Warning: disturbing content
A Virginia man in the throes of a mental health crisis died while in police custody, reports say. And now the deputies and medical personnel connected to his death have been charged with his murder.
On March 3, 28-year-old Irvo Otieno was experiencing a mental health episode at his residence in Henrico County, south of Richmond. Police initially transported him to a hospital but quickly transferred him to jail after he allegedly "became physically assaultive." Otieno remained at the jail facility for three days when officials decided to take him to Central State Hospital, a state-run inpatient psychiatric facility about 50 miles away.
When deputies entered his cell on March 6, they discovered Otieno sitting naked on the floor, which was covered in feces. After a struggle, several deputies dragged Otieno out of his cell, down the hall of the jail, and into a police cruiser. One deputy brought a pair of pants for Otieno to wear, and others attempted to cover him with a blanket while they moved him, reports said.
Just before 4 p.m. that afternoon, surveillance footage at the hospital shows deputies and medical personnel hauling Otieno into a room with a handful of tables and bench seats. He is wearing pants as well as wrist and ankle restraints, as police stated that he had been "combative during the admission process."
Once in the room, deputies and medical staff placed Otieno on the floor. At some point, the group of medical and law enforcement professionals gathered on top of Otieno and pinned him to the floor for 11 minutes, ostensibly to try and bring him under control.
They eventually discovered, however, that Otieno was in severe medical distress and began attempting life-saving measures. Unfortunately, about an hour later, Otieno was pronounced deceased. Preliminary autopsy reports indicate he died of asphyxiation.
On Tuesday, a grand jury indicted seven deputies allegedly involved in the incident with second-degree murder: Randy Joseph Boye, 57, Dwayne Alan Bramble, 37, Jermaine Lavar Branch, 45, Bradley Thomas Disse, 43, Tabitha Renee Levere, 50, Brandon Edwards Rodgers, 48, and Kaiyell Dajour Sanders, 30. All have been placed on administrative leave.
In addition, three medical staff members have been charged with second-degree murder as well: Darian M. Blackwell, 23, Wavie L. Jones, 34, and Sadarius D. Williams, 27. The hospital claimed in a statement that it was cooperating with police and "working to ensure that Otieno’s family receives information about the events at the hospital."
Otieno’s mother, Caroline Ouko, is both devastated and outraged. "My son was treated like a dog — worse than a dog. I saw it with my own eyes on the video," Ouko said at a press conference. "He was treated inhumanely, and it was traumatic and it was systematic."
The family has since hired high-profile civil rights attorney Ben Crump, and he made an impassioned speech about the "unnecessary" and "unjustifiable" actions of those involved in Otieno's death.
"You see in the video, he is restrained with handcuffs," Crump said, standing next to Ouko. "He has leg irons on, and you see in the majority of the video that he seems to be in between lifelessness and unconsciousness. You see him being restrained so brutally … the weight of seven individuals on his body while he’s face down handcuffed with leg irons, and you say, ‘My God, why?' It is so unnecessary. It’s so unjustifiable."
Crump also made a veiled reference to George Floyd, claiming that, like Floyd, Otieno died "with a knee on his neck."
Meanwhile, the attorneys hired by some of the accused have vigorously denied that their clients did anything wrong.
"Clearly, there was a significant need to restrain this man given the mental health issues that were going on," said Caleb Kershner, who is representing Deputy Boyer.
Cary Bowen, a lawyer representing Deputy Branch, expressed similar incredulity, claiming that Otieno's behavior warranted significant physical restraint. Bowen alleged that Dinwiddie County Commonwealth's Attorney Ann Cabell Baskervill has been "acting like [Otieno] didn't resist and he wasn't manic or bipolar or whatever," that he was "just a nice guy who they're picking on."
Several of the lawyers attempted to prevent the hospital surveillance footage from being released to the public so as not to taint potential jurors, but the video was shared by the Washington Post before the grand jury had indicted the defendants on Tuesday.
The investigation into the case remains ongoing.
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