Fairfax County Pays $750,000 To Family After Deputies Fatally Taser Woman With Schizophrenia

((10-1-18) Washington Post Reporter Justin Jouvenal has revealed that Fairfax County has paid $750,000 in a court-sealed wrongful death settlement to the family of Natasha McKenna.

In February 2015, my wife, Patti, read a tiny item in the Post that noted a woman had died while in custody.

“Do you think she had a mental illness?” she asked me.

Several phone calls later, I’d learned that Natasha McKenna, 37, who reportedly had schizophrenia, had suffered a heart attack after being repeatedly stunned with a taser by deputies while being moved from her cell.

I posted a blog about what I had learned and alerted the Post and other local media.

Her death sparked justifiable community outrage.

The Post published editorials about it as more and more damning details leaked out.

A jail official, who was upset about how McKenna had been treated, wrote an anonymous blog for me that offered an insider’s account.

Black Lives Matter got involved. The local chapter of the NAACP held a protest and asked me to speak.

Her death revealed flaws in our local system that are all too common nationally.

Consider this snippet from a blog that I posted.

McKenna showed up twice at emergency rooms on Jan. 7th, 2015,  “agitated and paranoid” yet left without receiving any treatment. The next day, police found her in a parked car where she was trying to strangle herself with a seat belt. This time the police intervened and she was taken by ambulance to INOVA Mount Vernon Hospital. She was released four days later, on January 12, 2015. 


Two days after she was released, McKenna showed up at a hospital emergency room asking for help. Paranoid and anxious, she told nurses there that she had not been taking her medication.

A perfect chance to intervene and help her.

What happened?

The hospital called the police and asked the officer who responded to seek an order to have McKenna involuntarily committed. The officer talked to  McKenna and decided she didn’t meet criteria so he refused. At that point, Dr. Lydia Haile called a magistrate to get McKenna held for a hearing. She called not once, but twice. But the magistrate said that she had talked to the police officer and based on that officer’s description, the magistrate refused to issue an order.

A medical doctor was so concerned about McKenna’s mental health that she personally called twice but the magistrate (who has no medical training and had not personally observed McKenna) and the police officer (who has no medical training) refused to listen and instead McKenna was driven home.

The following day, January 15th, McKenna got into an argument with a rental car agent and the police were called. Please note that this is three days after she was released from the hospital — three days after her records indicated that mobile crisis team was supposed to respond if her condition worsened. And one day after a doctor had tried to get her admitted.

She was charged with a felony after she became combative and arrested. 

In a blog, I argued that her preventible death was directly linked to treatment denied syndrome.

Fairfax County Sheriff Stacey A. Kincaid released video of McKenna that showed her being stunned.

To her credit, Sheriff Kincaid traveled to San Antonio, Texas, to learn how Bexar County officials had implemented a diversion program to stop the inappropriate incarceration of individuals with mental illnesses. She returned to Fairfax and persuaded county officials to join her in creating a Diversion First program.  In less than two years, that program was being hailed as a national model. She expanded Crisis Intervention Team Training in the jail. Sheriff Kincaid became a nationally recognized advocate for persons with mental illnesses who end up being arrested.

The county’s $750,000 payment will go to McKenna’s 10-year-old daughter, according to Jouvenal’s story.

But those of us who live in Fairfax owe Natasha McKenna much more.

Because of her, Fairfax County has implemented Diversion First and other reforms.

It shouldn’t have taken her death to prompt the county into action, but because of McKenna, other lives are being saved.

That is her legacy.

Lest we forget: 


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.