The Fairfax County Sheriff’s Office announced Thursday that it has temporarily suspended the use of stun guns at the county jail following the death of a mentally ill inmate in February.
The sheriff’s office said in a statement that it is reviewing its policy on the use of the stun devices. “When an unusual event occurs, it is standard practice to review specific policy and procedures in reference to that event,” Capt. Tyler Corey wrote in an e-mail.
Natasha McKenna, 37, stopped breathing minutes after she was shocked four times while she was shackled on Feb. 3.
Corey said there was no timeline for the review and declined to comment on what particular aspects of the policy officials were examining.
Four law enforcement experts interviewed by The Washington Post this month took issue with the use of a Taser in McKenna’s case. They questioned why a restrained woman was shocked, how many times she was shocked and why such heavy force was used on a woman who was mentally ill.
The treatment of the mother from Alexandria troubled her family and advocates for the mentally ill.
“The family is pleased that the death of their daughter and sister has made the adult detention center in Fairfax safer for future detainees,” said attorney Harvey J. Volzer, who is representing McKenna’s family. “The jail still needs to address the issue of how to properly care and interact with people with mental impairments.”
McKenna, who was diagnosed with schizophrenia at age 12, was being held in the Fairfax County jail on a charge of assaulting a police officer that stemmed from an encounter in Alexandria in mid-January.
Alexandria police did not act on several requests to pick McKenna up after Fairfax County police delivered her to the county jail on Jan. 26, so on Feb. 3 Fairfax County deputies decided to transfer her themselves. They said her mental state was deteriorating.
A six-member “extraction team” was sent to McKenna’s cell because she had had two violent encounters with deputies since being jailed, according to incident reports obtained by The Post.
A lieutenant began speaking to the 130-pound McKenna, and she appeared cooperative, according to the reports. But they say she began resisting after she was handcuffed through a food slot and tethered to the door of her cell. McKenna tried to pull free of the handcuffs and tether and yelled, “You promised you wouldn’t hurt me!”
Over roughly 20 minutes, the deputies struggled to control McKenna. They eventually restrained her hands behind her back with handcuffs, shackled her legs and put a mask over her head to keep her from spitting. But when she wouldn’t bend her knees to be placed in a restraining chair, a deputy shocked her four times with 50,000 volts.
McKenna was put in the chair and then checked by medical personnel, but she stopped breathing, according to the reports.
Paramedics revived her on the way to the hospital, but her heart had stopped for 20 minutes. Days later, she was removed from life support at Inova Fairfax Hospital.
Volzer said the family would like to see the jail implement more training for guards on how to de-escalate encounters with mentally ill inmates. Earlier this month, Sheriff Stacey Kincaid called the incident a “tragedy” but defended the tactics used by deputies in general. She declined to comment on McKenna’s case specifically.
The Fairfax County police are investigating the incident. The police said in a release this week that they are awaiting tests on the stun gun and the medical equipment used in an attempt to revive McKenna. They also are awaiting a ruling from the state’s medical examiner on the cause of her death.
Fairfax County prosecutors will then decide whether to file charges in the case.
Tom Jackman contributed to this report.