Natasha McKenna (1978-2015)

The tragic death of Natasha McKenna helped propel the Black Lives Matter Movement founded in 2013 to address issues of individual treatment while in police custody and the tactics used to address citizens who suffered from mental health issues. Natasha McKenna was born on January 9, 1978 to Marlene Williams. She graduated from W.T. Woodson High School in Fairfax County, Virginia, where she was on the basketball team. McKenna had been diagnosed with bipolar disorder as well as schizophrenia at the age of twelve.

Natasha McKenna was arrested on January 26, 2015 after initially calling to report an assault. Four weeks later, McKenna died on February 8, 2015 as the result of the misuse of a stun gun by officers inside of the Fairfax County jail in Fairfax County, Virginia. However, medical examiners within Fairfax County, Virginia district labeled McKenna’s death as cardiac arrest, and directly correlated as a result of excited delirium. Consequently, Fairfax County medical examiners ruled McKenna’s death an accident.

Officers involved in this event claim that McKenna had an outstanding warrant for assaulting an officer in Alexandria, Virginia. Following her hospital examination for the assault that she reported, she was transported to Fairfax County jail where she would later have an elongated detainment. After a week-long delay in transport, McKenna’s mental health began to deteriorate and her behavior became erratic. This behavior, according to Fairfax County jail officers, was the cause of McKenna’s hands and feet being shackled together before and during the time of her death. McKenna’s physical restraint has been argued as a key point in misconduct in the legal case following her death and the use of a stun gun was claimed to be excessive force given the circumstances.

The events leading up to McKenna’s death was documented by Fairfax County Jail security cameras. This footage portrays the arguable misuse of stun guns as well as excessive force. McKenna, who weighed 130 pounds, and was about five feet, three inches in height, withstood well over 100,000 volts of electricity from Fairfax County jail officer stun guns. Officers claim the stun gun was used to restrain McKenna, following a mental health episode. McKenna is one of hundreds of people who have died in the United States as a result of the excessive or misuse of a stun a gun.

McKenna was survived by her then-seven-year-old daughter, as well as her mother and two siblings. Her death sparked the constant reminder that dozens of black women face the same police injustice as we sadly see in our society today. Following a long legal investigation of the Fairfax County jail, as well as its officials, no charges were pressed.  A legal battle for compensation is still underway.