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.”
By Patrick Wilson
A Senate committee on Tuesday killed a bill that would prevent police from seizing assets in a criminal case unless a defendant were convicted or entered a plea agreement.
The measure (HB1287) passed the House of Delegates 92-6 earlier this month and passed the Senate Courts of Justice Committee 11-2 last week.
However, the Senate Finance Committee killed it Tuesday, and Senate Majority Leader Tommy Norment, R-James City County, said it would be studied by the State Crime Commission.
"I'm very disappointed," said the bill's sponsor, Del. Mark Cole, R-Spotsylvania, outside the hearing room. "I think that was just an excuse to kill the bill."
Police are allowed to keep property seized from suspects in drug investigations, sometimes even if a conviction is never obtained. From 2008 to 2013, Virginia law enforcement agencies seized more than $57 million through the state civil asset forfeiture process.
Some offenses that have been added to the law recently, such as human trafficking, require a conviction in order for police to seize property, Cole said.
His bill would make the law uniform by requiring a conviction for asset forfeiture in all criminal investigations. Defendants also would have a chance to exhaust appeals before their assets were seized.
"I think it's just fundamentally wrong for the government to be able to take someone's property who has not been convicted of a crime," Cole told the committee.
"Can you give us an example? I think I understand what you're saying," said committee chairman Sen. Walter Stosch, R-Henrico County.
"Somebody could be accused of dealing drugs," Cole said. "Not even charged. But a civil proceeding could be brought against their assets without them having been convicted, and their assets could be taken."
Stosch and Norment voted to kill the bill, as did Sens. Kenny Alexander, D-Norfolk; Frank Wagner, R-Virginia Beach; Chuck Colgan, D-Prince William County; Janet Howell, D-Fairfax County; Dick Saslaw, D-Fairfax County; John Watkins, R-Powhatan County; and Bill Carrico, R-Grayson County.
Voting for the bill were Sens. Emmett Hanger, R-Augusta County; Steve Newman, R-Lynchburg; Ryan McDougle, R-Hanover County; Jill Holtzman Vogel, R-Fauquier County; and Frank Ruff, R-Mecklenburg County.
Police and prosecutors opposed the bill, while several conservative and liberal groups backed it. A letter in support of the bill on Monday was signed by Claire Guthrie Gastanaga of the Virginia American Civil Liberties Union, Grover Norquist of Americans for Tax Reform and two officials with the Institute for Justice, a civil liberties law firm.
Fairfax prosecutor resumes probe in police killing of John Geer in 2013
By Tom Jackman
The Fairfax County prosecutor is resuming his investigation into the Fairfax police department’s shooting of John Geer in 2013, obtaining the documents that police refused to give him 15 months ago and preparing to make a decision on whether to charge the officer involved, the prosecutor said Saturday.
In his first public comments on the case since transferring it to federal prosecutors in January 2014, Fairfax Commonwealth’s Attorney Raymond F. Morrogh strongly criticized Fairfax County attorneys for what he characterized as obstructing the investigation into the Geer shooting.
“Protecting the county coffers” in anticipation of a civil lawsuit, Morrogh said, “can’t be a factor in a criminal investigation.”
County officials said Saturday that they did not have a protocol in place for handling requests from the prosecutor’s office for internal affairs files at the time Morrogh requested the documents and that a protocol has since been developed.
Morrogh also provided his first detailed explanation of why he sought the internal affairs files of Officer Adam D. Torres, who fatally shot Geer — who was unarmed — while the man stood in the doorway of his Springfield home on Aug. 29, 2013. Morrogh also discussed why he then transferred the case to federal prosecutors when Fairfax police refused to cooperate.
Letters released Friday night by Sen. Charles E. Grassley (R-Iowa) showed that the Fairfax police provided Torres’s internal affairs files earlier Friday and that Morrogh had hired an outside prosecutor to screen the files to ensure that he did not receive any protected material. Morrogh said Saturday that he enlisted Fauquier County Commonwealth’s Attorney James P. Fisher, who obtained a murder indictment against a Culpeper County police officer in 2012, to review the files.
The Justice Department, which is considering whether to file civil rights charges against Torres, said in a letter Friday that it did not object to Morrogh “conducting a concurrent investigation.” The letter from Assistant Attorney General Peter J. Kadzik did not indicate when Justice might rule on Torres’s case, and Morrogh said he also did not know what the department’s timeline might be.
Morrogh said he planned to wait to see if federal prosecutors decide to charge Torres before acting. But “in the event they don’t charge him, I’m going to have to do something,” Morrogh said. “I’m going to have to be ready.”
Also Friday, Fairfax police turned over the Torres internal affairs files to the attorneys for Geer’s family, as ordered by a Fairfax judge in the family’s civil suit against Fairfax chief Edwin C. Roessler Jr. Circuit Court Judge Randy I. Bellows required police to provide the internal files of both their ongoing Geer investigation and of a 2013 incident in which Torres had an angry exchange with a Fairfax prosecutor outside traffic court.
