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Friday, March 27, 2009

'Excited delirium' killed Tasered man

March 27, 2009
By Ben Gelinas, with files from Laura Drake
The Edmonton Journal

A crazed man brought down by a police Taser last October died from what the medical examiner calls excited delirium caused by drugs.

Trevor Grimolfson, 38, was hit twice by the Taser after he attacked a man who came into his Stony Plain Road tattoo parlour and then smashed up a nearby pawnshop. Witnesses said Grimolfson was combative, violent and couldn't be calmed. After he was hit with the Taser, police handcuffed him. He soon lost consciousness and was declared dead in hospital.

"The cause of death was excited delirium brought on by drugs he'd taken," Alberta Justice spokesman David Dear said.

No further details on the ruling were released.

A representative from the medical examiner's office could not be reached for comment.

Asked about excited delirium, Michael Webster, a police psychologist who gave testimony at the inquiry into the death of Polish immigrant Robert Dziekanski at Vancouver's airport, said that "it's a fantasy.

"Police and medical examiners have taken something that was initially descriptive and have made it into something prescriptive. And that's where the controversy comes from, because it's just not a diagnosis, nor is it a cause of death."

Webster said the vast majority of physicians, psychologists and psychiatrists do not recognize that excited delirium exists.

"I would challenge your medical examiner to show me excited delirium in that corpse."

It is Webster's opinion that the continuing diagnosis of excited delirium as a legitimate cause of death further drives a wedge between law enforcement and the majority of the medical community.

Alberta's chief medical examiner has been outspoken in his belief that excited delirium is a legitimate condition. Someone in the state could die without being touched or even when alone. It seems to have nothing to do with the method of restraint, Dr. Graeme Dowling told the Canadian National Committee for Police in November.

"They may die in spite of what we do."

Dowling said that it wouldn't be uncommon to need six to eight police officers to restrain someone in an excited delirium, as it is characterized by abnormal strength.

Following Grimolfson's death, the use of a Taser promptly became the public focus.

The medical examiner's ruling "once again shows that when these arrest-related deaths occur, jumping to conclusions is the wrong way to go," Taser International spokesman Steve Tuttle said. "We have seen this time and time again repeatedly, and it has sadly affected public opinion."

The Arizona company has been under intense public scrutiny in Canada since Dziekanski's death was captured on amateur video.

Tuttle said that incident ignited something that borders on hysteria in this country.

"We call it a crisis in Canada."

A fatality review board will determine whether a fatality inquiry will be recommended in Grimolfson's case.

The Alberta Serious Incident Response Team which looks into deaths involving police is still investigating.

Alberta Solicitor General spokesman Andy Weiler said no one from the response team will comment on the medical examiner's report until the investigation is complete.

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