On February 8th, 2015, Natasha McKenna died in Fairfax County Jail after being tased 4 times with 50,000 volts while in the midst of a schizophrenic episode. The incident was captured on video, which was released in September, 2015, as part of the Fairfax County Sheriff Office's announcement that those responsible for McKenna’s death had been cleared of any wrongdoing. Despite the horrific footage, mainstream media and activists have paid little attention to this case. The following talking points are intended to help raise awareness and generate concern around her story.
INTERSECTION OF RACE/GENDER/MENTAL ILLNESS
Natasha McKenna had a long history of schizophrenia and bipolar disorder. In February 2015, she called 911 during a mental health crisis. Instead of providing her with mental health support, officers brought McKenna to Fairfax County Jail on an outstanding warrant. Police officers are not mental health professionals and often lack the skills and training necessary to handle such situations. While six deputies pinned McKenna to the ground and repeatedly tased her, she pleaded, “You promised you wouldn’t kill me.” When police are increasingly first responders to calls during mental health crises, racial stereotypes can make Black women like McKenna vulnerable to violent restraint and unreasonable force when they should be provided with support and treatment.
WHAT EXACTLY IS “EXCITED DELIRIUM”?
Natasha McKenna’s cause of death was listed as “excited delirium...contributing: schizophrenia and bi-polar disorder.” The term ‘excited delirium,” which is not recognized by the medical community, is used nearly exclusively to justify deaths while in police custody. The medical examiner concluded that Natasha McKenna’s death resulted not from being tasered four times but from a condition in which a person with mental illness suddenly dies in a state of distress. It is outrageous that McKenna’s death was ruled an “accident.”
HOW MUCH IS 50,000 VOLTS?
Over the course of 2 minutes and 37 seconds, a total of four 50,000 volt shocks were administered to Natasha McKenna. For comparison, an electric chair used for lethal purposes administers between 1,000 and 2,400 volt shocks. Currently, there are no national guidelines on law enforcement use of tasers, a large part of what allowed McKenna’s killers to escape legal repercussions.There needs to be widespread recognition of the use of non-lethal or “less-lethal” weapons -- such as tasers -- as forms of police brutality. This violence will only continue if officers are permitted to use such dangerous weapons without any restriction.
WHAT ARE THE LEGAL RAMIFICATIONS FOR THE DEPUTIES?
In September of 2015, it was decided that the deputies responsible for Natasha McKenna’s death would face no criminal charges. Fairfax County Sheriff Stacy Kincaid commended the “professionalism” and “patience that the deputies demonstrated” when restraining and tasering McKenna. While the FBI and the Department of Justice have opened independent investigations into Natasha McKenna’s death, this could take years. We need to continue to demand justice and demand it now. Law enforcement officers who abuse their status by administering excessive force must be held accountable for their actions.
CAN THIS BE VIEWED AS SEXUAL ASSAULT?
Yes. Natasha McKenna was completely naked when she was “extracted” from her cell. She was pinned against the ground by several men in uniform. They covered her head in a hood but left the rest of her body exposed. By the end of the video she is unconscious yet the officers continued to manhandle her body. If Natasha McKenna was white, the sexual assault implications of what happened to her would not have been overlooked.