DINWIDDIE, Va. (AP) — Video from a state mental hospital shows a Black Virginia man who was handcuffed and shackled as he is pinned to the ground by seven deputies who are now facing second-degree murder charges in his death, according to the man’s relatives and their lawyers viewed the footage on Thursday. Three hospital employees were also reported.
Speaking at a news conference shortly after seeing the video with a local prosecutor, the family and lawyers condemned the brutal treatment they said Irvo Otieno, 28, was subjected to, first in a local prison and then in the state hospital where authorities say he died March 6 during the admissions process.
They called on the US Justice Department to intervene in the case, saying Otieno’s constitutional rights were clearly violated.
“What I saw today was heartbreaking, America. It was creepy. It was traumatic. My son was tortured,” Otieno’s mother Caroline Ouko said.
Otieno’s case marks the latest example of a black man’s death in custody that has law enforcement under control. It follows the fatal beating of Tire Nichols in Memphis, Tennessee earlier this year and comes nearly three years after George Floyd was killed in police custody in Minneapolis.
Ben Crump, who represented Floyd’s family and now works with Otieno’s, was quick to draw a comparison.
“It is truly shocking that nearly three years after the brutal police killing of George Floyd, another family is mourning a loved one who presumably died in almost the exact same way: being pinned down by police for 12 agonizing minutes.” Crump said in a statement.
Mark Krudys, another lawyer for Otieno’s family, told the news conference that the video showed all seven deputies now accused of pushing down Otieno, who was in handcuffs and shackles.
“You can see they have their backs on us. Every part of her body is thrust down with absolute brutality,” she said.
Ten people have so far been charged with second-degree murder in Otieno’s death. The seven Henrico County sheriff’s deputies were indicted Tuesday and additional charges were announced Thursday against three people employed by the hospital.
The footage the family saw on Thursday has not been publicly released. But Dinwiddie County Commonwealth attorney Ann Cabell Baskervill also described him in court Wednesday, saying at the first hearing for deputies that Otieno was choked to death, local news reported.
Baskervill said Otieno did not appear combative and was sitting in a chair before being pulled to the floor by officers, the Richmond Times-Dispatch reported.
He announced in a news release Thursday the additional charges against hospital employees: Darian M. Blackwell, 23, of Petersburg; Wavie L. Jones, 34, of Chesterfield; and Sadarius D. Williams, 27, of North Dinwiddie. They were being held without bond and it was not immediately clear whether they had lawyers who could speak on their behalf. A state police spokeswoman said she did not know if they had obtained an attorney and none were listed in the court documents. The press release did not say what role they would play in Otieno’s death.
Further charges and arrests are pending, Baskervill said.
Otieno, who was a child when his family emigrated from Kenya and grew up in suburban Richmond, had a history of mental health issues and was experiencing mental distress at the time of his first encounter with law enforcement at the time. earlier this month, his family and their attorneys said.
This set off a chain of events that resulted in him spending several days in custody before authorities said he died on March 6 while being admitted to Central State Hospital south of Richmond.
Krudys said the hospital footage also showed a lack of urgency to help Otieno after deputies determined “he was lifeless and not breathing”.
Otieno was a deeply loved young man, an aspiring musician who had been a noted high school athlete, Krudys said.
“There’s goodness in his music and that’s all I have left now – he’s gone,” Ouko said at the press conference as she clutched a framed photo of her son.
“I can’t be at her wedding. I’ll never see a nephew… because someone refused to help him. No one stood up to stop what was happening,” she said.
Otieno was first arrested on March 3, according to a timeline provided by the Henrico County Police, a separate agency from the sheriff’s office.
The police department said in a press release that officers met Otieno while he was responding to a report of a possible burglary in suburban Richmond and placed him on an emergency custody order based on his behavior. and they took him to a local hospital for evaluation.
According to Krudys, Otieno was experiencing a mental health crisis and a neighbor called the police concerned about him collecting lawn lights from a backyard. He said Otieno’s mother tried to soften the initial response from a crowd of police officers and said the family advocated for him to be taken to the hospital for treatment.
But while he was in the hospital, police said he “became physically aggressive towards the officers, who arrested him” and took him to a local jail run by Sheriff Henrico’s office, where he was served several charges.
While Otieno was in prison, he was denied access to needed drugs, family lawyers said. The family also viewed video from that facility on Thursday, which they said showed Otieno being subjected to further brutality by unidentified officers.
Crump said he was pepper sprayed, and Krudys said video showed officers on March 6 charging into his cell, which was covered in feces, while Otieno was naked and handcuffed. The video shows officers carrying an “almost lifeless” Otieno by the arms and legs “like an animal” to a vehicle to be transported to the state hospital.
“My son was treated like a dog, worse than a dog,” Ouko said.
Shannon Taylor, the Commonwealth attorney for Henrico County, said in a statement Thursday that she is conducting a review of what happened in the jail that day and has pledged to release her findings. Sheriff Henrico declined to comment beyond a statement released earlier in the week.
At around 4:00 p.m. on March 6, sheriff’s office employees arrived at Central State Hospital to admit Otieno, according to Baskervill. It wasn’t until 7:28 pm that evening that state police were called to investigate his death, he said.
In court Wednesday, a defense attorney suggested that two medical injections Otieno received may have played a role in his death, which Baskervill has disputed, the Times-Dispatch reported.
The Chief Medical Examiner’s Office has not released its final determination on how Otieno died.
Two of the deputies were released on bail, according to court documents and local media. The others remained in custody, with hearings set for next week.
Edward Nickel, an attorney for Deputy Bradley Disse, one of the defendants who was released, said in an email Thursday that Disse served “honourably” during a 20-year career with the sheriff’s department.
“He looks forward to the opportunity to try this case and for the whole truth to be shared in court and ultimately vindicated,” Nickel said in an email.
The Associated Press sent emails and other inquiries and left messages Thursday in an effort to reach the attorneys listed on the court records for the other deputies.
The Henrico Fraternal Order of Police-Lodge 4 stood by deputies in a statement posted on social media on Tuesday, urging against a rush to judgment and noting that the charges have yet to pass the rigors of the legal system.
News outlets, including AP, searched for video of the altercation. Officials are holding him, citing ongoing investigations. Crump said Thursday the family believes the public should see the footage.
“How can we build trust if we don’t have transparency and therefore accountability?” he said.
Associated Press reporter Ben Finley in Norfolk contributed to this report.