Seven sheriff’s deputies and three hospital workers are being charged with second-degree murder in the death of Irvo Otieno, a 28-year-old Black man who died on March 6. Prosecutors say he died in handcuffs and leg irons while held down at a state mental hospital in Petersburg, Virginia.
Video of Otieno’s death exists but has not yet been publicly released. The footage is horrific and violent, according to family and attorneys who have seen it. USA TODAY has not viewed the video.
“What I saw today was heartbreaking, America. It was disturbing. It was traumatic. My son was tortured,” said Otieno’s mother, Caroline Ouko, about the video on Thursday.
Security camera footage shows that the seven sheriff’s deputies at the hospital “smothered” Otieno and waited more than three hours to report his death, prosecutors said during the officers’ initial court hearing.
“It is truly shocking that nearly three years after the brutal killing of George Floyd by police, another family is grieving a loved one who allegedly died in nearly the exact same manner — being pinned down by police for 12 agonizing minutes,” said Ben Crump, a nationally known civil-rights attorney who featured prominently in several high-profile cases including the death of George Floyd and is now working with Otieno’s family, said in a statement.
Charges announced against 10 people, including 7 deputies
Ten people so far have been charged with second-degree murder in Otieno’s death. The seven Henrico County Sheriff’s deputies were charged Tuesday, and additional charges were announced Thursday against three people who were employed by the hospital.
Otieno died just days after police officers arrested and booked him after a suspicion of burglary, and on charges of counts of assault on a law enforcement officer, disorderly conduct in a hospital and vandalism. A grand jury in Dinwiddie, Virginia is expected to meet on March 21 to determine if the deputies and the hospital workers should be indicted.
More:7 Virginia deputies charged in death of patient at mental hospital ‘smothered’ him in custody, prosecutor says
What do we know about Otieno’s death?
On March 6, officials transported Irvo Otieno to the Central State Hospital where he died while being held down by officers and hospital workers, Dinwiddie County Commonwealth’s Attorney Ann Cabell Baskervill said. The death occurred during the admissions process, authorities said.
- What was the cause of death? Authorities said the preliminary cause of Otieno’s death was asphyxiation, and a state medical examiner preliminarily ruled the manner of death as a homicide. A final cause had not yet been determined on March 17.
- What does video show, according to Otieno’s family? Mark Krudys, an attorney for Otieno’s family, said the video showed all seven of the deputies now facing charges pushing down on Otieno, who was in handcuffs and leg irons. “You can see that they’re putting their back into it. Every part of his body is being pushed down with absolute brutality,” he said.
More:‘They tortured him’: 3 workers face murder charges in ‘smothering’ death of man at Virginia mental health hospital
What happened before Otieno’s death?
Henrico County Police said that when responding to a suspected burglary on March 3, they “identified and approached a potential suspect,” Otieno, and placed him under an emergency custody order. Police, accompanied by members of the county’s crisis intervention team, took Otieno to an area hospital for further evaluation, where they say he “became physically assaultive towards officers.”
Officers arrested and transported Otieno to the Warrant Services Unit at Henrico County Jail West, charged him with counts of assault on a law enforcement officer, disorderly conduct in a hospital and vandalism and booked him, according to a news release from the police department.
Otieno spent several several days in custody. He was then admitted to Central State Hospital south, where he died.
Irvo Otieno’s family: There was ‘goodness in his music’
Irvo Otieno, the 28-year-old resident of Henrico, Virginia, was an aspiring hip-hop musician and former high school athlete who moved to the U.S. from Kenya when he was 4, CNN reported.
“There is goodness in his music and that’s all I’m left with now — he’s gone,” his mother said at a news conference while clutching a framed photo of her son.
He had a history of mental health struggles, his family and attorneys said, and allege he was having a mental health crisis.
What’s next for the deputies involved?
Henrico Sheriff Alisa Gregory said the seven sheriff’s deputies who were involved in the incident have been placed on administrative leave pending the outcome of the case.
The Associated Press has identified the deputies as: Randy Joseph Boyer, 57, of Henrico; Dwayne Alan Bramble, 37, of Sandston; Jermaine Lavar Branch, 45, of Henrico; Bradley Thomas Disse, 43, of Henrico; Tabitha Renee Levere, 50, of Henrico; Brandon Edwards Rodgers, 48, of Henrico; and Kaiyell Dajour Sanders, 30, of North Chesterfield.
The Henrico Fraternity Order of Police Lodge has challenged the integrity of the charges. “The death of Mr. Otierno was tragic, and we express our condolences to his family. We also stand behind the seven accused deputies now charged with murder by the Dinwiddie County Commonwealth’s Attorney Ann Baskervill,” they wrote.
The Lodge wrote in a statement on Facebook they’re hoping for “a quick resolution that clears” the names of the officers.
Henrico County Sheriff Alisa Gregory said in a statement that her office was cooperating fully with state police and conducting its own internal review of the incident.
The mental health hospital workers charged are: Darian M. Blackwell, 23, of Petersburg; Wavie L. Jones, 34, of Chesterfield; and Sadarius D. Williams, 27, of North Dinwiddie.
George Floyd, Tyre Nichols also died in police custody
Otieno’s case marks another example of a Black man’s in-custody death. It follows the fatal beating of Tyre Nichols in Memphis, Tennessee, earlier this year and comes nearly three years after the killing of George Floyd in police custody in Minneapolis.
Otieno’s family and their attorneys have called on the U.S. Department of Justice to intervene in the case.
More:7 sheriff’s deputies charged in man’s death at Virginia mental hospital
Contributing: The Associated Press; Thao Nguyen and Terry Collins, USA TODAY; Bill Atkinson, USA TODAY NETWORK
Contact Kayla Jimenez at [email protected] Follow her on Twitter at @kaylajjimenez.