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Wednesday, September 17, 2008

Editorial: Troubled by finding

September 17, 2008
Dothan Eagle (Dothan, Alabama)

Working in law enforcement presents a unique set of problems. For most people, death is perhaps the most unlikely circumstance to affect the work day. In law enforcement, it lurks around every corner. It could be waiting for the officer or for whomever the officer may engage. The work can turn from mundane to visceral in the blink of an eye.

When things get ugly, we depend on law enforcement personnel to stand between the madness and the rest of us. We appreciate the willingness of these men and women to serve in that role; it’s a job many people would not want. However, it’s also important to examine procedures and particular incidents to ensure that the rules that govern civilized society are followed when police action is required.

Readers who feel strong support for law enforcement officers often criticize us whenever we raise questions about law enforcement and its application. We admire their loyalty, but we remind them that we’re not “anti-cop,” we’re for truth, justice and open government. If something goes wrong, it should be revealed in the light of day. Scrutiny doesn’t diminish good law enforcement; it simply helps keep it afloat. And when there are troubling questions about the circumstances of an arrest — particularly one in which a seemingly healthy suspect dies after being subdued with a stun gun — we will push the pursuit of truth without regard for whom it implicates or absolves.

That’s why we’re dismayed by the findings of the autopsy of Nicholas Cody, who died several days after struggling with a Houston County deputy, who shot Cody several times with a Taser stun gun. The autopsy found that Cody, a 27-year-old man in seemingly good health, had cocaine in his system, but did not specify a quantity. His cause of death was listed as consistent with “excited delirium.”

We’re troubled by this controversial term, the use of which has grown dramatically among medical examiners, particularly with regard to suspects who die in police custody. The conclusion is drawn from the presence of cocaine in the victims, and many emergency medical personnel are familiar with the symptoms that suggest “excited delirium,” but the state is not recognized by the American Medical Association or leading mental health authorities.

Certainly Cody’s use of cocaine did not help matters, but for the sake of the arresting officer and the victim’s family, a more specific determination of the case of Cody’s death, preferably one unfettered by 20 years of controversy, would be more conclusive.

Marianna Man Dies From Cocaine Use While Being Tasered

Alabama state forensics experts now say a Marianna man, who was tasered during a traffic stop in Dothan back in June, died from his cocaine use. Houston County sheriff's deputies say they tried to stop 27-year-old Nicholas Cody on June 15th for a seatbelt violation. They say Cody then tried to flee the scene on Highway 231 south. Deputies shocked him at least 3-times with a taser. They previously said he appeared to have a seizure after the third tasing, and called paramedics. Cody died on June 27, about a week after he was admitted to Southeast Alabama Medical Center. The Dothan Medical Examiner says the autopsy showed Cody died from excited delirium, a side effect of drug use.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

The Product Warning Guide from taser.com in use since Apr. 28, 2008, does not mention the term "excited delirium." However, the warning guide dated Aug. 28, 2006 mentions "excited delirium" three times.

The language used in the warning guides for law enforcement have gotten milder with each version. The 2006 guide warns "Avoid torturous or other misuse," while the current guide avoids any variation of the word "torture."

This is from a product description of the M18L taser in 1999: The EMD power surge instantly disrupts the central nervous system and results in the subject falling to the ground in spasms of involuntary muscular convulsions. Even after the power surge, it takes the subject a long time to recover because convulsions have converted the attacker's blood sugar to lactic acid, effectively draining him of the energy needed to get up. The M18L disables 100% of all attackers in less than a second and leaves assailants incapacitated long afterwards. In effect it results in more stopping power than a conventional .357 Magnum and is completely effective no matter where on the body the subject is hit. Also: The TASER is strong enough to take down any attacker. It works even on those under the influence of alcohol, narcotics and PCP. It causes muscle spasms and a dazed mental state. It instantly stops an attacker and leaves him dazed for up to 15 minutes.