Demonstrators call for change at public hearing on Fairfax police practices

Many demonstrators brought their signs into the hearing, held by the Ad Hoc Police Practices Review Commission.

WASHINGTON — Mentally ill Fairfax County Jail inmate Natasha McKenna died a few days after jail deputies shocked her repeatedly with a Taser in February.

Last week’s decision to not file criminal charges in connection with her death, as well as to release disturbing video of what led up to it, prompted protesters to show up at a public hearing on Monday night.

The event was put on by the Ad Hoc Police Practices Review Commission, a group that’s reviewing Fairfax County police practices.

Before the meeting started at Walt Whitman Middle School in Alexandria, a few dozen people stood outside holding signs that read “Justice for Natasha McKenna,” “Film the Police” and “Instead of help + treatment, they gave her abuse + death.”

Although the commission is focused on the Fairfax County Police Department and not the Fairfax County Sheriff’s Department, which manages the county jail, numerous people signed up to speak out about McKenna’s death.

“We demand justice for Natasha and for those like her in the detention facility today,” Cayce Utley said.

“This woman was having a psychotic episode. She didn’t know what was happening to her. She had men in white suits groping at her naked body,” said Erika Totten, with Black Lives Matter.

“It was a cruel reminder of how African slaves were treated once upon a time,” said Asantewaa Nkrumah-Ture.

Other speakers called for the prosecutor and the deputies involved in the case to be fired.

Well into the hearing, one of the members of the commission, Sal Culosi, stood to speak to the audience.

“You need to know that my son … was killed by (the) Fairfax County Police Department in 2006. They said it was an accident. We’re not going to go into that, but I’m here trying to make the policies better. By and large I agree with everything that’s been said here by all of you with regard to Natasha except for one thing. One thing. This is not a racial issue.”

That led to “boos” from several in the crowd.

Culosi continued, “The officer who killed my son was black. And that has nothing to do with the issue of policy.”

At the same meeting, the commission heard a report from its Use of Force Subcommittee, which is making about 40 recommendations for change. They include asking police patrol officers to wear body cameras and carry Electronic Controlled weapons, such as Tasers, while on duty. The subcommittee also supports a ban on chokeholds as a way of controlling suspects.

The commission is scheduled to meet again on Oct. 8 to vote on recommendations submitted by all five of its subcommittees.

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