Fairfax County Board of Supervisors chairman Sharon Bulova (center) reads her statement calling for outside input on improving information disclosure policies.
Photo by Tim Peterson.
When Alexandria resident Natasha McKenna was removed from life support and died on Feb. 8, the Fairfax County Sheriff’s Office posted a release on the county website. It was an update to an earlier post on Feb. 5 that explained McKenna was an inmate at the Fairfax County Adult Detention Center who experienced a “medical emergency” on Feb. 3.
McKenna was scheduled to be moved to the Alexandria Adult Detention Center that day. When she fought against deputies transporting her, they used tasers to restrain her. At that point, the Fairfax County Police Department was notified and an investigation of McKenna’s “in-custody inmate death” began.
February 19, the Police Department released another update, an 800-word description of the events leading up to McKenna’s arrest and death. She had called Fairfax County police herself on Jan. 25 to report being assaulted. Officers accompanied her to a hospital and through a record check discovered an outstanding arrest warrant for assaulting an Alexandria police officer back on Jan. 15.
Though the officers involved have yet to be named, the content and amount of information released in under two weeks since McKenna’s death is comparable to that which it took the county over a year to release following the officer killing of Springfield resident John Geer.
According to Fairfax County Board of Supervisors Sharon Bulova, that was indicative of the board’s commitment to “making a stronger effort than before to make sure that we’re putting out as much info as possible.”
Amid Sen. Charles Grassley (R-Iowa), the ranking member of the Judiciary Committee, writing letters to the county as to why Geer’s investigation has taken so long and how it’s been handled, as well as public pressure from organizations such as the Justice for John Geer Facebook group and Citizens Coalition for Police Accountability, Bulova previously announced the board would seek outside expertise to examine its policies for releasing information on police action.
AT THE FEB. 17 MEETING of the board, supervisor Pat Herrity (R-Springfield) introduced a draft policy for transparency that had been making its way to the Fairfax City Council.
“You don’t have to look far to find a good policy on transparency,” said Herrity. “If this had been enforced, we wouldn’t have had a lof of the problems with the Geer case”.
That Fairfax proposal mandated a release of basic facts, any conflicting information and confirmed identities of individuals involved with the incident -- all within 72 hours of the incident itself.
“There were some good recommendations,” Bulova said, “but I’m not sure that is the only thing that we want to consider. We’re prepared to take a look at a number of models and best practices, to include the one the city of Fairfax is considering.”
February 20, Bulova took another step and announced the creation of a new commission, made up of citizens, members of the legal community and other organizations such as the NAACP, to review police policies.
“This gives the community an opportunity to take part in our review,” said Bulova.
In her release, the Chairman named Michael Hershman, founder of the Fairfax Group and a citizen appointee to the Board of Supervisors Audit Committee, chair of this commission. She plans to bring it before the Board in its March 3 meeting for endorsement. At that time, Bulova has said she will also announce the rest of the commission’s membership.
Though the commission is a step, Herrity remains critical of the Board’s lack of open discussion on the Geer case and others involving excessive and or lethal force by police officers.
“The most disturbing thing to me is we haven’t had a Public Safety Committee meeting in well over a year,” he said. “I don’t know why not, there’s not a good answer. And too much of the board’s discussion has been in closed session. We need to get out into open session and have a dialog on our policies and practices and get them fixed.”
BULOVA’S COMMISSION will have the opportunity to review both the county’s search for “independent expertise” on releasing information on officer-involved incidents and the Police Department’s policies and training regarding use of force.