NAACP Asks Me To Speak About Natasha McKenna’s Death; Her Family Issues Public Statement

natasha mckenna

PRESS PLAY BELOW TO HEAR MY MY SIX MINUTE SPEECH AT THE RALLY* (also see correction at bottom of blog.)


A new crisis assessment center for persons with mental illnesses in Fairfax County, Virginia, should be named after Natasha McKenna. That is what I told a crowd Sunday (9-27-15) outside the jail where the 37 year-old black woman was stunned with a taser four times by sheriff’s deputies and later died.

Shirley Ginwright, the president of the Fairfax Chapter of the NAACP, asked me to speak at the rally. In my six minute talk, I said McKenna should never have been arrested or taken to jail. She had schizophrenia and had been to emergency rooms seeking help five times prior to her incarceration.

I asked  the NAACP to recommend that the county’s new crisis center be named in Natasha McKenna’s honor to remind everyone of the importance of jail diversion and of providing community based mental health services.  Having a mental illness should not be a crime.

Natasha McKenna’s family’s attorney, Harvey Volzer, read a statement at the rally, which I’ve printed below. It is the first time the family has spoken about their loss.

As we have coped with the tragic loss of our beloved Natasha McKenna, our family would like to thank everyone who has prayed for us and supported us. Natasha’s death weighs heavy on our hearts because our dear loved one suffered and died unnecessarily.

We revisited our loss again, as we viewed the recently released full video, showing Fairfax County deputies shackling Natasha and tasering her to death.

We continue to believe that justice will prevail, however, Fairfax County’s decision to not press charges against the deputies in the video is upsetting. Fairfax County has forced our grieving family to question their investigation and the County’s reluctance to hold accountable those who mistreat the mentally challenged and use excessive force.

We know that there are those who support the actions of the deputies who shackled and tasered Natasha. We would like those individuals to know we pray for them and hope their families never have to suffer the way ours has. We also pray for the legal system upon which we are all rely.

Mentally challenged individuals are often stigmatized and treated as second-class citizens. Natasha should be remembered as a loving, kind and caring person. While Natasha had mental challenges, these challenges did not define her nor does our family want her legacy overshadowed by such a disheartening  visual recap of her final days on this earth.

Our family challenges the community to demand that elected officials and those paid to protect and serve do so with humanity, integrity and fairness. We encourage you to write your local law-makers and demand increased law enforcement training on recognizing the mentally challenged and on implementing procedures to protect these individuals while in custody.

Again our sincere and heart-felt thanks to those who have prayed for, supported, shared information via social media, and followed Natasha’s story. We are committed to her legacy and to working for better treatment and care for those who are mentally challenged.

Natasha McKenna’s death was not in vain and we look forward to realizing the good that will come out of such a tragic event.

Blessing, the family of Natasha McKenna.

The NAACP asked voters in Fairfax to write Natasha McKenna’s name on ballots November 3rd as a write in candidate rather than voting for Commonwealth Attorney Raymond F. Morrogh who has not publicly endorsed the county’s Diversion First effort.

CORRECTION: I incorrectly called Commonwealth Attorney Raymond F. Morrogh by the wrong name in my speech. I referred to him as Raymond Moran. I apologize for the error.

Here are my written remarks

I want to thank Natasha McKenna’s family for allowing me to speak this afternoon.

No one can understand the pain that the McKenna family is experiencing. They have lost a daughter and Natasha’s daughter has lost a mother.

But we can share in Natasha McKenna’s family’s outrage about what happened to her here. We can pledge to not allow it to happen again to someone else.

Natasha McKenna should have never been in jail.

I have an adult son with a mental illness. I took my son to an emergency room when he was delusional and was turned away. My son was later arrested in Fairfax County. My son was later shot with a taser.

Having a mental illness should not be a crime and it should not be a death sentence.

Natasha McKenna went to five emergency rooms before she was taken to jail. Five Times she sought psychiatric help. Five times she was sick and confused. In one instance, she was sent home from the hospital in a cab four days after she had been so ill that she had tried to end her own life.

Four days and out the door.

There was no discharge plan. No follow up. Nothing but a cab ride.

In another instance, she discharged from one hospital at 12:30 p.m., only to reappear at another emergency room at 10 p.m. that same day. What happened? The hospital called the police.

She was booked into jail where she was stripped naked, held in solitary confinement and lost in bureaucratic bickering.

What was her crime?

