“You promised me you wouldn’t kill me,” were some of the last words Natasha McKenna spoke before she lost consciousness after a protracted struggle with sheriff deputies at the Fairfax County jail.
Last February, a group of officers dressed in hazmat suits and gas masks attempted to extract McKenna from her jail cell and transport her to another facility when things took a deadly turn. During the encounter, McKenna, who suffered from schizophrenia and bipolar disorder, objected to being forcibly taken down and wouldn’t comply with sheriff deputies orders.
As officers wrestled McKenna to the floor, putting a plastic shield over her body and forcing her face into the ground, they continued to tell the 37-year-old to “stop resisting” even after her hands and feet were handcuffed. The 20-minute encounter was recorded by jail officials and released to the public on Thursday.
During the struggle, officers shot McKenna four times with a Taser, which a state medical examiner initially found contributed to her death. Later, the medical examiner said McKenna died of “excited delirium,” a controversial finding almost exclusively cited in in-custody deaths.
According to officials, “excited delirium” is a condition that occurs in people on drugs or mentally ill whose heart suddenly gives out because they’ve become overly agitated. Many doctors dispute such a condition even exists, particularly because “excited delirium” seems to only occur in police custody deaths.
Tuesday, Fairfax County prosecutor Raymond F. Morrogh announced he would not seek charges against the officers in connection with McKenna’s death. Despite tasing a mentally ill woman four times, contributing to her demise, Morrogh concluded the officers “did their best.”
“The men and women of the SERT team are good people who did their best to get her help under difficult circumstances,” he said. “They used, I think, restraint in dealing with her under the circumstances.”
In Morrogh’s 51-page report on the incident, officers claimed McKenna had “superhuman” strength and acted as if she “didn’t feel any pain.”
“In my 19 years, that was the worst inmate I have ever dealt with,” Deputy Holmes said. “She was the real deal. Seriously, she was the worst.”
Another, Deputy Reeves, said, “Her strength was amazing…I have never encountered anyone like that who wasn’t on PCP before.”
Despite their assertions that McKenna had superhuman strength and was “pushing us up almost like doing a push-up,” the video shows something different. While McKenna does indeed resist being handcuffed, officers were never in danger or even pushed away. In fact, for the majority of the 20-minute confrontation McKenna lies on the ground with officers pushing her face into the floor.
Harvey J. Volzer, an attorney for Mckenna’s family, called Morrogh’s decision not to seek charges “ludicrous.”
“This conclusion is ludicrous,” he said in an email to The Washington Post. “What caused her death was one officer using a taser four times on a completely helpless, mentally-impaired female in violation of rules governing the proper use of a taser, and seven additional officers doing nothing to intervene.”