Posted on March 8, 2022

‘Excited Delirium’ Theory Used in Antioch Death Is Racist and Unscientific, New Report Concludes

Lisa Fernandez, KTVU, March 2, 2022

report released Wednesday by the Physician for Human Rights unequivocally states that “excited delirium” has racist and unscientific origins and points to a death in Antioch, Calif., as a recent example of just that.


But its diagnosis still continues to be used today, including in the Contra Costa County Coroner’s conclusion that Angelo Quinto, 30, died of “excited delirium” on Dec. 23, 2020, despite the fact that police knelt on his back for five minutes.

“Angelo Quinto, a Filipino-American Navy veteran, is one of many people, disproportionately people of color, whose deaths at the hands of police have been attributed to excited delirium rather than to the conduct of law enforcement officers,” write the authors of “Excited Delirum” and Deaths in Police Custody: The Deadly Impact of a Baseless Diagnosis.”

Quinto’s family had called police for help when the former Navy sailor was suffering from a mental health crisis. Police restrained him soon after arriving at the family home. He stopped breathing and died three days afterward.

One of the report’s legal authors, Oakland-based civil rights attorney Julia Sherwin, said that this report is the first comprehensive one of its kind to review all the medical literature from when the term first was coined.

She said using this term harms real people, such as the Quinto family, who watched police sit on their son’s back and where the county is now allowing “the officers to get away with it.” {snip}

However, in August 2021, a 15-member jury in Contra Costa County ended up ruling the young man’s death an accident.


Kathryn Pinneri, president of the National Association of Medical Examiners, said her group does not promote the use of excited delirium as a cause of death.  If a person experiences an acute delirium prior to death,  she said the underlying cause of death is the process that caused the delirium, such as acute cocaine toxicity or alcohol withdrawal.


Deaths associated with an excited delirium component have also occurred in the absence of police involvement, Pinneri noted.


The Physician for Human Rights’ report was written by several doctors at the University of Michigan, Harvard, Massachusetts General Hospital as well as Sherwin, who served as a consultant after George Floyd’s death, where the term was also brought up in court. 

The defense for former Officer Derek Chauvin argued during his murder trial last year that excited delirium is real, and that Chauvin acted reasonably when he pressed his knee to Floyd’s neck for about 9 1/2 minutes to restrain him, even as Floyd said he couldn’t breathe and eventually became limp.

Broadly, the term has been used to describe people who become agitated or distressed after using drugs or during a mental health episode. In some instances, those described as experiencing “excited delirium” are perceived to exhibit higher pain thresholds and unusual levels of strength.