EXPLAINER: What is excited delirium?

MINNEAPOLIS (AP) — The attorney for the officer on trial in George Floyd’s death has raised the concept of excited delirium as testimony examines whether reasonable force was used on Floyd.

Derek Chauvin, 45, who is white, is charged with murder and manslaughter in Floyd’s death. Floyd, 46, was arrested outside a neighborhood market on May 25 after being accused of trying to pass a counterfeit $20 bill. A panicky-sounding Floyd writhed and claimed to be claustrophobic as police tried to put him in the squad car.

Some background on the much-debated phrase excited delirium and how it figures in Chauvin’s trial:


It came up Tuesday as Nicole Mackenzie, a Minneapolis police officer who trains other officers in medical care, testified for the prosecution. Chauvin attorney Eric Nelson asked Mackenzie what excited delirium is and how officers are trained to recognize and respond to it.

Mackenzie described it as a combination of “psychomotor agitation, psychosis, hypothermia, a wide variety of other things you might see in a person or rather bizarre behavior.”

Under questioning from Nelson, Mackenzie agreed that people exhibiting “something like excited delirium” have often taken drugs. She also agreed that someone experiencing the condition might have “superhuman strength.”

Thomas Lane, another officer at the scene, can be heard on body camera video as officers hold Floyd down, asking whether Floyd might be experiencing excited delirium.


A key question at Chauvin’s trial is whether he used reasonable force in pinning Floyd to the pavement for 9 minutes, 29 seconds. Police department officials have testified that he did not — that Floyd was under control and that force should have quickly ended.

Nelson has emphasized Floyd’s bigger size compared to Chauvin, and suggested that handcuffs can fail and that people can still be a danger even when handcuffs work.


Some coroners in recent decades have attributed in-custody deaths to excited delirium, often in cases where the person had become extremely agitated after taking drugs, having a mental health episode or health problem. But there is no universally accepted definition of it and researchers have said it’s not well understood.

The American Psychiatric Association’s diagnostic handbook doesn’t list it. And one study last year concluded it is mostly cited as a cause only when the person who died had been restrained.

A medical examiner in New York concluded that Daniel Prude was in a state of excited delirium when police in Rochester put a hood over his head and pressed his body against the pavement in 2020. State Attorney General Letitia James issued a report recommending that officers be trained to recognize the symptoms of excited delirium.

Elijah McClain — a Black man put in a stranglehold by officers in Aurora, Colorado, in 2019 — was injected with ketamine after first responders said he was experiencing excited delirium. He wound up on life support and later died.


This story has corrected the spelling of Nicole Mackenzie’s last name to Mackenzie, not McKenzie.


Find AP’s full coverage of the death of George Floyd at: https://apnews.com/hub/death-of-george-floyd