On Tuesday (Sept. 8) Fairfax County’s lead prosecutor revealed that he will not pursue charges in the death of Natasha McKenna, who died under curious circumstances inside a prison cell. Mckenna, a mentally ill woman, was Tasered and heavily restrained back in February and died later in an area hospital.
McKenna, 37, reportedly resisted officers as she was being transferred to another cell while handcuffed. McKenna was also outfitted with leg restraints and a mask as well during the transfer.
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Commonwealth’s Attorney Raymond F. Morrogh said at a news conference Tuesday afternoon that the Sheriff’s Emergency Response Team, or SERT, which dealt with McKenna, was facing an inmate they described as having “superhuman” strength and who resisted forcefully.
“The men and women of the SERT team are good people who did their best to get her help under difficult circumstances,” Morrogh said. “They used, I think, restraint in dealing with her under the circumstances.”
The lack of charges angered McKenna’s family and local mental health advocates, who wondered why such force was employed on a woman who suffered from schizophrenia, bipolar disorder and depression for most of her life.
Harvey J. Volzer, the family attorney for the McKenna family, spoke with the Washington Post via e-mail and stated that details related to McKenna’s death were “ludicrous.”
“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,” said Volzer.
According to the investigation, McKenna was acting strangely and attempted to end her life using a seat belt in a stranger’s car.
McKenna’s ordeal began on Jan. 15 after she got into an altercation with a Hertz rental agency. After authorities were called to the scene, McKenna reportedly fought police as they attempted to arrest her.
McKenna was under the care of a hospital for 10 days and later arrested by Fairfax County police after she was let go on an outstanding warrant for assaulting an Alexandria officer in the earlier January incident.
McKenna showed signs of mental incapacity during her time in prison, and police who were assigned to address her neglected to appear at the facility over eight days in the time she was held in county jail.
Morrogh released a 52-page report which showed details of the investigation and why the Commonwealth didn’t bring charges. According to the report, the breakdown of incidents highlights how McKenna eventually lost her life.
Author Pete Earley was critical of Morrogh’s ruling in the end and a federal probe in McKenna’s death is ongoing.