Her crime was being mentally ill, which was not her fault. Schizophrenia is an illness that attacks the brain. It can happen to anyone just like anyone can have a heart attack. Only we don’t arrest people for having heart attacks and we don’t put them in jail and jab them with a 50,000 volt taser four times.

Even in death, Natasha McKenna has been abused.

The state medical examiner declared the cause of her death was excited delirium – a syndrome based on junk science that is not recognized by the American Psychiatric Association, the American Medical Association or the International Classification of the World Health Organization.

If you check the Virginia medical examiner’s most recent records, you will NOT find a single mention of excited delirium as a cause of death in the entire state of Virginia. Not one.

Not one until now. Natasha McKenna.

In 2013, the state examiner investigated 128 deaths of prisoners in Virginia. , NOT ONE – Not One – was caused by excited delirium.

As the Washington Post has pointed out, the ONLY time that excited delirium has been listed as a cause of death anywhere in America is when someone dies while in police custody after being shot with a taser and officials want to avoid a costly lawsuit.

Commonwealth Prosecutor Raymond F. Morrogh used that make believe excuse to claim Natasha McKenna’s death was — who’s fault?

Natasha McKenna’s. That’s right and he did it in the most dehumanizing way possible.

He said the deputies in the jail had no choice but to use a taser on her because Natasha McKenna possessed super human strength and was “demonically possessed.”

His report said “She was the worse and most violent inmate that deputies had ever had to deal with.”

You’ve seen that video of her death?

Did she look like someone who had super human strength when she walked out of her cell in handcuffs and said: “You promised you wouldn’t kill me?”

Did she look like someone who was possessed by demons when she walked out of her cell in handcuffs and said, “You promised you wouldn’t kill me?”

At any time when she was being pinned down on the floor by six men wearing masks and hazard suits for more than twenty minutes did she look like someone who was out of control and violent?

How easy it is to blame Natasha McKenna. How easy it is to dehumanize her and marginalize here because she had a mental illness.

We are here this afternoon to say that what happened to her is UNACCEPTABLE.

We are here this afternoon to say that having a mental illness does not make you any less human or deserving of treatment than it does anyone else.

We are here to say that people with mental illnesses deserve justice.    Forty percent of persons with mental illnesses have encounters with the police. Nearly half of all police shootings involve persons with mental illnesses.

There are 365,000 persons with serve mental illnesses in our jails and prisons, a million are on probation, and 2.2 million go through the criminal justice system every years. The largest public mental health facility today in the U.S. is not a hospital, it is the Los Angeles County jail and here in Fairfax, there are more people with mental illnesses like Natasha McKenna in our detention center than there are in our state mental hospitals.

And yes, a majority of those inmates are black.

This is wrong.

Beginning today, we are going to change things in Fairfax County.

We are not going to forget Natasha McKenna.

Her life already is making a difference.

Because of Natasha McKenna, the Fairfax Police and Sheriff’s Office have agreed to begin Crisis Intervention Team training for all of their officers. CIT is a national program that teaches law enforcement how to de-escalate situations when they encounter persons who are mentally ill rather than arrest them.

Because of Natasha McKenna, Fairfax Sheriff Stacey Kincaid traveled to San Antonio Texas where she learned about jail diversion. If Natasha McKenna had lived in San Antonio Texas, she never would have been arrested. She would have been taken to a crisis assessment center and provided with medical help. She would have been diverted into treatment not incarceration.

Because of Natasha McKenna, Fairfax County officials have announced they are launching a San Antonio Diversion First program that will divert people from jail into treatment.

Because of Natasha McKenna, a citizen’s commission has recommended that the lame excuse of excited delirium never be cited again as a cause of death.

Because of Natasha McKenna, the county has announced it will

Add more mental health services and open a “crisis assessment center” at its Merrifield Center. Rather than being taken to jail, people in crisis can be taken to this assessment center.

These are steps, but they are not enough. We need to make certain that no one in Fairfax County ever has to go through what Natasha McKenna did.

We need to make certain that public officials keep the promises that they are making after the upcoming elections.

Today, I am asking the NAACP to official request that the new assessment center at Merrifield be named after Natasha McKenna and that a plaque be placed there in her honor.

We name buildings after public officials all the time. I say it is time that we name one after a young black woman and mother who had mental illness who died because she did not get help here in Fairfax County.

I say it is time that we name a building after a young black woman and mother who had a mental illness who could and should have gotten help, rather than being marginalized and abused.

We need to keep her memory alive as a reminder of what happened to her and how that should never happen again.

Thank you!


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.