FOR NINE FULL MINUTES of a video released last week, Fairfax County Police Chief Edwin C. Roessler Jr. stared into a camera and delivered a bland recap of the in-custody death of Natasha McKenna, the 37-year-old woman who died Feb. 8 after sheriff’s deputies at the county jail shot her four times with a Taser stun gun. And for nine full minutes, Mr. Roessler, who announced the police investigation is finished, managed to reveal absolutely nothing.
Mr. Roessler did so while at the same time impugning Ms. McKenna, who was mentally ill, as a “combative” woman who refused commands and resisted removal from her cell. As if her death were her own fault.
Mr. Roessler was content to characterize her conduct but had virtually nothing to say about the conduct of the six jail guards who struggled with her. He mentioned neither the Taser company’s own warnings that repeated jolts may cause death; nor that Ms. McKenna was shot after she had been handcuffed; nor that the guards — kitted out like a SWAT team to subdue a 130-pound woman — appeared to have no training with de-escalation, which experts recommend in the event of confrontations with mentally ill people.
Mr. Roessler acknowledged that a video, shot by jail personnel, exists of the struggle between the guards and Ms. McKenna. But he offered no rationale for why the police have not released it. (They say it is “evidence,” as if that is an explanation; it isn’t.)
Mr. Roessler divulged neither the names nor the ranks nor the race(s) of the deputies who subdued Ms. McKenna, who was black. Nor did he offer any explanation of why that information — which has been released in other deaths at the hands of law enforcement officers around the country — is being kept secret in Fairfax.
Mr. Roessler’s presentation, a rehash of information reported by this newspaper and other news outlets months ago, was little more than an exercise in obfuscation. Why couldn’t six guards in an elite unit subdue a petite woman without shooting her repeatedly with a stun gun?
Mr. Roessler didn’t say. What was the sequence of events that led to Ms. McKenna becoming so agitated that a struggle broke out in her cell?
Mr. Roessler didn’t say.
The history of the McKenna case is one of official stonewalling accompanied by empty paeans to openness. At first, Sheriff Stacey A. Kincaid, whose office runs the jail, vowed transparency — after which she released no significant information. Then, Mr. Roessler said the police were committed to candor — and, at the conclusion of the police investigation, delivered nothing of the kind.
Now the case has been turned over to the chief prosecutor in Fairfax, Commonwealth’s Attorney Raymond F. Morrogh, whose office has never charged a police officer, let alone a jail guard, in the death of a civilian. Whether or not
Mr. Morrogh decides to bring criminal charges, it is critically important that he deliver a much fuller accounting to the public of the circumstances leading to Ms. McKenna’s death — including release of the video — than the sheriff and police have managed.