THERE WILL be no criminal charges resulting from the death of Natasha McKenna, the mentally ill woman who died in February after Fairfax County sheriff’s deputies shot her four times with a Taser stun gun in a protracted struggle at the Fairfax County jail. That decision, announced Tuesday by the county’s chief prosecutor, Raymond F. Morrogh, puts an end to the lengthy criminal investigation arising from Ms. McKenna’s death.
It does not, however, mark the end of the questions raised by the incident.
Mr. Morrogh’s 51-page report is a sympathetic account of the incident, but nearly all the sympathy is reserved for the six male sheriff’s deputies assigned to the Sheriff Emergency Response Team that dealt with Ms. McKenna — a kind of SWAT team used to extract difficult inmates from jail cells.
He concludes that the team acted reasonably and in accord with its training, but at no point does he ask whether the deputies’ training was appropriate — whether, for instance, any of the six had received crisis intervention training in dealing with inmates suffering from mental illness.
Nor does Mr. Morrogh ask how it was possible that unarmed hospital security staff at Mount Vernon Hospital, where Ms. McKenna had been treated shortly before landing in the jail, had managed to restrain Ms. McKenna when she became combative and violent on Jan. 21 — without resorting to the extreme violence to which she was subjected in the incident at the jail.
In that earlier episode, after Ms. McKenna fought with hospital staff — kicking, biting, scratching, spitting and urinating — the report says that nurses were forced to summon hospital security. At that point, the report says, “Security staff arrived and strapped Ms. McKenna to a ‘transfer board’ and placed her in a ‘quiet room.’ ”
Yet when Ms. McKenna — described by sheriff’s deputies as possessing “superhuman strength,” according to the report, despite the fact that she was about 5 feet 4 inches — became similarly agitated at the hands of sheriff’s deputies just two weeks later, they manhandled her over the course of 20 minutes before shooting her four times with a stun gun. Is it possible that hospital staff had the training that the jail guards apparently lacked?
Mr. Morrogh’s report is in some respects a valuable document. It offers the public the first thorough account of the incident. It names the sheriff’s deputies involved, including the one who shot her with the stun gun — Lt. Lucas Salzman. It reveals the inexplicably long time that elapsed between Ms. McKenna becoming unresponsive after being shocked and the decision to call an emergency rescue team.
Mr. Morrogh may be correct that no crime was committed, and his report may end the criminal investigation. But it cannot be the end of the matter. Still unanswered is why Ms. McKenna was treated as she was, and whether a different approach might not have saved her life. The public now has a right to see the video of the incident and to hear more from the county’s sheriff and other top officials.