The parents of Jacob Michael, a 25-year-old man who died in police custody in Cheshire, England last year, have criticised an official report that concludes Michael died from ‘excited delirium’. But while some experts warn that ‘excited delirium’ is not a satisfactory explanation for a death, it seems the term is becoming increasingly common in both the US and the UK when deaths in custody are being investigated.
Excited delirium was first outlined in the mid-80s and was initially linked by some to cocaine use. Over the years, it has expanded to cover various other drugs as well as cases where drug use is not apparent. There is no suggestion that Jacob Michael had been using drugs. Excited delirium can manifest in a number of ways, including (but not exclusively) paranoia, disorientation, hyper-tension, hallucination and incoherent speech.
The use of excited delirium as a means of explaining deaths in custody has been widely criticised. As far back as 2003, the Los Angeles Times reported on concern over the term. The problem, for many, is that excited delirium doesn’t really explain what caused a death, it explains how the person appeared to die. The theory being excited delirium is, at best, open to challenge and many medical professionals continue to insist that it should not be used to explain a death.