What happened to Natasha McKenna? The routine torture of cell extraction

In early February, Natasha McKenna was killed by six officers in the Fairfax County Jail, in northern Virginia near Washington, DC. McKenna was 37 years old. She was the mother of a 7-year-old daughter. She was living with schizophrenia. She was a diminutive woman, 5 feet 3 inches, 130 pounds. And she was Black.

She was killed during a so-called cell extraction, when six deputies tackled her and took care of business: “She was handcuffed behind her back, shackled around the legs, a hobble strap connected to both restraints, and a spit mask placed over her face.” Natasha McKenna continued to `resist’. An officer shot Natasha McKenna at least four times with a Taser, at point blank range: “Ms. McKenna … stopped breathing shortly thereafter, and her heart ceased beating. Although her heart was restarted, she died a few days later without regaining consciousness.”

Natasha McKenna was arrested by Fairfax County police on a warrant from Alexandria, for an incident that begged for help rather than punishment. Both Alexandria and Fairfax County police knew of Natasha McKenna’s mental illness history. Because Natasha McKenna was officially Alexandria’s prisoner, Fairfax couldn’t petition to have her placed in mental health care. Fairfax says it called Alexandria police three times, trying to have them pick up McKenna, but no one came. Now, Alexandria is “doing [its] own investigation on [its] practices on picking up inmates in other jurisdictions.” Alexandria, Fairfax County, and the local media are investigating, and Natasha McKenna is dead.

Hers was a violent death, as indicated by two black eyes, a badly bruised arm, and a finger that had to be amputated. But more than a violent death, Natasha McKenna’s death is just another typical day in the empire of cell extractions. Last year, San Diego faced street demonstrations and court proceedings for the routine violence meted out to juveniles during cell extractions. Earlier this month, a judge re-opened the case of Charles Jason Toll, who was killed in a cell extraction last year in Riverbend Maximum Security, in Tennessee. Last week, a judge dropped all charges against prisoner Louis Flack in the Knox County Jail, in Tennessee, in large part because of the beating he’d received during a so-called cell extraction.

Natasha McKenna joins Aura Rosser, Kyera Singleton, Shae Ward, Shirley Beckley, Tanisha Anderson, Yvette Smith, Aiyana Stanley-Jones, Rekia Boyd, and a slew of other Black women killed by the State’s peacekeepers. Black women whose lives and violent deaths are covered in public and even more national silence.

These are the layers of silence: “Officials in Fairfax … have stonewalled and balked in Ms. McKenna’s case… The six sheriff’s deputies at the jail have been neither identified nor removed from regular duty… Sheriff Stacey A. Kincaid, who runs the county jail, has issued no new directives to her deputies regarding use of force, deployment of Tasers or procedures for cell extractions. She says a policy review is under way; there is no evidence of it… In Fairfax, where the state medical examiner has still not issued a cause of death for Ms. McKenna, the police investigation is frozen.”

It is time. It is way past time for the Justice Department to step in. It is time to break the silence surrounding the violence of cell extractions. How many more must die before we realize our part in the deaths? How many more must suffer excruciating pain before we realize our role in the commission of torture? How many more Black women must endure the assault on their bodies and persons by the State before we realize that we are that State?

What happened to Natasha McKenna? Absolutely nothing out of the ordinary. Just another day in the killing fields.

 

(Photo Credit: Legal Momentum)

Cell extraction: Torture from sea to shining sea

 

From Tennessee and California, this week, people and groups are charging, in court and in the streets, that something called “cell extraction” is killing and torturing prisoners, children, loved ones: “In the insular world of correctional institutions, it is known as cell extraction, the forcible removal of a prisoner from a cell by a tactical team armed with less-lethal weapons like Tasers, pepper spray and stun shields.”

On one hand, standard “cell extraction” becomes particularly problematic when so much of the prison population is living with mental illness and so few, as in practically none, of the prison staff is trained to recognize, much address, a mental health episode. The story of Charles Jason Toll is a case in point.

Charles Jason Toll was 33, diabetic and living with mental illness. One hot August night, in Riverbend Maximum Security, in Tennesse, where Toll was in solitary confinement, guards rushed into his cell, pushed him to the floor, handcuffed and shackled him. When he repeatedly begged, “I can’t breathe”, he was told, “You wanted this.” A little while later, he died.

Charles Jason Toll was in prison for a parole violation. Why was he in solitary? Why did no one in charge know his medical history?

Part of Charles Jason Toll’s story is the vindictive system in which a slip can send you down a hole from which there is no escape, and that’s the plan.

Toll’s mother, Jane Luna, is suing Tennessee for having killed, and tortured, her son. Jane Luna didn’t even know her son was arrested until she received notice of his death.

Meanwhile, “Videos made public in California last fall showed corrections officers at state prisons dousing severely psychotic inmates with large amounts of pepper spray before forcibly removing them from their cells, images that a federal district judge, Lawrence K. Karlton, who ordered the release of the videos, termed `horrific.’”

Earlier this week, ten civil rights groups filed a complaint concerning the San Diego juvenile detention centers and their use, especially during cell extraction procedures, of pepper spray.

One story involves a girl who reported, to her attorney, that she had suicidal inclinations. “The girl sat on the bunk in her cell in one of San Diego County’s female juvenile-detention units as staff members explained that she was being placed on suicide watch. They told her she had to strip naked in front of them—including in front of a male staff member. She refused, twice. So, they sprayed her in the face with pepper spray, then shut the door to her cell. Two minutes later, they asked if she was going to cooperate. She refused, and they sprayed her a second time and again shut the door. Minutes later, they opened the door and sprayed her again. She vomited. They then sprayed her yet once more. After the fourth blast of pepper spray, the girl finally submitted. Probation staff ordered her to crawl out of the cell, where they handcuffed her, forcibly removed her clothing, cut off her shirt and bra, strip-searched her, put her in a gown and placed her in solitary confinement for 48 hours.”

There is a special punishment, a special hell, for girls and young women who refuse the advances of the State.

 

(Image Credit: San Diego City Beat)