apologizes at Taser inquest

February 27, 2007
CBC News

A police officer testifying at the coroner's inquest into the death of a psychiatric patient has apologized to the late man's sister.

Kevin Geldart, a patient who walked away from the psychiatric unit at Moncton Hospital, died May 5th, 2005, after police used an electric stun gun to help subdue him at a downtown bar.

Al Parker, a retired 30-year police veteran and former staff sergeant, testified Monday that when he answered a call to the Right Spot bar in Moncton two years ago, he knew he would be dealing with a psychiatric patient.

Parker said he knew he was in trouble when Geldart turned to look at him, his pupils dilated, his eyes glassy. Parker said Geldart looked like he was on drugs.

"I didn't mean for this to happen," Parker said, apologizing to Geldart's sister, Karen Geldart.

"I'm sure you didn't, and I'm sorry you'll all have to live with it," she replied, referring to other officers involved in the altercation.

All four police officers who were present that night testified that Geldart seemed to possess superhuman strength during the struggle that followed, and that pepper spray and repeated shocks from a Taser stun gun seemed to have little effect on him.

It was not clear how many times the Taser was actually fired. Two officers testified they used the stun gun that night.

Const. Pierre Luc Hache said he used the Taser three times, but a report he filed later said he had used it twice. Const. Zane MacLure said he used the Taser once, but that it could still have been firing after the initial contact.

All four said Geldart was fighting officers off, and almost overpowered them. They all testified that Geldart looked scared, and was sweating and refusing to go with police.

It took all four officers to wrestle Geldart down, tie his feet and cuff him. They testified it was only after they cuffed him that they noticed that Geldart had stopped breathing.

Parker said he wishes he'd had more information about Geldart's condition, and the effects of the medications he was on before arriving on the scene that night. He said he's often wondered why it's not the ambulance, rather than police, who respond to those calls.

He said police receive between 500 and 600 calls a year to deal with psychiatric patients. A half-dozen of those calls, Parker said, are for involuntary patients, such as Geldart, who have walked away from the psychiatric unit of a hospital.

Thursday, February 22, 2007

Inquest probes Taser-related death

February 22, 2007
CBC News

"Karen Geldart was the first to testify at the inquest probing the death of Kevin Geldart, 34. "Ultimately, we just want to make sure this doesn't happen to someone else's family," she said. "It was, I think, a preventable thing. It possibly could have been handled in a different way, and if it had been, maybe he'd still be here.""

Sunday, February 18, 2007

Toronto 2006 Annual Report: Use of Tasers

February 18, 2007
Toronto Annual Report on the use of tasers


Tuesday, February 13, 2007

State rules Taser death homicide

February 13, 2007
By DANA TREEN, The Times-Union

Ten shocks from a police Taser were enough to kill a wheelchair-bound Green Cove Springs woman whose death in a confrontation with two officers in April has been ruled a homicide but, according to prosecutors, justified.

Emily Marie Delafield, 56, was in poor physical and mental health but would not have died if she had not been shocked for a total of 121 seconds by two Green Cove Springs officers, according to the autopsy included in a State Attorney's Office report released Friday. Delafield called police to her house then confronted them with knives and a hammer.

Associate Medical Examiner Valerie Rao, who performed the autopsy in Jacksonville last year, said the Taser shocks were a "very small factor" in the death of Delafield, who was obese and had an enlarged heart and was confined to a wheelchair. But the Tasers were a contributing factor, she said.

"You can't ignore it," Rao said Monday.

In July, Rao listed homicide as the manner of death, according to the State Attorney's report. She described Delafield as a woman who was on a "precipice" health-wise and said Taser shocks could have impacted Delafield's breathing.

But the State Attorney's Office report said officers James Acres and Barbara Luedtke were justified in using the Tasers on Delafield after she threatened the officers in the street in front of her home on Harrison Street.

Though the report said the two officers were using what are considered non-lethal weapons in the face of knives and a hammer, the actions raise questions about whether the reaction was proper considering Delafield's physical condition, said a nephew, Ryan Delafield.

"She was a dead woman walking," he said Monday. "There was no way she was going to survive that."

