July 9: Natasha McKenna

Natasha McKenna
January 9, 1978

February 8, 2015 

McKenna was diagnosed with schizophrenia, bipolar and depression when she was 14 years old. She was the mother of a 7 yr old daughter at the time of her death.

Natasha McKenna, initially called 911 to report an assault. While she was being examined in a hospital, she was taken to Fairfax County Jail due to an outstanding warrant issued over her suspected attack on a police officer some weeks before. She was being held at the Fairfax County Adult Detention Center  Fairfax County Adult Detention Center by the Fairfax County PD and Sheriff’s office in Fairfax County, Virginia,.

After initially cooperating with officials, there was a week-long delay in transporting McKenna back to Alexandria, where better assistance could be provided, ( legal representation to petition for a mental health hold).

A specialized team that was called in to address her (mental) condition was attempting to ready her for transport. The team was made up of six members of the Sheriff’s Emergency Response Team (“SERT”) and was dressed in full-body biohazard suits and gas masks. Due to the previous assault charge against her, she was restrained with handcuffs, arms behind her back, her leg shackles, and with a spit mask placed over her head.

Throughout the 48-minute video, a naked McKenna (WHY?!!) can be heard grunting and crying out as deputies in gas masks and hazmat suits try to restrain her. She was pinned against the ground by several men in uniform. They covered her head in a hood but left the rest of her body exposed. 

17 minutes into the 45 minute struggle to extract her from her cell, McKenna, who was 130 lb and 5 ft 4 in tall, was tasered. A sheriff’s deputy used a stun gun to taser her four times within two minutes to subdue her because she wouldn’t bend her knees to be put into a wheeled restraint chair. FOUR 50,000 volt shocks were administered to Natasha McKenna. (For comparison, an electric chair used for lethal purposes administers between 1,000 and 2,400 volt shocks.) 

 Her last words before she was restrained were, “You promised me, you wouldn’t kill me.

That promise was broken. Shortly after being tasered, McKenna suffered cardiac arrest and lost consciousness. She was resuscitated on the way to Inova Fairfax Hospital by emergency responders, placed on life support, but was later determined to be brain dead. After 5 days, she was removed from life support and was pronounced dead on February 8, 2015.

The Sheriff’s Emergency Response Team records its work doing cell extractions of inmates by video, and the video of McKenna’s death was released by the Fairfax County Sheriff’s office.

How the Police handled it:
The Fairfax County Sheriff Department, led by Sheriff Stacey Ann Kincaid, conducted an initial internal investigation.
No criminal charges filed against the officers involved in McKenna’s death. Not even after the video showed that she presented no threat to the officers was made public.

September 2015, When Fairfax County Commonwealth’s Attorney Raymond Morogh cleared the deputies of wrongdoing in his report quoted a deputy identified only as Shifflett likening McKenna’s state to “demonic possession.”

“It was metabolically unstable and protracted resistance to any restraint due to her mental illness and the ensuing excited delirium syndrome that actually caused her death.”

The medical examiner concluded that Natasha McKenna’s death resulted not from being tasered four times but from a condition in which a person with mental illness suddenly dies in a state of distress. Excited Delirium which is used nearly exclusively to justify deaths while in police custody.

April 2015: The use of tasers was suspended by the Fairfax County Sheriff’s Office.

The question of treating mentally ill prisoners became a focus of the discussion surrounding McKenna’s death.

Changes have been made to help deputies address inmates with mental illness, Andrea Ceisler said. That includes “telepsychiatry,” more crisis intervention training, and the launching of a program that will divert “low risk offenders experiencing a mental health crisis to treatment rather than bringing them to jail.

The American Heart Association has also presented scientific evidence concluding that Tasers can, in fact, cause cardiac arrest and death.

Amnesty International is calling for national guidelines that restrict their use to only those instances when officers are similarly threatened.


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