On February 3rd, a 5’3″, 130 pound Virginia woman was killed after six deputies tased her before locking her in restraints with an anti-spitting hood over her head. Natasha McKenna, who was 37 years old and suffered from schizophrenia from a young age, went into cardiac arrest before ever leaving the jail and later died at the hospital.
McKenna called 911 on January 25th to report she had been assaulted. After she was taken to the hospital for an examination, police realized they had a warrant for her arrest stemming from an alleged assault against a an officer. Ten days earlier, at a Hertz car rental agency, employees had noticed McKenna was “being disruptive and acting strangely.” After she assaulted an officer, police secured an involuntary detention order against her and she was held at a local Inova hospital for treatment. She was eventually released.
With the warrant in one hand and McKenna in the other, Alexandria police took her to jail on the 26th. McKenna remained in that jail for the next several days waiting to be transferred. Her condition deteriorated rapidly. By February 3rd, when six sheriff’s deputies lined up outside her cell in body armor, McKenna resisted and a struggle ensued. It was then she was tasered and would eventually die.
The Alexandria City Police Department released details on its investigation of the incident yesterday, but there are several important questions left unanswered. Was McKenna on medication or receiving treatment before her arrest, and was that treatment continued from January 26th until her death on February 3rd? Her diminished condition seems to suggest otherwise. How many times was McKenna tasered? Was approaching a frail and likely terrified mentally ill person in a cell with six deputies in body armor the best way to conduct this transfer? Why did her transfer take so long?
In-custody deaths and abuse involving restraint chairs and tasers are not uncommon, and yet these kinds of aggressive approaches — especially toward the mentally ill — seem to be in vogue in lock-ups and police departments across the country. In 2013, Christopher Lee Lopez died in restraints and a hood in Colorado. Two inmates died in the same restraint chair in South Carolina last year. A 26-year old died after having a seizure in a chair in Washington. In Arkansas, one inmate was tied so tight his “whole arm turned purple.”
The same goes for the use of tasers by law enforcement against those who don’t appear to fully ‘comply’ with their orders; in October, 31-year-old Lashano Gilbert of New London, Connecticut was shot twice by police with a stun gun in a span of 8 hours after being arrested on suspicion of carjacking. He later died. 36-year-old Dante Parker was tasered at least 25 times and killed after matching the description of a burglar. In 2011, police officers in Ferguson, Missouri, “restrained a mentally ill man and repeatedly shocked him with a taser, causing him to die of a heart attack…”
The ACPD says the investigation is still ongoing and promises to release more information soon. So far, no charges or disciplinary actions have been taken against the officers involved in McKenna’s death.