A video released Thursday shows a prolonged struggle between a naked, mentally ill inmate and five deputies in Fairfax, Virginia, who shocked the inmate four times with a stun gun before she lost consciousness. The video of the Feb. 3 incident provides the most vivid account available of the encounter that led to the woman’s death, which is under investigation by police.
The inmate, 37-year-old Natasha McKenna, died several days after the struggle, prompting a months-long criminal investigation. Thursday's release of the 45-minute video comes two days after the Fairfax County prosecutor, Commonwealth's Attorney Ray Morrogh, announced he would not file charges, calling the death a "tragic accident.” With the criminal probe concluded, Fairfax County Sheriff Stacey Kincaid said an internal police investigation into the death would begin.
McKenna was the mother of a 7-year-old daughter, the Washington Post reported.
A medical examiner also ruled the death accidental, specifically by “excited delirium” associated with use of restraints and a stun gun. McKenna's schizophrenia was listed as a contributing factor. The case remains the subject of a federal civil rights investigation.
Kincaid said she released the video because there is "no better way for me to share what actually occurred" with the community.
The graphic video, released on YouTube, begins with a deputy explaining that a special Emergency Response Team is being used to take McKenna, who was African-American, out of her cell at a jail in Fairfax and transfer her to the jail in Alexandria, Virginia where she had been charged with assaulting a police officer. The officers wore biohazard suits because McKenna had thrown urine at them and had tested positive for communicable diseases.
At the start of the encounter, a deputy says, "Natasha, we're here to take you out."
McKenna replies, "You promised me you wouldn't kill me. I didn't do anything."
Deputies wrestle her to the ground. They struggle for 15 to 20 minutes to get her cuffed and bound in a restraint chair, and warned her that she will be shot with a stun gun if she keeps resisting. It is unclear why she is naked.
The video shows the Taser being used four times toward the end of the struggle. Eventually, the deputies get McKenna restrained in the chair and put a lightweight hood called a "spit sock" on her to prevent her from spitting at them. A few minutes later, after she is taken to a garage area for transfer, another attempt to take her vital signs goes badly, and deputies start resuscitation efforts.
McKenna lost consciousness, and on Feb. 7, four days after the incident, she was declared brain dead.
Pete Earley, a mental health advocate who serves on a county commission evaluating police conduct, said he watched the McKenna video and questioned the need to use a Taser on McKenna. He said it was clear that deputies had McKenna under control during the encounter, even if they were struggling to put her in restraints.
He said the video runs counter to the portrayal in Morrogh’s report that McKenna displayed almost superhuman strength in her battles with deputies.
Despite his concerns, Earley also noted the professional demeanor of deputies, who generally spoke calmly and politely to McKenna during the encounter. He said he credits Kincaid for taking steps to address the broader problem of mentally ill people being kept in jails when they would be better served in a treatment facility.
Morrogh's report states that a day before she was arrested, doctors had sought to have McKenna hospitalized, but were advised by police and two separate magistrates that she did not meet the conditions for hospitalizing a person against her will.
Harvey Volzer, a lawyer representing McKenna's family, did not immediately respond to an email seeking comment.
Al Jazeera and The Associated Press