The Geer family’s attorneys declined to comment Saturday.
Bellows’s order opened the door for Morrogh to request the same files, information he had originally sought in November 2013 while trying to decide whether to charge Torres with a crime. Torres told investigators in September 2013 that he fired one shot into Geer’s chest after a 42-minute standoff because Geer quickly jerked his hands from above his head to his waist, police documents released last month show. Four other officers, plus Geer’s father and best friend, all said Geer’s hands were near his head when Torres suddenly fired, their statements show.
Presented with this information by Fairfax homicide detectives, Morrogh turned to the police internal affairs bureau for background on Torres.
“I wanted to know the history of this guy, with respect to what kind of evidence is out there,” Morrogh said. “We’ve been investigating police shootings the same way all the time. In so many, it’s necessary to know the background [of the officer], and they’ve given it to me. In this case, they did not.”
Morrogh said he met with Roessler and an internal affairs captain in November 2013 and was surprised to see three Fairfax County attorneys enter the meeting.
He said the county attorneys told him they would not provide Torres’s internal affairs files in any of his cases, in part because of the “Garrity” ruling that compelled statements given by officers cannot be used against them in criminal cases. Morrogh said he would take steps to ensure that didn’t happen, but he said the attorneys told him to subpoena the files.
Morrogh said he knew, though, that Virginia Supreme Court rules, attorney general opinions and case law all state that a grand jury may only subpoena documents from a person or agency who is “not a party to the action,” thereby excluding specific defendants or their government agency.
The prosecutor said the county attorneys told him if he subpoenaed Torres’s records, they would fight the subpoena, and Morrogh knew they likely would win. Morrogh said Roessler deferred to the county attorneys’ advice on the matter.
“It was unprecedented when this occurred and put a lot of obstruction in this investigation,” Morrogh said. “You’ve got a police department that’s investigating itself, and they’re fighting the prosecutor? How’s that going to look to the public?” He said he, and the police, were tasked with seeking justice in the case and that concern about a possible lawsuit “should be the furthest thing from anyone’s mind in a criminal investigation.”
Morrogh then found that federal subpoena rules were different, asked the U.S. attorney in Alexandria if he would take on the case, and in January 2014 shifted the case there.
Fairfax County Attorney David Bobzien said Saturday that in 2013, “the Commonwealth’s Attorney’s office and the Police Department did not have a protocol in place for handling requests by the Commonwealth’s Attorney for an officer’s [internal affairs] files.” He said both sides recognized that internal affairs investigations “are legally protected,” that a police officer’s internal affairs statements cannot be used against him in a criminal case and that a protocol for prosecution requests has now been developed. But Morrogh said the police had previously provided such files without incident.
In Roessler’s letter to Grassley, the chief stated that he “had a general awareness soon after the Geer incident that Officers Torres and [Rodney] Barnes had different accounts of Mr. Geer’s actions.” But Roessler said that because he must rule on any internal discipline for Torres, he has not read the officers’ statements or other investigative materials, though the county has posted them on the Internet.
Grassley also asked Roessler how often he briefed the Board of Supervisors and what he told them. Roessler responded only that he first met with the board in September 2013, and again “in other sessions” in 2013 and 2014, but he declined to specify what information he provided them.
Tom Jackman is a native of Northern Virginia and has been covering the region for The Post since 1998.
Fairfax County Creates Panel to Review Police Procedures
FAIRFAX, Va. — Fairfax County officials are creating a commission to review police department policies after an officer shot an unarmed man and investigative documents were kept secret for 17 months.
County Board of Supervisors Chairman Sharon Bulova announced the creation of the new commission Friday. The panel will include law enforcement personnel, citizens and scholars.
Bulova says the commission’s review is part of an effort by county supervisors to take a “hard look” at how police inform the public about major incidents. The commission will recommend changes to Fairfax policies to improve transparency around police-involved incidents.
The proposal for a commission comes after criticism of the slow pace of an investigation into the 2013 shooting of an unarmed man, John Greer, by an officer. Federal authorities are now handling that case.
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In Fairfax, Va., a different, no-less-scary police shooting
18 months ago John Geer was shot by police while standing at his front door with his hands raised
By Neil Macdonald, CBC News
Senior Washington Correspondent
Neil Macdonald is the senior Washington correspondent for CBC News, which he joined in 1988 following 12 years in newspapers. Before taking up this post in 2003, Macdonald reported from the Middle East for five years. He speaks English and French fluently, and some Arabic.
White privilege didn't protect John Geer.
That's not to say he didn't have it. As a middle-class kitchen designer living in the pleasant Washington suburb of Fairfax, Va., he had nothing whatsoever in common with the impoverished black men killed by police in Missouri and Brooklyn last year.
Those deaths triggered riots, marches and demonstrations across America, and interventions by the White House.
But Geer, pierced 18 months ago by a police bullet as he stood inside the screen door of his own home, his hands raised, begging not to be shot, simply disappeared into the emotional mixing bowl of American news and political priorities.