On the day after the incident, Emily Delafield's brother, Arnett Chase, said he and other family members believed police acted properly and it was the least-dangerous way to stop her from hurting herself or others.

Until last week, Ryan Delafield said, he believed his aunt had been shocked about three times and is baffled at the police handling of the case. He said his aunt had a limited range of motion, was restricted to a motorized wheelchair and that police should have used other means to calm her.

"There are some questions," he said. "Why is the Taser used at all? The second question, 'Why so much?' "

Tasers deliver 50,000-volt jolts at low currents - generally considered safe but enough to disrupt the nervous system and disable a person temporarily.

Police knew Emily Delafield and had been at her house 28 times in the past, according to the state attorney's report. They knew of her mental health issues and had talked that day with family members who were concerned that she was not taking her medication for schizophrenia. Emily Delafield called police to say she believed her life was in danger and that her sister was trying to kill her, an accusation that was later ruled unsubstantiated, the report said.

Luedtke and Acres arrived at the house and decided not to use police batons or pepper spray on Delafield, who was on oxygen due to her medical condition. The officers discussed using Tasers with the family, including some who agreed with their use, authorities said. After a 13-minute standoff, Luedtke fired her Taser when Delafield raised the knife as if to throw it. When the shock did not appear to have an effect, Luedtke told investigators she recycled her Taser up to four times. Acres shocked Delafield two minutes later after Luedtke's shocks appeared not to be having an effect.

Later examination of the two weapons shows Luedtke's Taser was fired nine times and Acres' once for a total of 121 seconds.

Delafield collapsed several minutes after being shocked and died after she was taken to Orange Park Medical Center.

Ryan Delafield, who was not there when his aunt was shocked, said he questions why police supervisors were not called or why other tactics were not used. The police station is about three minutes from his aunt's house, he said. Delafield, who was teaching high school in Georgia at the time, said he talked to his aunt and his mother less than three hours before police were called to the house.

"They both answered me, 'Everything was OK,' " he said.

Delafield, 35, who is the executor of his aunt's estate, said he became frustrated after waiting three months for a death certificate and has hired Jacksonville attorney Rick Alexander to investigate the case. Alexander said no suit has been filed and that his office is beginning an investigation.

In a similar finding released Friday, the State Attorney's Office said the death of John David Johnson III, who died Sept. 30 after he was tased by Clay County Deputy Chris Faircloth, was an accident.

Johnson, 27, was acting irrationally in the street of a South Hampton subdivision off College Avenue when Faircloth was called. Johnson started striking Faircloth in the face and was shot by a Taser. Johnson was taken to Orange Park Medical Center, where he died about an hour later.

Tuesday, February 06, 2007

Death by Excited Delirium: Diagnosis or Coverup?

February 26, 2007
Laura Sullivan, NPR (National Public Radio)

The first of a two-part report

You may not have heard of it, but police departments and medical examiners are using a new term to explain why some people suddenly die in police custody. It's a controversial diagnosis called excited delirium. But the question for many civil liberties groups is, does it really exist?

The phenomenon can be witnessed in a grainy video shot in 2003 by a dashboard camera in a Cincinnati police car. In it, a patrol car pulls up quickly to the parking lot of a White Castle in Cincinnati. A 350-pound man is seen stumbling around, yelling.

The man is 41-year-old Nathaniel Jones, a father of two who worked in a group home. He argues with two officers. He seems confused; he can't keep his balance. The officers close in. The officers order Jones to get down but they can't seem to catch him. He throws his body at one of the officers. Out come the nightsticks.

They strike him about 40 times. Jones is on the ground when more officers arrive with nightsticks. Jones calls out for his mother. That's the last thing he says.

Jones stops moving. He dies a few minutes later.

The coroner found that Jones did not die from excessive police force but from a number of causes — such as heart failure, obesity, drug use and asphyxiation. He later told reporters that Jones' death could have been the result of something called excited delirium.

Medical Condition Not Recognized

Deborah Mash, a professor of neurology at the University of Miami, describes the symptoms of the condition:

"Someone who's disproportionately large, extremely agitated, threatening violence, talking incoherently, tearing off clothes, and it takes four or five officers to get the attention of that individual and bring him out of harm's way — that's excited delirium."

