On a busy street corner, in the fading light of a crisp autumn day several years ago, I witnessed a truly bizarre scene.
A man was sprawled on the ground, his limbs pinned by the four cops who arrived ahead of me. He was thrashing around, sweating and screaming incoherently, and I realized with a shock that his flailing limbs were actually lifting the four officers off the ground.
The surreal nature of this scene, reminiscent of Frankenstein’s monster rather than a real man, is no longer remarkable. Though at the time I was not aware of the physiological condition known as Excited Delirium (or Bell’s mania as it became known when first diagnosed in 1849), it has become increasingly common for medical professionals and law enforcement to encounter people in this state.
Excited delirium, according to Wikipedia, is an unbalanced state wherein a person, usually high on cocaine, LSD or another stimulant, exhibits any number of the following traits: anxiety, hallucinations, speech disturbances, insensitivity to pain, elevated body temperature and superhuman strength.
Read it any way you like, but the definition bears all of the ingredients of a real life horror show.
An AP article (Trib 5/29) described an even more nightmarish incident in Miami, Florida.
A cyclist came upon a naked man straddling and viciously biting the bloody face of another naked man. The cyclist flagged down a police officer driving by, and the officer confronted the suspect, now identified as Rudy Eugene, a 31 year old homeless man (and widely known as “The Miami Zombie”). Eugene looked up at the officer, growled and continued to mangle his victim, 65 year old Ronald Poppo. The officer fired several times but Eugene continued to bite Poppo until he was struck by a fatal round.
Speculation on the cause of Eugene’s apparent psychosis varies from tainted cocaine, to LSD to so-called bath salts, the new synthetic hallucinogen. Many recent excited delirium incidents have been attributed to the latter, and its cheap accessibility will make it an ongoing challenge for cops, the public and unwitting drug users.
What is certain is that the police officer showed good judgment by not physically engaging with Eugene. Tasers, batons, and pepper spray have proven to be fairly useless against people in psychotic rages, a point many police training classes have stressed. Villagers assaulting Frankenstein’s castle, armed with pitchforks, were better armed for this threat.
The only point to take away from the grisly, sensational and tragic episode in Miami is so obvious it almost does not bear repeating. Drugs, especially illegal street drugs, can be very dangerous. Anyone who thinks otherwise, or who feels that abusing narcotics only affects themselves, need only check the latest picture of Mr. Poppo.
In this world we create our own monsters.