That should not have happened. The killing of John Geer is probably the clearest and most compelling example of what amounts to police impunity in recent American history.
He committed no crime the day he was killed. Even the officer who shot him acknowledges that. There was no struggle. The details are not murky.
But because no one was marching in the streets on behalf of John Geer, because he was absent from national headlines, the system was able to make his outrageous death go away by the simple expedient of doing nothing and refusing to discuss it.
Here are the facts:
In August 2013, Geer's common law wife, who was breaking up with him and moving out, called police to report he was angrily throwing her possessions onto his front lawn.
Asked whether Geer had weapons, the woman answered yes, but they were legally owned and secured. No, he hadn't been drinking.
John Geer, 46, was fatally shot by police in August 2013 in an unusual confrontation for which no charges have been laid. His family has launched a suit for wrongful death. (Jeff Stewart / Washington Post)
Two squad cars — four officers — initially responded. Geer, on seeing them, retreated into his home, refusing to answer questions.
A few minutes later, Officer Rodney Barnes, a trained police negotiator, arrived, and as the four other policemen stood close behind him with weapons drawn, he began trying to coax John Geer out onto the porch.
Barnes would later recall that Geer was polite, but reluctant to leave his home, saying repeatedly he was frightened of being killed.
He said "I don't want anybody to get hurt," the negotiator told investigators a few months later. "I don't want to get shot."
'I know I can get shot'
Barnes asked Geer if he owned a pistol. Geer said yes, and fetched it. He held it up, holstered, for Barnes to see and set it aside, raising his hands again. He offered to let Barnes come into the house and retrieve the weapon.
He asked for permission to scratch his nose, Barnes said, and did it slowly, then raised his hands again. He asked to reach into his pocket for his phone; Barnes asked him not to, and he obeyed.
"He said 'I know if I reach down or drop my hands I can get shot," Barnes told detectives later. "I said, hey, nobody's going to shoot you…"
But Geer pointed to one nearby officer in particular: Adam Torres, who kept raising his Sig Sauer pistol from the "ready" position (pointed at Geer's legs) to aim at Geer's chest.
Please ask him not to point his gun at me, Geer begged Barnes. Geer even offered to come out and be handcuffed voluntarily if Torres and the other patrolmen would agree to move "way back."
Then he asked to scratch his nose again. Barnes consented. And Torres fired.
Geer, grabbing his wound, screamed in pain and stepped back, slamming his door.
"And I'm like, who the fuck shot?" Barnes told detectives later. "I kinda got a little pissed."
Torres acknowledged it had been him, and began muttering how he was sorry, and that his wrist was hurting. Then, unbidden, he told Barnes how he'd had a fight over the phone with his wife just before arriving on the scene.
Everyone else is wrong
Asked by Barnes why he'd fired, Torres said Geer had dropped his hands to his waist suddenly, that he appeared to be going for a weapon.
"I said I didn't see that," said Barnes later. "You know, and I never took my eye off him (Geer)."
In this cellphone video, Fairfax County police stand outside John Geer's home after he had been shot by an officer and fell back into the house. The officer at left is said to be Rodney Barnes, the main negotiator. By the time police tactical forces arrived to enter the home, Geer had bled to death. (CBS)
The other three officers who'd been present told investigators the same thing. So did two civilian witnesses.
But prosecutors and police commanders and county officials buried the case.
Fairfax County's top prosecutor declared a conflict of interest and referred the shooting to federal authorities.
The police department stonewalled reporters.
Federal investigators did investigate, and have reported to the U.S. attorney in Virginia, who has done nothing.
And all this was done under a cloak of secrecy, until, earlier this month, a judge finally ordered disclosure of nearly 11,000 documents, containing interviews with nearly everyone involved.
Torres, it turns out, stuck to his story that the other four officers were wrong.
Does he regret having shot Geer? "I don't feel sorry for shooting the guy at all."
Why did he tell Barnes immediately afterward he was sorry? He was concerned about having upset Barnes by shooting, he said.
Why did he talk about his wrist hurting? He doesn't remember. Why did he immediately say he'd just had a fight with his wife? "I don't know why."
Under the radar
The judge's disclosure order has created a bizarre situation: Nearly all the available evidence, including audio of the witness statements, is now available on the Fairfax County website.
According to those official documents, the shooter — a cop with significant anger issues (he once screamed and cursed at prosecutors in open court) — is contradicted by four fellow officers and two civilian witnesses. That sort of rank-breaking is practically unheard of.
And yet there has been no judicial action, and almost no public uproar. Most politicians have remained silent. Those who have marched against police shootings in the past have been largely uninterested.
A protest at Fairfax police headquarters drew a couple of dozen people. Only the Washington Post has taken a serious interest in the case.
But the killing of John Geer should frighten everyone. It is the best example yet that while police often target minorities disproportionately, their basic and overriding demand is total and unquestioning submission to their authority.
Resist, however peacefully and even in your own home, and heaven help you, no matter what your skin colour.