IT’S BEEN a month since an elite, specially trained team of sheriff’s deputies went to extract Natasha McKenna from her cell at the Fairfax County jail and, when she resisted, shot her repeatedly with a stun gun. Taken to the hospital, Ms. McKenna, 37, who was mentally ill, died a few days later without regaining consciousness.
There are a number of extraordinary aspects to Ms. McKenna’s death, not least that the incident at the jail was recorded. The 45-minute video spans the attempt to remove her from her cell to her departure from the jail in an ambulance.
Two weeks after Ms. McKenna’s death, Sharon Bulova (D), who chairs Fairfax County’s Board of Supervisors, asked to see the video. She directed her request to Sheriff Stacey A. Kincaid, whose department runs the jail, and Police Chief Edwin C. Roessler Jr., whose department is investigating Ms. McKenna’s death. So far the request by the county’s top elected official has not been honored, nor has it been denied.
At the same time, neither the sheriff’s office nor the police have released relevant information to the public about Ms. McKenna’s death. For example, a spokesperson for the police department told us in an e-mail that the department cannot say when or if the six deputies involved in the incident at the jail will be identified.
Many law enforcement agencies resort reflexively to stonewalling. The Fairfax police have become notorious for it, having spent 18 months refusing to release information on the 2013 death of John Geer, an unarmed man shot to death by a county police officer in front of fellow officers who saw no reason to pull the trigger. Now it appears the police are at it again.
It may be many weeks before the medical examiner’s office makes public the official cause of Ms. McKenna’s death. In the meantime, it seems highly probable that the incident at the jail, specifically the repeated use of the stun gun to subdue her, played a major part.
Yet there is no sign so far that the sheriff’s office is reexamining its policies or procedures for removing inmates from their cells or even for the use of stun guns. Nor have the deputies involved been put on probation while Ms. McKenna’s death is investigated. If this is the result of an interaction with a female prisoner who was, by her lawyer’s account, just 5 feet 3 inches tall, why should anyone be confident that sheriff’s deputies are competent to extract a bigger and more physically powerful inmate from a cell?
When unarmed people die at the hands of uniformed officers, the public deserves an accounting. That accounting is still lacking in the death of Mr. Geer, and it is now lacking in the case of Ms. McKenna. In both cases, top officials of the relevant law enforcement agencies have promised openness and transparency. In both cases their deeds have contradicted their words.