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Tuesday, November 04, 2008

Deaths may have been 'delirium,' not taser

It was only a matter of time, dear readers - I've been wondering when the good Dr. Dowling, proponent of "excited delirium", would weigh in. Keep in mind that "excited delirium" is recognized by NEITHER the Canadian Medical Association NOR the American Medical Association.

The manufacturer of the taser, TASER INTERNATIONAL, favours Dr. Dowling's opinions SO MUCH they even quote him on their website: Medical Examiner Says TASER Devices Not a Death Sentence

November 4, 2008
Ryan Cormier, The Edmonton Journal

The death of a patient in a bizarre rage, possibly a victim of what experts call "excited delirium," has nothing to do with police restraint or Tasers, said Alberta's Chief Medical Examiner.

Dr. Graeme Dowling told the Canadian National Committee for Police that patients in such frenzies could die without being touched or even when alone in an apartment.

"To the best of our knowledge right now, it has nothing to do with the method of restraint. They may die in spite of what we do," he said.

Although not an official diagnosis, excited delirium has been studied by experts. It is characterized by blind rages, paranoia, profuse sweating, disrobing and greatly increased strength.

"They also have a real propensity to break glass," Dowling said. "They don't like mirrors. I don't know if it's that they don't like to see themselves in a paranoid state."

Dowling said it wouldn't be uncommon to need six to eight police officers to restrain someone in that state.

Excited delirium is usually induced by stimulants such as cocaine or methamphetamine. In fatal cases, the patient died within seconds or minutes of being restrained.

That could be because extreme levels of adrenaline and potassium in the body drop at different levels, stop counteracting each other and cause death.

With excited delirium, little has been proven because of the danger of testing a subject in the midst of the state.

The condition is often discussed parallel to police use-of-force because officers are often the first to deal with such aggressive people. However, there is no proof that anything an officer does causes such deaths, Dowling said.

"These cases were first documented in 1849. There weren't Tasers in 1849. There was no pepper-spray in 1849. Yet, these patients died."

There are fewer than 20 cases each year in Canada that can be connected to the condition, Dowling said.

Last week, witnesses reported that Trevor Grimolfson, 38, was combative, violent and couldn't be reasoned with as he broke windows in two stores and began assaulting people on Stony Plain Road. Police deployed a Taser, subdued Grimolfson and cuffed him. He then lost consciousness and was declared dead in hospital.

On Saturday night, Calgary officers encountered Gordon Walker Bowe in the basement of a vacant home while investigating a break and enter. Bowe, 30, reportedly struggled with officers before he was subdued. He was struck by a Taser, but investigators don't yet know if the electrical shock was actually delivered.

Bowe quickly went into "medical distress" after he was subdued. He reached hospital in critical condition and died a day later.

Bowe reportedly shattered a basement window to gain access to the empty home.

Autopsy results for Grimolfson have not been released. Bowe's autopsy is scheduled for today.

The Alberta Serious Incident Response Team, which is independent of any police force, is investigating both deaths.

On Dec. 24, 2005, Alessandro Fiacco attracted police while thrashing and screaming on a McKernan neighbourhood street, saying bugs were crawling on his skin. Fiacco was struck three times with a Taser and died on the way to hospital. A fatality inquiry listed Fiacco's cause of death as "acute cocaine toxicity," and said there was "a complete lack of evidence" the Taser contributed to his death.

Edmonton police Const. Ray Wood, of the Police and Crisis Team, said people who may be in excited delirium should be approached with care. "Their strength is just unbelievable," he said. "The power is tremendous, almost animal-like."

Shawn Miller, a registered psychiatric nurse who works with police, said a patient in delirium is almost never able to communicate properly. "Unfortunately, it's going to come down to restraint or use of force," he said. "Diagnosing is not going to be done by two officers on a street corner being yelled at by a guy with a piece of glass."

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