McLEAN (AP) Fairfax County Commonwealth’s Attorney Ray Morrogh said Tuesday he will not bring criminal charges against jail deputies who used a Taser on a partially restrained inmate who later died, calling the death a “tragic accident.”
In a 51-page report, Morrogh concluded that deputies acted appropriately in their efforts to restrain 37-year-old Natasha McKenna during a cell transfer in February. He had been evaluating whether to bring charges for the past two months.
McKenna, who was African-American, lost consciousness at the conclusion of the Feb. 3 incident, and was declared brain dead four days later.
A team of five deputies used a hood called a “spit sock” and eventually fired four Taser shots at McKenna during a 20-minute struggle to get her restrained for a transfer to the Alexandria jail, about 9 miles south of Arlington.
Deputies told Morrogh in the report that the 181-pound McKenna was the most difficult inmate they had ever encountered, that she possessed what they described as superhuman strength during the struggles. One inmate said the growls McKenna made during a prior struggle were comparable to a demonic possession.
“There is no evidence that any of the deputies acted maliciously, sadistically or with the intent to punish or cause harm to Ms. McKenna at any point in the struggle. To the contrary, they did their best, under very difficult circumstances, to restrain, control and prevent Ms. McKenna from injuring herself or others,” Morrogh wrote in the report.
McKenna, who was being held on charges of assaulting a police officer in Alexandria, had a history of mental illness and had previously attacked and bit a deputy, prompting a decision to use a five-man Emergency Response Team to remove McKenna from the cell.
A deputy did not use the Taser until more than 15 minutes into the encounter, after McKenna had ignored repeated warnings.
A medical examiner had previously ruled her death accidental, determining the cause to be “excited delirium” with McKenna’s schizophrenia listed as a contributing factor. Morrogh said the superhuman strength McKenna seemed to show in her battles with deputies is often associated with excited delirium.
The report also details McKenna’s actions in the days leading up to her arrest. It states that a day before the altercation with Alexandria police that led to her arrest, McKenna checked in to the Inova Springfield HealthPlex and told doctors she had stopped taking her medications. Doctors at the health care facility tried to keep McKenna hospitalized, but were advised by police and two separate magistrates that McKenna did not meet the conditions for hospitalizing a person against her will.
Her death remains the subject of a federal civil rights investigation.
Harvey Volzer, a lawyer representing McKenna’s family, said Tuesday afternoon that he had just begun reviewing Morrogh’s report. Volzer said he has still not been allowed to see a video of the cell extraction that was recorded by a deputy. That video has not been made public.
— MATTHEW BARAKAT, Associated Press