On June 27, 2018, a 31 year old Fairfax County, Virginia resident died in police custody after experiencing a mental health episode. Police were called to the home of Christopher Paul in Alexandria after a 911 call reported a drug overdose.
When the officers arrived, they encountered one of Paul’s relatives outside the dwelling. This relative said Paul had hit him in the head. Meanwhile, Paul remained inside the home, unarmed and completely nude.
The first two officers to encounter Paul inside his house found he was trying to hurt himself, and the two, trained to deal with those experiencing mental health issues, tried to defuse the situation.
However, Paul suddenly fell on the floor and the officers restrained him with handcuffs and a leg restraint. Medics were called, but Paul quickly became unresponsive and died shortly thereafter at the hospital.
According to Fairfax County Police Chief Edwin Roessler, there was no violence on the part of the officers towards Paul, including the use of weapons or physical force. However, none of the officers at the scene contacted the county’s Mobile Crisis Units, which come to the aid of those in the throes of mental health crises.
Six law enforcement personnel - Sergeant Ronald Grecco, Officer Sydney Broderick, Officer Larry St. Clair, Officer Scott Reever, Officer Lindsey Memenza and Officer Shea Keaveny were put on restricted administrative duty as the investigation continues.
This is far from the first time that a mentally ill person has died while in the custody of Fairfax County police or as a result of their actions.
In August, 2013, John Geer , 46, was shot and killed by Fairfax County police officer Adam Torres in Springfield. Witnesses say that Geer was unarmed and had his hands up when Torres killed him after a 42-minute standoff. In June, 2016, Torres was sentenced to one year in jail for the killing along with three years’ suspension, but was released the following week because he had already been incarcerated for 10 months.
Torres had responded to a domestic dispute involving Geer directly after fighting with his own wife, according to the prosecutor, and was thus unfit for duty. Anne Geer, mother of the victim, told reporters her son was “executed” by a police officer, and that a yearlong sentence was offensive.
Torres said he thought Geer was reaching for a gun at the time he shot him. Geer left behind two young daughters. Torres’ conviction led to ways in which Fairfax County law enforcement personnel were trained to respond such incidents.
In February, 2015, Natasha McKenna,37, died several days after she struggled with jail guards while in the midst of a mental health crisis. McKenna was diagnosed as bipolar disorder and schizophrenia, and a video of the incident shows her fighting with guards who were trying to remove her from her cell.
A stun gun was used on McKenna four times during the altercation, and she became unconscious, dying a few days later.
In June, 2016, McKenna’s family filed a lawsuit against Fairfax County, alleging gross negligence and claiming the guards acted with utter disregard. Allegedly, McKenna was tasered because she refused a guard’s order to bend her knees to enter a wheeled restraint chair.
At the time, McKenna, who was in jail on charges of assaulting a police officer, had on handcuffs, shackled legs, arms behind her back and a spit mask over her face.
The suit seeks $15 million in damages, and alleges the guards were not properly trained to deal with an inmate suffering a mental health crisis. The Fairfax County Commonwealth Attorney had declined to file criminal charges against the guards in the case, calling it a “tragic accident.” By April, 2015, the Fairfax County Sheriff’s Office had suspended the use of stun guns.
If you were injured in police custody or jail in Fairfax County, VA or elsewhere or if you lost a loved one due to police or corrections officer abuse or neglect, we want to hear from you. We help shine a light on police misconduct to stop the abuse and sue for compensation on behalf of victims and their families. CONNECT WITH US ONLINE or call 866.836.4684