By Terrence McCoy
By Scott Fishman
By Deirdra Funcheon
By Allie Conti
By New Times Staff
By Ryan Pfeffer
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It's not the first time Mash has been called a junk scientist. She made headlines in the 1990s when she championed the use of an organic African hallucinogen called ibogaine as a "vaccine" for cocaine dependence. Stonewalled from government funds, she opened an ibogaine clinic on the Caribbean island of St. Kitts, and she says she's continuing her research on the drug through private funding.
Mash has met similar resistance with excited delirium. The ACLU says it's used to "whitewash clear cases of police abuse," as spokesperson Eric Balaban puts it.
Founder of UM's groundbreaking Excited Delirium Education, Research, and Information Center, Mash probably hasn't helped matters by providing paid expert testimony to Arizona-based Taser International. The $2 billion company, which distributes stun guns to 40 countries, has successfully fended off dozens of wrongful-death and product liability lawsuits.
Taser, which insists its guns are nonlethal, has become an enthusiastic lobbyist for excited delirium. Its reps distribute books about the subject at conferences for medical examiners and police chiefs, send information to medical examiners processing in-custody deaths, and even recently circulated a ready-made statement for police departments to use when somebody dies after being tased: "We regret the unfortunate loss of life. There are many cases where excited delirium caused by various mental disorders or medical conditions, that may or may not include drug use, can lead to a fatal conclusion."
The company has gone so far as to successfully sue medical examiner's offices, such as the one in Akron, Ohio, for listing Taser as a cause of death.
As stun guns have proven virtually unassailable in court, governments across the nation have adopted them en masse. In 2005, a Miami-Dade County grand jury recommended Taser use even in non-life-threatening situations. The finding cited excited delirium repeatedly, endorsing the use of Tasers "as a nonlethal method to incapacitate individuals" believed to be in the throes of the mania.
You could say the company appreciates Mash's work. "She's doing really cutting-edge research all on her own," says Taser spokesperson Steven Tuttle, "and it's very fascinating stuff."
In a 2009 deposition for a civil case against Taser, Mash admitted to earning $16,000 from Taser for excited delirium testimony the year before. In the court interview, she claimed to have forgotten how much the company paid her in previous years, and she recently refused to tell New Times how much Taser has paid her since. "I haven't done my taxes," says Mash, co-owner of an $868,000 North Bay Village house with ex-husband Joe Geller, who is a former Miami-Dade Democratic Party chair and mayor of the village. The neurologist adds that Taser has never funded her research.
Mash insists she has testified only as an expert on excited delirium and has no opinion on the safety of stun guns. "Who cares about the Taser?" she squawks. "I don't care about the Taser, and I'll tell you why. Excited delirium was happening before the Taser. Excited delirium was happening in the 1800s, in Bell's institutionalized psych patients. If it happened with pepper spray, you'd say, 'Oh, it's the pepper spray that's killing them.' "
The same goes for restraints, hogties, and baton strikes, Mash says. But the bottom line: "We have some cases where there were no police involved, and they still died."
London native Matthew Kahn came to South Beach, along with his boyfriend and three other friends, seeking to celebrate the turning of the millennium in debaucherous fashion. The 28-year-old got his hands on a bag of crystal meth and snorted it away. And then, his partner, Dale, later told cops, he simply went "mad."
In the early morning of January 3, 2000, Matthew ripped apart the bathroom in a guest room at the Clay Hotel on Española Way, slicing and bruising himself in the process. Just before 10 a.m., paramedics found him in the throes of continuous seizures. He died in the South Shore Hospital emergency room, with only about a tenth of the amount of cocaine or meth in his system needed to cause overdose.
The English tourist's death is one of about five in Miami-Dade's recent history that Dr. Mash has reason to tout. There were no cops involved, no struggle, and no blunt trauma. Matthew, like those Massachusetts asylum patients of scientific lore, simply expired.
The same is true for a 36-year-old bail bondsman named Nathaniel Blash, married father to two teenagers, who was found dead, wearing only boxer shorts and jewelry, lying face-up under an SUV on NE 53rd Street with cocaine in his system and no signs of injury.
And 29-year-old Marlon Sankar, a clean-living truck driver who apparently turned to cocaine in his distress over a breakup. Authorities found him lying nude and bleeding in his Miami Springs front yard after he tore apart his bathroom with his bare hands. (One simple theory for all of the destroyed bathrooms: That's the most common place to use drugs.) Marlon claimed he had been robbed and beaten — which was later determined to be untrue — and he died suddenly at Jackson Memorial Hospital.