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A Virginia sheriff's department released a video today showing the in-custody events leading up to the death of mentally-ill inmate Natasha McKenna after she was shot with a Taser multiple times by authorities. The video's release comes just days after a Fairfax County official decided not to seek criminal charges in connection with the deadly incident.
The 48-minute long video posted on YouTube starts with a filmed statement from Fairfax County Sheriff Stacey Kincaid discussing this week's announcement that criminal charges would not be brought, and explaining that various media reports about what happened compelled her to release the video.
"There is no better way to share what actually occurred than to make this video availability for the community to view in its entirety," Kincaid said.
McKenna was being held at the Fairfax County jail in Virginia this past February for allegedly assaulting a police officer. On February 3, a team of six members of the Sheriff Emergency Response Team — clothed in white protective suits — attempted to remove the handcuffed 37-year-old mother from her cell. The video shows the sheriff's deputies forming a row, with the first in line holding a riot shield as they prepare to open the door of McKenna's cell.
The authorities eventually grab McKenna out of her cell before she appears to struggle with the deputies. Eventually officers employ a Taser, and although it is hard to tell from the footage released today, but the Taser use appears to occur about four minutes into the video. According to previous reports, McKenna stopped breathing after being shocked, but in this video she appears to be moving her head and arms after she is restrained and put into a device that looks like a wheelchair. At the end of the video, a uniformed sheriff's deputy can be seen performing CPR.
McKenna was eventually transported to the hospital, where she was pronounced dead three days later.
An April 28 autopsy report listed the cause of death as "excited delirium associated with physical restraint including use of conductive energy device, contributing: Schizophrenia and Bi-Polar disorder." It referred to the manner of death as an "accident."
Following a recent spate of high-profile deaths in police custody — including those of Freddie Gray in Baltimore and Sandra Bland in Waller County, Texas — the autopsies ruling in McKenna's death was met with public skepticism, and in the months that followed critics wondered if the four shocks delivered by the Taser played a larger part in her death than the report indicated.
In a report released by Fairfax County Commonwealth's Attorney Ray Morrogh on Tuesday, however, the death was determined to be an accident.
"Ms. McKenna's death was a tragic accident. It is my legal opinion that there is not probable cause, much less proof beyond a reasonable doubt, that anyone involved in this case committed a crime," the report read.
According to the Sheriff Kincaid's statement in the video released on Thursday, her department will open its own internal investigation now that the criminal investigation has come to a close.
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