Medical professionals and attorneys are disputing the “excited delirium” result in the autopsy of Natasha McKenna, The Washington Post reports.
McKenna, 37, who suffered from schizophrenia and bipolar disorder, died in the custody of Fairfax County, Virginia police in February when she was electrocuted with a Taser several times during a psychotic episode. After months of scrutiny and outcry, an autopsy revealed last week by a Virginia medical examiner that the mother of one died from “excited delirium,” a term connected to people who face delirious behavior after ingesting cocaine.
McKenna didn’t have any drugs in her system at the time of the arrest, but officials have insisted her psychological disorders were connected to her death.
“The FBI defines the condition as a serious and potentially deadly medical condition involving psychotic behavior, elevated temperature and an extreme fight-or-flight response by the nervous system. Failure to recognize the symptoms and involve emergency medical services (EMS) to provide appropriate medical treatment may lead to death,” according to The Root.
Family attorney Harvey J. Volzer disputed the results, expressing that McKenna was “tortured and killed” by the police during her episode. Upon arrival to the hospital, McKenna had two black eyes and a bruised arm. One of her fingers had to be removed.
In a study by Amnesty International done between 2001 and 2008, 75 out of 330 deaths at the hands of police officers using Tasers were given the “excited delirium” term as the cause of death. Many educators and researchers believe law enforcement has used the term to their benefit.
“They’ve come up with the concept that the individual is so excited they bring on their own death,” said Douglas Zipes, a professor of medicine at Indiana University. “That you can be excited is without question. That you can be delirious is without question. But the concept of this being a syndrome causing death is incorrect and false.”
Medical groups have also weighed in on the condition, with the American College of Emergency Physicians and the National Association of Medical Examiners acknowledging the term, while the American Medical Association and American Psychological Association do not.
“We are . . . aware of an ongoing debate within the professional literature about such a diagnosis,” the APA said in a statement. “Ultimately, more research on the concept of ‘excited delirium’ needs to be undertaken.”
The investigation is currently open.