A 34-year-old Sacramento man suffered severe brain damage after a March 6th confrontation with police. From his bedside, John Hernandez’ mother told the Sacramento Bee that her son’s injuries might, at best, result in his having the mental capacity of a toddler if he recovers at all. The worst part is he doesn’t even seem to recognize his mom, ex-wife and daughter, she told the paper.
“They don’t know if he will ever be able to walk or talk,” Debbie Hernandez told the Sacramento Bee. “He doesn’t know we are there at all. That’s what makes me so sad.”
Police have yet to release footage of the incident. But press reports suggest they might float the idea that Hernandez suffered from “excited delirium,”—one of the officers told a radio dispatcher it was “a possible excited delirium situation.”
Excited delirium is a mental state marked by extreme agitation, paranoia and increased physical strength. Except that it might not exist. The syndrome is hugely controversial, particularly as a cause of death or serious injury such as Hernandez’: it rarely occurs outside of police custody and many civil liberties advocates believe it’s actually just an excuse used by law enforcement when they’ve tased or suffocated a suspect to death, usually by sitting on their back or chest.
At the same time, many US police officers are generally trained to view suspects suffering from “excited delirium” as exceptionally dangerous. That can lead police to use physical force like tasing or piling on that makes the suspect even more agitated.
In Hernandez’ case, police tased and beat him with batons. It’s not clear whether or not they also inhibited his breathing by sitting on him.
One of the main goals of the police reform movement is to train officers on how to better deal with suspects suffering a mental breakdown. Hernandez does not appear to have been armed.