The Miami Herald explores “excited delirium syndrome,” which the Miami-Dade Medical Examiner's Office has cited in a number of recent cases of deaths in police custody. The syndrome is a rare brain malfunction — often fueled by cocaine or mental illness — that researchers say morphs victims into raging, violent, feverish attackers. First documented in Miami during the cocaine epidemic of the 1980s, the syndrome isn't well known to the public but has increasingly been recognized by doctors, medical examiners and law enforcement across the country.
But citing it as a cause of death is raising controversy. Most of the deaths involve police action. Some victims have died after being restrained by officers, or in some high-profile cases, shot with Taser stun guns. The ACLUS and relatives of the dead question the autopsy findings, contending the syndrome is built on shaky medical research as a way to cover for overaggressive police tactics. Since 2002, 29 people in Miami-Dade alone have been found to have died because of excited delirium.