According to information received in a Freedom of Information Act request, the Fairfax Sheriff's Office has used a Taser X26P on inmates 10 times in the last three years. Sheriff Stacey Kincaid is using her discretion to deny public access to video of Natasha McKenna being hit with a Taser, a confrontation that resulted in her death.
Why is the Fairfax County Sheriff's office withholding video footage of a fatal incident involving a Fairfax County Sheriff's deputy Tasing an inmate?
The sheriff's office says Natasha McKenna was being uncooperative the day deputies arrived to transfer her to Alexandria — so uncooperative that they sent in a unit known as the Sheriff's Emergency Response Team. Those are the heavy black uniforms with riot gear helmets — and cameras.
The incident, which led to the death of the inmate, was captured on video. But the sheriff's office is denying a Freedom of Information Act request from WAMU for the video.
"There should be no need to use a Taser on somebody who is actually in detention and already confined. There's no threat or anything like where officers can't use other methods to gain control of the individual," says Justin Mazzola, a researcher with Amnesty International. "There are ways that they could release any information related to the investigation into this report without releasing any details of the person who was imprisoned at the time."
Unlike most states, Virginia gives law enforcement agencies the ability to withhold almost anything. And police chiefs and sheriffs take advantage of that discretion, withholding video of everything from a Fairfax County officer firing a deadly shot at an unarmed driver to this incident, in which a mentally ill woman was hit with a stun gun.
"The entire point of creating video records of law-enforcement activities is to provide transparency," says Adam Marshall of the Reporters Committee for Freedom of the Press. "And by not releasing the video, the Sheriff's Office is preventing that transparency and preventing the people of Virginia from really knowing what happened in that incident."
Although Sheriff Kincaid promises a prompt and transparent investigation, she declined a request from WAMU to answer questions about her decision to withhold the video from the public.