NATASHA McKENNA, the mentally ill woman who died after a struggle with sheriff’s deputies inside the Fairfax County jail in February, was neither tall nor powerfully built. She posed no risk of escape nor any serious physical threat to guards.
Nonetheless, an elite team of six deputies, sent to extract her from her cell, was unable to control Ms. McKenna. Even after she was handcuffed and placed in leg shackles, the deputies could not force her into a restraint chair, which led to a very bad decision: As The Post’s Tom Jackman and Justin Jouvenal reported, a lieutenant shot her four times with a Taser, at point-blank range, even as her hands and feet were in restraints.
Ms. McKenna, a 37-year-old mother, stopped breathing shortly thereafter, and her heart ceased beating. Although her heart was restarted, she died a few days later without regaining consciousness.
Taser International, in its instructional materials, warns that using the weapon in so-called drive-stun mode — holding the weapon against a body, without firing electric probes into it — as the lieutenant did three of the four times he shot her, “may not be effective on emotionally disturbed persons. . . . Avoid using repeated drive-stuns on such individuals if compliance is not achieved.” The company further cautions that repeatedly shooting someone with a Taser increases “the risk of death or serious injury.”
Experts interviewed by The Post further warned against shooting someone more than three times with a stun gun.
If the lieutenant knew that, he ignored it. If he didn’t know it, he was inadequately trained. (It also appears the deputies lacked training in crisis intervention.) Either way, there should be consequences for them and for jail management.
Instead, as the police investigation of the Feb. 3 incident drags on, the authorities appear paralyzed.
Fairfax County Sheriff Stacey Kincaid, who oversees the jail, has taken no disciplinary steps against the six deputies. Nor has she initiated any review in her department’s policy on the use of Tasers. Even if the reason is to limit the department’s liability in a lawsuit, that’s outrageous.
Indeed, Ms. Kincaid actually defended the use of Tasers, even on restrained prisoners, as preferable to the use of physical force and “often useful to ensure the safety of a person.”
So to enhance “the safety of a person,” Ms. McKenna had to be repeatedly shot with a Taser until she lost consciousness?
Investigators are awaiting a ruling on Ms. McKenna’s death from the medical examiner. In the meantime, the silence is deafening. Ms. Kincaid pledged openness but is upset that reports on the incident in the jail were obtained by The Post.
Fairfax’s top elected officials, including the chairman of the county’s Board of Supervisors, Sharon Bulova (D), have also pledged openness. Ms. Bulova and the county board have no direct authority over the jail or the sheriff, who is independently elected. Still, it is time for them to speak out about what was clearly a bungled intervention by sheriff’s deputies that led to an unnecessary death and about the sheriff’s unacceptable non-response.