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Excited delirium: The story of how some people die while in police custody

As critics suggest it doesn’t exist, or at least doesn’t kill, excited delirium continues to be used as a reason for why people sometimes die in police custody.

Chris Vanderveen, Chris Hansen

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Published: 5:00 AM MDT May 4, 2023
Updated: 3:40 AM MDT May 4, 2023

The two-word term made little sense to Judy Rigg: excited delirium.

Her husband was dead, and here was the Lakewood Police Department trying to tell her what might have caused it.

Excited delirium. That was why her husband, Bob Rigg, was so out of it not long after he crashed his car into the back of an RTD bus. That’s why he was incoherent. That’s why he stopped breathing as a police officer had him in the back of a police car.

Wait a second, she thought, as she looked at a pair of Lakewood Police officers: She knew why he was incoherent, why he couldn’t get the words out, and almost certainly why he died.

“When I told them he was a diabetic, the look on their faces was like, ‘Oh sh-t,’” she said.

Fourteen years after she first heard the words “excited delirium,” it still makes her upset.

“It doesn’t make any sense to me at all,” she said.

Instead of immediately taking Bob Rigg to a hospital when they found him, dazed in his damaged car that was idling near West Alameda Avenue and South Pierce Street, Lakewood officers first took him to police headquarters to be booked, right around noon on Sept. 9, 2009.

“He was a diabetic, and he was low,” Judy Rigg said. “That’s why he died.”

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