Roger Holyfield died of “excited delirium” last week in the southern Illinois town of Jerseyville after he was shocked with a Taser, reports the Chicago Tribune. The town was drawn into the national debate over the use of “less-lethal” weapons, especially on people with disabilities or addictions. As these alternatives to guns have found their way into nearly every police department in the country, medical and law enforcement experts seek a closer examination of the risks and benefits. Decisions about less-lethal devices are made at the local level; weapons that are banned in one city are being purchased for thousands of dollars in others.
Tasers, the most common less-lethal weapon among police forces, are used by some 9,800 agencies. About 230,000 are in circulation. “A boy screaming for his mother and Jesus is dead because the police decided to use unnecessary force,” said Shelly Pregler, one of several mothers in town organizing a Saturday night vigil on the spot across from a restaurant where Holyfield was subdued by police. “They knew he was a troubled boy. Why agitate him more?” Federal health officials and the umbrella group for psychiatrists say “excited delirium” does not exist. There is no diagnosis by that name in the major reference work for psychiatrists.