Canyon coroner links death of man to ‘excited delirium’

The suspect who died in police custody had the agitated condition that can cause bizarre behavior and aggression, and can be fatal, the report says.

jsowell@idahostatesman.comJune 14, 2013 

— Canyon County Coroner Vicki DeGeus-Morris found that acute methamphetamine intoxication also contributed to the April death of Anthony Firkins Jr.

Still under investigation are the circumstances leading up to Firkins’ death while in Nampa police custody.

Firkins died after experiencing a condition of high excitement known as “excited delirium,” DeGeus-Morris concluded in results released Friday.

The condition is marked by a sudden onset of agitation, aggression, distress and death, typically cardiac arrest, according to a 2011 journal article published by an arm of the National Institutes of Health. It almost always takes place during a struggle with police.

DeGeus-Morris made her findings after reviewing pathology and toxicology reports. The coroner so far has been unable to determine what triggered the excited delirium in Firkins, 33.

“We hope to be able to learn that as we continue the investigation,” said Joe Decker, spokesman for the Canyon County Sheriff’s Office.

Brandy Firkins, Anthony Firkins’ sister, questioned the coroner’s conclusion.

“I don’t believe that determination,” she said.

The Firkins family has hired a private investigator to look into the incident. Firkins, of Kent, Wash., declined to comment further, saying she did not want to interfere with that process.

Decker could not say what led the coroner to determine that Firkins experienced excited delirium. DeGeus-Morris was not available for comment late Friday afternoon.

The authors of the 2011 journal article, Drs. Asia Takeuchi and Sean Henderson, wrote that excited delirium is troubling because it is not a medical condition recognized by the American Psychiatric Association and does not appear on a list of diseases compiled by the World Health Organization.

They said the condition comes on quickly and is characterized by bizarre or aggressive behavior, shouting, paranoia, panic, violence, unexpected physical strength and elevated body temperature.

Skeptics, including the American Civil Liberties Union, say it’s an easy way to explain away a death at the hands of police. Dan Barrett, an attorney with the group’s Vermont chapter, told the Burlington Free Press last year that excited delirium is pegged as a cause of death most often when a suspect dies after being shot with a Taser.

Canyon County authorities have not said whether Firkins was shot with a Taser.

The Sheriff’s Office is leading the Critical Incident Task Force investigation into Firkins’ death.

Early on April 19, Nampa police responded to a report of a woman screaming near the corner of Hudson and Canyon streets.

Police found a pickup they said was driving recklessly and without lights.

After a pursuit that lasted several minutes, the driver, later identified as Anthony Firkins, lost control of the truck and crashed near 11th Avenue North and Industrial Road. Firkins jumped a fence and tried to escape. Officers later found him hiding under a trailer.

Police have not revealed what happened during the struggle to apprehend Firkins, other than to say he was noncompliant.

After he was taken into custody, Firkins stopped breathing. Medics attended to him but he was pronounced dead at the hospital.

Sven Berg contributed to this report. John Sowell: 377-6423

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