Technology IA: An Update on Tasers

As noted in a previous post, while I support the use of Tasers by police departments, there are dangers inherent to the deployment of Tasers.  The danger was brought home in a recent incident in Fairfax County, VA.

On Tuesday, February 2, 2015, 37 year-old Natasha McKenna, an inmate in the Fairfax County Adult Detention Center, was tasered by deputies of the Fairfax County Sheriff’s Department.  McKenna, who reportedly was in the jail’s mental health unit, was incarcerated pending trial for assault on a law enforcement officer.  The tazing caused McKenna to go into cardiac arrest.  She was taken to a local hospital and placed on life support.  When life support was withdrawn, McKenna died.

Full details of the incident are unavailable.  What is known is that McKenna was being readied for transport to court.  She refused the deputies commands and physically resisted.  What commands were refused and the extent of the physical resistance are unknown.  Typically, when an inmate is being transported to court, the inmate is ordered out of his or her cell, is searched for contraband, and is escorted to a transport vehicle.  I suppose that McKenna was ordered to leave her cell, refused to do so, and, when the deputies attempted to forcibly remove her, she fought them.  What follows is based on my supposition.  If additional facts become known, I reserve the right to alter my analysis.

Before judging the actions of the deputies, the alternatives available to them must be evaluated.  The deputies could have allowed McKenna to remain in her cell.  She would not have gone to court and would have remained in jail.  Most inmates want their day in court, realizing that the only way to attain their freedom, short of escape, is to have a judge order their release.  Leaving McKenna in her cell might be punishment enough for her disobedience.  On the other hand, discipline must be maintained at the institution.  If the deputies allowed the inmates to regulate their own movement, chaos would result.   Also, what about the judge who is waiting to hear McKenna’s case?  The deputies cannot ignore the court’s calendar.  So, the deputies had to remove McKenna.  The question was how.

The deputies certainly could have physically overcome McKenna’s resistance by sheer use of force.  There are a lot of sheriff’s deputies and only one McKenna.  In a fight, they win.  This course of action would run the risk of serious injury (broken bones, concussion, even cardiac arrest – see Eric Garner) to both the inmate and the deputies.  The deputies chose to Taser McKenna, rendering her temporarily immobile, so that they could apply restraints and move McKenna where she needed to be.  One cannot say this was an unreasonable choice.  Incidents of taser fatalities are rare  The deputies did not have a crystal ball.  We cannot blame the deputies for this one.

The lesson that we should take from this unfortunate incident is that the deployment of Tasers is not without risk.  However, on balance, when judiciously employed, the use of Tasers reduces deaths and serious injuries.

One thought on “Technology IA: An Update on Tasers

  1. Manuel

    Jeepers, the Alexandria Police has a lot to answer for on this one. A mentally-disturbed woman died while in their custody. The debatable argument goes like this: if she had not been in their custody she would not be dead. It has come out that she was tased four times in succession and went into cardiac arrest. Again, four times. And that there were five trained officers who went to get her out of the cell. Again, five officers. Unless she was built like a NE Patriots offensive tackle, this sounds reasonably like over-reaction and in this case, over-kill. There is much more info that must come out in this incident.

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