AFTER A delay of more than two weeks, law enforcement agencies in Fairfax County have issued a statement about the case of Natasha McKenna, a mentally ill 37-year-old who died this month after sheriff’s deputies in the county jail shot her repeatedly with a stun gun.
The statement, jointly released by the sheriff’s office, which runs the jail, and the police department, which is investigating Ms. McKenna’s death, is offered by authorities as evidence of their commitment to openness — a quality glaringly absent in other recent deaths of unarmed civilians at the hands of Fairfax officers.
Unfortunately, the statement sheds little light on the circumstances surrounding Ms. McKenna’s violent, senseless death. In fact, it raises more questions.
Six sheriff’s deputies from an elite squad known as the Sheriff’s Emergency Response Team entered Ms. McKenna’s jail cell on Feb. 3, intending to transport her to Alexandria, where she was wanted on a warrant for felony assault on a police officer. The deputies, including two supervisors, were aware that Ms. McKenna, who was diagnosed with schizophrenia as a child, might violently resist; according to the statement, she had assaulted a deputy at the jail three days earlier.
Nonetheless, Ms. McKenna, the mother of a 7-year-old daughter, could not have presented an unmanageable challenge to six men specially trained in extracting prisoners from cells. She was about 5 feet 2 inches and 130 pounds, according to a lawyer subsequently hired by her family.
So why was it necessary to shoot her with a stun gun repeatedly — as many as five times, according to the family’s lawyer? Did any of the deputies have training in crisis intervention, specifically dealing with mentally ill people? Were they even aware of Ms. McKenna’s mental illness? The authorities aren’t saying.
Was the deputy allegedly assaulted by Ms. McKenna in the Jan. 31 incident at the jail among the six who tried to remove her from her cell on Feb. 3? Will the sheriff’s office or the police release the identities of the six deputies? If so, when?
And why have the deputies not been placed on probation pending the outcome of the investigation, a move that would be routine for many law enforcement agencies following such an incident?
A 45-minute video was made of the incident, starting with the attempt to remove Ms. McKenna from her cell and ending when she was taken by ambulance to a local hospital, where she died five days later without regaining consciousness. When will the police or sheriff’s office release the video, along with the jail’s incident reports on the extraction and the alleged earlier assault? ( Reports say Ms. McKenna may also have been struck by a deputy in that incident.)
It is unacceptable that the public remains in the dark about the circumstances of Ms. McKenna’s death. Fairfax Sheriff Stacey A. Kincaid, an elected official responsible for the jail, says she is committed to transparency. So does Edwin C. Roessler Jr., the Fairfax County police chief. They have yet to make good on that commitment.