Mentally Ill Man Shot In Groin With Taser: Dies In Custody

Since the death of Natasha McKenna, a 37 year old black woman who died after being shot with a taser four times in the Fairfax County Detention Center, I have been receiving emails about similar deaths from readers across the country. Today’s video was especially difficult to watch because it shows a man, who has a mental illness, being booked into jail, resisting, and then getting into a violent confrontation with deputies. That is the first part of the video. The next was taken by a camera attached to a deputy’s Taser. The red dot shows where the Taser was pointed. It was shot into the man’s groin AFTER he already was restrained in a chair.

This man walked into the jail physically healthy. He died in custody.

Having a mental illness should not be a death sentence if someone is arrested. According to the National Alliance on Mental Illness (NAMI), up to 40% of adults who experience serious mental illness in their lifetime will come into contact with the police and the criminal justice system at some point in their lives. My son has been shot twice with a Taser while psychotic.

It is difficult to imagine why anyone who is restrained should be shot with a 50,000 volt taser, especially someone who is mentally ill.

The use of tasers in the Fairfax Detention Center was suspended by Sheriff Stacey A. Kincaid after McKenna’s death. The Ad Hoc Police Practices Commission, that I served on, has recommended that the Fairfax Police be prohibited from using a Taser on anyone who is resisting and restrained “unless an objective reasonable officer concludes that the resistance could result in serious injury to him or herself or others and less severe force alternatives have been ineffective or are deemed unacceptable for the situation.” That committee also recommended that the police “forbid the use of an ECW (TASER) more than three times on any individual.”

Why are tasers even necessary in a correctional institution, a so-called “controlled environment?” Crisis Intervention Team training emphasizes verbal deescalation techniques. Sometimes allowing a person to cool down in their cell has been proven to be effective. In other jurisdictions, medical sedation often has been used. When I was doing research for my book, it was OC (Pepper Spray) that was used when someone with a severe mental illness became violent. I am not recommending pepper spray, I am simply listing it as an alternative to the Taser.

I hope that Sheriff Kincaid makes the banning of Tasers in our local jail permanent. The use of them on persons with mental illnesses in jails should end.


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.