Mash says the phenomenon came to light in the 1980s, when cocaine burst onto the scene. Most victims have cocaine or drugs in their systems. Jones had smoked cocaine and PCP. Mash says victims become irrational, their body temperatures rise so fast their organs fail, and then they suddenly die.

"It's definitely real," Mash says. "And while we don't know precisely what causes this, we do know it is the result of a neural chemical imbalance in the brain."

But nearly all reported cases of excited delirium involve people who are fighting with police. And that's extremely problematic, says Eric Balaban of the American Civil Liberties Union.

"I know of no reputable medical organization — certainly not the AMA [American Medical Association] or the APA [American Psychological Association] — that recognizes excited delirium as a medical or mental-health condition," Balaban says.

He's right. Excited delirium is not recognized by professional medical associations, and you won't find it listed in the chief psychiatric reference book.

Balaban charges that police officials are using the diagnosis "as a means of white-washing what may be excessive use of force and inappropriate use of control techniques by officers during an arrest."

The International Association of Chiefs of Police hasn't accepted the diagnosis, either, saying not enough information is known. But every year, excited delirium is showing up on more and more medical examiners' autopsy reports.

An Overdose of Adrenaline?

According to Dr. Vincent Di Maio, "What these people are dying of is an overdose of adrenaline."

Di Maio was until recently the chief medical examiner for Bexar County, Texas. Di Maio says that he saw three to five cases of excited delirium each year, and that there are probably several hundred cases nationwide.

He says the condition typically arises after officers have wrestled down an uncooperative suspect:

"They bind the feet, and every one stands back and they're panting. And then finally someone says, 'He's not breathing.'"

Di Maio says it is often the very act of resisting that sends people prone to excited delirium over the edge. If they were in a field, alone, running around hysterical, Di Maio says they might still have died. But he says fighting makes death all but certain. And because most people are in public places, not in fields, that means they're usually fighting with the police. Di Maio says civil liberties groups then wrongly blame the officers for the death.

"They buy into this mode that if somebody dies, somebody's got to be responsible," DiMaio says. "Of course, it can't be the person high on coke or meth."

But even with an extensive autopsy, there is no definitive way to prove someone died of excited delirium.

"But if you're talking about police abuse — beating him to death, or hog-tying — the answer is yeah, you can tell the difference," Di Maio says.

Either way, it doesn't matter, says Dawn Edwards of the Ella Baker Center, a police watchdog group in Oakland, Calif. If police take a person into custody, Edwards argues, they need to make sure the person stays alive — whatever the condition of the person's brain or body temperature or their agitated state.

"They want the victim to be looked at as the cause of his or her own death," she says. "The bottom line is that these people are dying at the hands of, or in the custody of, police officers."

Diagnosis Based on Behavior Alone

Several medical doctors interviewed by NPR said there is a way to calm someone down who has the symptoms that have come to be known as excited delirium. Doctors at the emergency room at the Vanderbilt University hospital in Nashville, Tenn., have tranquilized three people. Their heart rates and body temperatures were soaring. They woke up fine.

But that was in a hospital, with doctors and intravenous drugs. Police officers are not allowed to administer medicine. They have only their nightsticks, Tasers, pepper spray or their own bodies — which may make the situation worse.

Because excited delirium doesn't show up in an autopsy, it is the subject's behavior that determines the diagnosis. And if there aren't any witnesses, only the police can describe what happened.

Videos of excited delirium incidents are rare. And as officers made clear at the end of the tape of Nathaniel Jones' death, police are not always eager to have the cameras on.

In that video, as an ambulance crew straps Jones to a gurney, the officers standing in front of the patrol car ask whether anyone left their onboard video recording devices on.

"I know it's on. I left it on. I turned the mike off," an officer is heard saying.

The officer swears and rushes to his car. He shuts the video off and the tape goes dead. But even with a video, a medical examiner, a dozen witnesses and an autopsy, exactly how and why Nathaniel Jones died still seems to depend on whom you ask.