The family of a Virginia man who died after he was handcuffed and pinned to the floor by sheriff’s deputies and medical staff members for about 11 minutes earlier this year at a state psychiatric hospital has settled a lawsuit for $8.5 million with the state, county and sheriff’s office.
The man, Irvo Otieno, 28, who had been experiencing mental health distress on March 3, was taken to jail after the authorities said he assaulted police officers. Three days later, he was taken to Central State Hospital in Dinwiddie County, where surveillance video showed a group of Henrico County sheriff’s office deputies entering a room, dragging him and forcing him to the floor, where they held him down until his death.
The death led to murder charges and an outpouring of criticism against the deputies and medical staff members, and renewed concerns about how law enforcement agencies respond to people in acute distress.
The lawyers for the family, Mark Krudys and Ben Crump, who also represent the families of Tyre Nichols and George Floyd, said in a joint statement that “the family is pleased that they were able to find a resolution outside of court in a manner that honors Irvo’s life.”
A person familiar with the settlement, who was not authorized to publicly discuss its details, confirmed the amount on Wednesday.
The Henrico County Sheriff’s Office and several Henrico County officials, including the commonwealth’s attorney, did not immediately respond to calls seeking comment on Wednesday.
Macaulay Porter, a spokeswoman for Gov. Glenn Youngkin of Virginia, said in a statement that Mr. Otieno’s death was a profound tragedy and that the governor had “pushed for a settlement with the hope that doing so proactively and fairly might alleviate — in a small way — some of the suffering that Irvo’s mother and brother faced, recognizing that no settlement can take the place of a loved one.”
Police killings have led to similar settlements across the United States in recent years. Mr. Floyd’s family settled with Minneapolis for $27 million in 2021. Last November, the city of Atlanta agreed to pay $1 million to settle a lawsuit brought by the widow and the estate of Rayshard Brooks, a Black man who was fatally shot by a white police officer in 2020, and whose death touched off nationwide protests. And in Louisville, Ky., city officials agreed to pay $12 million in 2020 to the family of Breonna Taylor, whose death in a botched drug raid earlier that year also set off protests.
Carl Tobias, a professor at the University of Richmond School of Law, said that “it is not surprising” Mr. Otieno’s case was settled for such a large amount “because it was so horrible what happened to him, and I don’t know what more you can say about that.”
“Those are going to be multimillion dollar verdicts, I think, when the behavior appears on the video to be so, so horrible,” Mr. Tobias said.
The Dinwiddie County prosecutor, Ann Cabell Baskervill, charged seven Henrico County Sheriff’s Office deputies and three employees of the hospital with second-degree murder in March. A grand jury indicted them later that month. Their trials are pending.
Some lawyers for the defendants have argued in bond hearings that their clients were struggling with Mr. Otieno, who, they said, had become combative.
The seven deputies have been placed on administrative leave until the case is closed, according to Sheriff Alisa Gregory of Henrico County, who did not immediately respond to calls seeking comment on Wednesday night.
On March 3, Mr. Otieno, who struggled with mental health problems, walked to a neighbor’s lawn, picked up some solar-powered lights laid out on the property and banged on the neighbor’s front door before his mother, Caroline Ouko, retrieved him.
Ms. Ouko said in an interview in March that a neighbor called the Henrico Police Department to report someone breaking and entering.
Officers who responded placed Mr. Otieno under an emergency custody order and took him to a local hospital “for further evaluation,” the police said in a statement. At that hospital, the police said, Mr. Otieno physically assaulted officers. He was charged with three counts of assault on a law enforcement officer and one count each of disorderly conduct in a hospital and vandalism. His family disputes the police claims.
Mr. Otieno was taken to the Henrico County Jail, where he was kept over the weekend. His family said that he was deprived of medication that he needed for his mental illness. He was taken to the state hospital on March 6.
In the surveillance video from the hospital, people who seem to be part of the medical staff are seen walking in and out of the room as the deputies pile on Mr. Otieno, 28, pinning his legs and arms and holding his body down with their knees.
Ms. Baskervill, the Dinwiddie County prosecutor, said in court in March that Mr. Otieno had suffocated from the weight of the deputies smothering him at the state hospital, and that he “was not agitated and combative.” Mr. Otieno, she said, died from asphyxiation.
Mr. Tobias said the case had sparked introspection in the community about the treatment of “people who need mental health care — not be in the prison system.”