A $15.3 million wrongful death lawsuit was filed Friday in the case of a mentally ill woman who died after a struggle with sheriff’s deputies at the Fairfax County jail last year.
The mother of Natasha McKenna, 37, alleges that the deputies failed to follow proper procedures when they handcuffed, wrestled and then repeatedly used a stun gun on McKenna while attempting to transfer her to another jail.
The lawsuit, filed in Fairfax County Circuit Court, names as defendants Sheriff Stacey Kincaid and the team of deputies that was sent to remove the Alexandria woman from her cell in February 2015.
The death of McKenna, a black woman who was diagnosed with schizophrenia at age 12, prompted an outcry from mental health advocates and the Black Lives Matter movement, saying that the deputies should have used less force and tried to de-escalate the confrontation.
It also spurred a criminal investigation, which ended in September when Fairfax County Commonwealth’s Attorney Raymond F. Morrogh declined to press charges against those involved, saying the deputies showed “restraint” given the circumstances.
Attorney Harvey Volzer, who is representing McKenna’s mother, Christine Wilson, said in a statement that the criminal investigation shows that “black persons in Fairfax County must look to the civil courts for justice.”
“Natasha McKenna is a tragic example of how minority and handicapped persons’ rights only get lip service in Fairfax County,” Volzer wrote.
Kincaid did not respond to a request for comment, but she has said the deputies acted appropriately during a difficult encounter.
McKenna, who had been acting erratically for weeks, was arrested in January 2015 by Fairfax County police on an outstanding warrant on charges that she assaulted an Alexandria police officer. She allegedly assaulted the officer during a scuffle that month at a Hertz rental car agency.
McKenna was transferred to the Fairfax County jail, where over the next eight days Alexandria police failed to pick her up on three occasions because of a delay in communications.
During that period, McKenna’s mental health declined, she got into altercations with deputies and soiled her cell. Finally, on Feb. 3, the Fairfax County Sheriff’s Office decided to transfer McKenna.
A deputy initially coaxed McKenna into handcuffs, but she then grew agitated and started resisting, according to a report prepared by Morrogh. The six-member emergency response team was sent in to restrain her.
“You promised me you wouldn’t kill me,” McKenna was heard saying on a video of the incident, according to Morrogh’s report.
The deputies wrestled McKenna to the ground while she cursed and tried to bite them, according to the report. McKenna was eventually shocked with a stun gun four times to bring her under control.
Morrogh reported that McKenna was breathing for several minutes after being subdued but was found unresponsive after being transferred to a loading bay in the jail. She was revived but later died at a hospital.
A state medical examiner ruled that McKenna’s death was an accident linked to the use of the stun gun and being restrained. Her death was attributed to a rare condition called “excited delirium,” in which a person with a mental illness or on drugs grows so agitated their heart gives out.
In September, the Sheriff’s Office released the graphic video of the encounter.