The Virginia medical examiner’s office has ruled that the death of a woman at the Fairfax County jail in February was an accident linked to the use of a stun gun to shock her while she was shackled.
Natasha McKenna, 37, of Alexandria died after she was restrained with handcuffs and leg shackles and shocked four times, county records show. After the shocks were administered Feb. 3, she stopped breathing, was taken to a hospital and died several days later.
In a statement released Tuesday, police officials quoted the autopsy report, which stated that the cause of death was “excited delirium associated with physical restraint including use of conductive energy device, contributing: Schizophrenia and Bi-Polar Disorder.”
In addition, it gave the manner of death: “Accident.”
The medical examiner’s report as quoted by police did not define “excited delirium.” An abstract of a 2011 medical journal article said characteristics of the term include acute distress and sudden death. The description said the term is sometimes associated with death in law enforcement custody.
In the Tuesday statement, police said they are awaiting reports on an examination of the medical equipment that was used to monitor McKenna’s vital signs before paramedics responded to the adult detention center.
The autopsy report will be included in material that will be turned over to the county commonwealth’s attorney’s office for final determination of any criminal liability, police said.
Last week, the sheriff’s office announced a temporary suspension of the use of stun guns in the jail and said it was reviewing policy on the devices.
Use of a stun gun in McKenna’s case was questioned this month by four law enforcement experts interviewed by The Washington Post, noting that she was restrained and was mentally ill.
McKenna’s treatment also troubled her family and advocates for the mentally ill. McKenna had been diagnosed at age 12 with schizophrenia.
Numerous experts interviewed by The Post said the use of a stun gun on a fully restrained prisoner was an unreasonable use of force, particularly in a jail setting where a person is unlikely to flee.
McKenna was being held at the Fairfax jail on a charge of assaulting a police office, stemming from an encounter in Alexandria in January.
Alexandria police did not act on requests to pick her up after Fairfax police delivered her to the jail Jan. 26, and county deputies decided to transfer her themselves Feb. 3, saying that her mental state was deteriorating.
Incident reports obtained by The Post indicated that she began resisting after being handcuffed and tethered to her cell door. During the confrontation, a deputy shocked her multiple times. Within minutes, McKenna stopped breathing.
Justin Jouvenal contributed to this report.