Fairfax Co. police release more details in woman’s stun gun death
Fairfax Co. police release more details in woman’s stun gun death
By Sarah Beth Hensley
WASHINGTON — Police have released new details surrounding the death of a 37-year-old Alexandria, Virginia, woman who died after deputies used a stun gun on her while she was in custody.
On Thursday, Fairfax County police released information from the ongoing investigation into the death of Natasha McKenna.
McKenna was in the process of being transported from the Fairfax County jail to the Alexandria city jail on Feb. 3 when deputies say she failed to comply with their commands and resisted them. Deputies used a stun gun to restrain her, and she later had a medical emergency that led to her death on Feb. 8.
In information police released Thursday, they said a Sheriff’s Emergency Response Team comprised of six deputies attempted to remove McKenna from her cell in the Fairfax County jail when she physically resisted the deputies and refused their commands.
During the struggle, a SERT member used a stun gun to restrain McKenna. Also, deputies placed a spit net on McKenna — a device designed to restrict and prevent spitting.
A nurse from the medical staff was present at the time and checked McKenna and cleared her for transport to Alexandria Detention Center, police said.
Deputies attempted to put McKenna in a medical transport chair, but she “continued to be combative,” Fairfax County police said. She was put in a restraint chair for transport to a vehicle transfer area, commonly known as a sally port.
While in the sally port, McKenna had a medical emergency. Deputies did CPR and used an automated external defibrillator while awaiting rescue personnel from the Fairfax City Fire Department.
An ambulance arrived and transported McKenna to the hospital where she was put on life support. She was taken off life support and died Feb. 8.
McKenna had been jailed since Jan. 26 on a charge of assault on a police officer.
Also, police addressed rumors that McKenna suffered an amputated finger during the incident.
“The investigation by detectives from the Fairfax County Police Department affirmed that McKenna had a pre-existing injury (missing the tip of her ring finger on her left hand), which was noted during the arrest booking on Monday, Jan. 26,” police said in a release.
Fairfax County police and the Fairfax County Sheriff’s Office are working together on the investigation and say they will give more updates within the next 30 days or as soon as additional details become available.
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Police: Restraints, including hood, used along with Taser on inmate who died in custody
By MATTHEW BARAKAT Associated Press
McLEAN, Virginia — An inmate who died in custody after a stun gun was used on her had also been in restraints that included a light hood, Fairfax County Police said Thursday.
The news release issued by police included new details and indicated Natasha McKenna, 37, of Alexandria, had previously assaulted a sheriff's deputy while incarcerated at the Fairfax County jail.
On Feb. 3, Fairfax County deputies used an emergency response team to move McKenna out of her cell ahead of her transfer to Alexandria. Police said McKenna resisted officers, who used a stun gun, a restraint chair and the hood, made of a mesh material that goes over the head with a fabric material over the nose and mouth designed to restrict and prevent spitting.
Sheriff's office procedures carefully outline instructions for use of the hood and require filing a report any time it is used. The guidelines call for continuous monitoring to ensure "the person's airway, nose and mouth are unobstructed at all times."
According to Thursday news release, the hood and restraints were removed after deputies saw she was in medical distress.
She died five days later, after being taken off life support.
McKenna was charged in Alexandria with assaulting a police officer. On Thursday, Fairfax police said McKenna had also assaulted a deputy at the Fairfax jail three days before the Feb. 3 stun gun incident.
According to police, McKenna was brought to the Fairfax jail on Jan. 26 when officers discovered her outstanding warrant for assaulting a police officer in Alexandria.
Police say they have video of the response team's efforts to remove McKenna from her cell, but they are treating the video as evidence and have no plans to release it at this time.
A lawyer for the McKenna family, Harvey Volzer, declined comment Thursday.
Va. inmate had been restrained, fitted with anti-spitting mask before death
By Justin Jouvenal February 19
The mentally ill inmate at the Fairfax County jail had previously assaulted a deputy, so when it came time to transfer Natasha McKenna to face a charge, the sheriff’s office sent in a six-person team outfitted in padded gear to remove her from her cell, police said.
McKenna, a 37-year-old Alexandria resident, refused commands and resisted the deputies on Feb. 3, touching off a struggle, police said in a statement released Thursday. The 130-pound woman was Tasered “several times” and an anti-spitting mask was placed over her face, police later said in an interview. After she was restrained, McKenna continued to resist the officers, so she was placed in a special chair that restricted her movements.
But after being cleared by a nurse for transport to Alexandria and being taken to an entryway, McKenna went into cardiac arrest and later died at a hospital.
Fairfax police released the account as part of an ongoing investigation into the incident. It is the most detailed description yet of the events that ended with McKenna’s death, but it does not say how many times she was Tasered and how she allegedly resisted deputies that morning.
“It takes six deputies to restrain a 5’3”, 37-year-old woman?” Harvey J. Volzer, an attorney for McKenna’s family, asked in an e-mail to The Washington Post. He said that McKenna had been diagnosed with schizophrenia when she was 12.
“Where were persons trained to deal with prisoners with mental issues?” he asked.
The Fairfax sheriff’s office declined to answer further questions about the incident Thursday. In an e-mail, Capt. Tyler Corey said, “We are grateful for the diligence and professionalism displayed by the Police detectives as they work through their investigation.”
McKenna came to Fairfax’s attention Jan. 25 after police said she called 911, saying she had been assaulted. When a county police officer responded to the call, she gave him a report and agreed to go to a hospital for an examination. At the hospital, McKenna decided not to pursue the investigation, police said, and declined additional help from police.
Officers then discovered that McKenna had an outstanding warrant against her for assault on a law enforcement officer in Alexandria and took her into custody.
The charged stemmed from a Jan. 15 incident at a Hertz car rental agency, Alexandria police said. Employees reported that McKenna was being disruptive and acting strangely. Police arrived and McKenna was taken to local INOVA hospitals, where police obtained an involuntary detention order against her. She was eventually released. INOVA officials said patient confidentiality laws barred them from discussing why.
After learning about the incident in Alexandria, Fairfax police transported McKenna to the jail on Jan. 26. The Alexandria sheriff’s office said they notified Alexandria police three times that McKenna was ready to be transferred — the last on Feb. 2 — but that she was not picked up.
“We are still investigating why she wasn’t picked up,” said Crystal Nosal, an Alexandria police spokeswoman. Fairfax police said that McKenna assaulted a sheriff’s deputy at the jail Jan. 31.
By Feb. 2, staff at the jail had become alarmed at the deterioration in McKenna’s mental health, a person familiar with the case said.
Ron Honberg, legal director for the National Alliance for the Mentally Ill, said the case was particularly sad because it appeared that Alexandria police acted correctly in initially seeking treatment for McKenna before charging her. Nosal said that McKenna was charged because she had allegedly assaulted an officer.
Honberg added that many law enforcement agencies have instituted crisis intervention training for officers that focuses on defusing tensions during encounters with the mentally ill. Aggressive responses by authorities, he added, can exacerbate problems.
“Acting aggressively to someone who is already fearful and paranoid is pouring gasoline on the fire,” Honberg said.
Corey, of the Fairfax sheriff’s office, said 32 out of about 500 deputies had been through crisis intervention training and an additional 80 had received training specific to mental health issues at the county jail. All deputies receive 10 to 12 hours of basic mental health training at the academy.
Police Chief Edwin C. Roessler Jr. has promised a quick and thorough investigation and monthly updates to the public. No decision has been made about whether to file charges in McKenna’s case.
“I've been watching events around the country and locally,” Roessler said. “As a profession, we need to be more transparent.”