Minnesota Gov. Walz signs law banning ‘excited delirium’ in police

Gov. Tim Walz signed a law banning the training of licensed police officers in “excited delirium,” making Minnesota at least the third state to ban a diagnosis that national medical associations have dismissed as pseudoscience.

Excited delirium usually refers to a person possessed by a potentially fatal form of excitement, sometimes fueled by drug abuse, and who exhibits aggressive behavior, profuse sweating, public nudity, frothing at the mouth, and superhuman strength. The term is often used by law enforcement after someone dies in custody — including in the killing of George Floyd — and in recent years it has been criticized as an overly broad umbrella term used to justify lethal police tactics.

In 2021, following the killings of Floyd and Elijah McClain in Colorado, the American Medical Association released a statement labeling the diagnosis “a manifestation of systemic racism.” The American Psychiatric Association followed with a similar rejection, and the National Association of Medical Examiners now says it should never be cited as a cause of death.

“Currently, there is no medical association that considers excited delirium to be legitimate,” Dr. Altaf Saadi, a neurologist at Massachusetts General Hospital who has called for an end to the use of the term in the United States, said in an interview in May. .

In introducing the bill, Rep. Jessica Hanson, DFL-Burnsville, described excited delirium as a diagnosis “rooted in anti-Black racism” during a committee hearing in April.

“It has no scientific basis, no functional significance in medicine and no clear diagnostic criteria or symptomatology,” Hanson said.

Walz signed the bill on May 24 and it went into effect the next day.

Since October, Colorado and California have passed laws banning their use among first responders, and more state lawmakers, including Hawaii, have proposed similar laws. Mayor Jacob Frey banned excited delirium training for the Minneapolis police several years ago. Minnesota’s largest police professional association has not taken a position on the bill.

In 2019, McClain died after police in Aurora, Colo. had him in a chokehold and paramedics injected him with an overdose of the sedative ketamine. The 23-year-old black man was walking home after buying iced tea, apparently dancing to music on his headphones, when a neighbor called 911 to report him acting “sketchy.” Afterwards, the paramedics, who have since been convicted of criminal negligence, said they believed McClain was suffering from excited delirium.

The following year, Minneapolis police officer Derek Chauvin killed Floyd by kneeling on his neck. In a federal civil rights trial, three officers convicted in Floyd’s death testified extensively that they believed Floyd may have been suffering from excited delirium. Officer Alex Kueng said he believed the condition could cause Floyd to “come back to life” and become a threat again even after he became unresponsive. In a separate lawsuit, Chauvin’s attorney argued that his client acted as a “reasonable police officer” who looked for signs of excited delirium.

During previous Minneapolis Police Department training, officers were told that excited delirium was an extreme form of agitation that manifested in superhuman strength, bizarre speech and aggressive behavior. A training slideshow shown to the jury included an image of officers subduing a man by pinning him down with their knees, similar to how Chauvin held down Floyd. Officer Thomas Lane, who reported excited delirium at the scene, said he was taught to restrain people in such a state to “prevent someone from getting a beating and keep him in place.”