Police Finish Investigation Into Woman’s Death In Fairfax Jail: I’m Disappointed

UPDATE:  After posting this item, I received this email from Chief Ed Roessler Jr.


I fully understand the questions raised and as you mention, the investigation is detailed and I can assure you our detectives have provided a thorough and comprehensive investigation to the Office of the Commonwealth’s Attorney.  Please understand my intent was never to blame Ms. McKenna.  The mission of the investigation was for the detectives to gather all of the facts and evidence related to the entire chain of events.  The goal of all the media release(s) to date is to provide a high level of transparency to our community about the investigative steps/process.  As you understand with an active case under legal review, I cannot be specific at this point. 

I will do my best to answer the investigative questions when appropriate.  The policy issues you raise are directed at the Office of the Fairfax County Sheriff and the Alexandria City law enforcement agencies and they are more appropriate for those agency leaders to answer.  I can assure you I am working with our partners in the region (local/state/non-profits) to build the Fairfax County Police Department’s capacity to compassionately and safely interact with those suffering from mental illness so that we can direct them to resources to help them through episodes and get long-term help.


Ed Roessler


Reporter Jackie Bensen asked me yesterday (July  13) to react to the Fairfax County police announcement that it had finished its investigation into the death of Natasha McKenna. The statement by Police Chief Ed Roessler contained little new information but appeared to me to imply that McKenna was responsible for everything that had happened to her, excusing the actions of the deputies involved in her subsequent death. Everyone involved in this tragedy has said that the public will be told all of the facts, but that certainly hasn’t happened so far. 

Police Complete Investigation Into Death of Fairfax County Inmate
As the investigation into the death of Natasha McKenna continues, a local mental health advocate is questioning whether detention center employees used excessive force. News 4’s Jackie Bensen reports.

Fairfax County police have completed a five-month investigation into the death of an inmate who was shocked with a stun gun several times in the Fairfax County jail.
The case file connected to the February death of 37-year-old Natasha McKenna was sent to Commonwealth’s Attorney Ray Morrogh for review, police said Monday. Police made no recommendation on whether charges should be filed, nor would they typically do so, spokesman Don Gotthardt said.
Death of Va. Inmate Shocked in Custody Ruled an Accident
Video of the incident, in which a stun gun was used multiple times on McKenna does exist and was reviewed, according to County Police Chief Ed Roessler.
McKenna stopped breathing Feb. 3 after she was shocked multiple times while shackled as she resisted efforts to move her from her cell, officials said. She died five days later.
Report: Inmate Was Shackled Before Being Stunned
A medical examiner’s report previously ruled McKenna’s death as accidental.
Mental health advocate Pete Earley, a member of an ad hoc committee on reforming police practices in Fairfax County, said many questions are still unanswered.
“I was very, very very disappointed. What upsets me is it’s always easy to blame the person with mental illness,” he said.
Neither the Fairfax County Sheriff’s Office, which is in charge of the jail, nor police have addressed why McKenna became combative in the first place, Earley said.
“He doesn’t mention that she was in that jail for nine days, that she was handcuffed, that she had leg irons on and she only weighs 130 pounds,” Earley said about new information Roessler provided Monday. “She had six deputies around her in a controlled environment and somehow she’s responsible for bringing all this on”
The case file is extensive and it will take some time to review before making a decision on whether any charges should be filed, Morrogh said. The six-month investigation included 50 interviews and independent testing of the stun gun used on McKenna.
The McKenna family’s lawyer, Harvey Volzer, said he wants to be able to review the video now that police have completed their investigation.
Published at 8:01 PM EDT on Jul 13, 2015

About the author:

Pete Earley is the bestselling author of such books as The Hot House and Crazy. When he is not spending time with his family, he tours the globe advocating for mental health reform.

Learn more about Pete.