Three hospital employees and seven sheriff’s deputies in Dinwiddie, Virginia, are facing murder charges after they were all allegedly caught on video smothering a Black man to death earlier this month.
According to the Washington Post, attorneys and family members of 28-year-old Irvo N. Otieno watched the video of Otieno’s “traumatic” death at Central State Hospital, where he was taken after being taken into custody by deputies who responded to a call over what Otieno’s family described as a mental health episode. According to the Henrico County police department, the deputies approached Otieno as a “potential suspect” in a possible burglary. (That’s a lot of ifs, ands, and maybes for a situation that resulted in a Black man’s death.)
“My son was treated like a dog, worse than a dog,” Otieno’s mother, Caroline Ouko, said through tears outside the Dinwiddie County Courthouse. “I saw it with my own eyes in the video. He was treated inhumanely, and it was traumatic, and it was systemic.”
Otieno’s brother, Leon Ochieng, expressed similar sentiments and said the video disputes claims made by attorneys for the deputies—who, along with the hospital employees, have been charged with second-degree murder—that Otieno had to be restrained because he was being aggressive.
From the Post:
Two lawyers for Otieno’s family, who watched the video with them, said the three hospital workers dressed in blue uniforms could be seen joining the deputies in brown — putting their weight on him as he lay prone on the hospital floor for 11 minutes, handcuffed, his feet shackled. They called on the Justice Department to investigate.
“What I saw was a lifeless human being without any representation, no [regard] for his human life,” Ochieng said, his voice breaking. “At what point do we consider mental illness a crime?”
Ouko said her 28-year-old younger son, whom she described as an aspiring hip-hop artist, was suffering from a mental health problem when police took him into custody at her Henrico County home on March 3.
He died of asphyxiation at the hospital three days later, after the seven deputies applied their body weight to him, Dinwiddie County Commonwealth’s Attorney Ann Cabell Baskervill said earlier this week.
Baskerville didn’t provide any details as to the role the hospital staffers played in Otieno’s death, but the employees have been identified as Darian M. Blackwell, 23, Wavie L. Jones, 34, and Sadarius D. Williams, 27. They’re currently all being held without bond at the Meherrin River Regional Jail in Brunswick County. The deputies charged in Otieno’s death have also been identified publicly.
More from the Post:
The prosecutor identified the deputies, all who live in Virginia, as Jermaine Lavar Branch, 45, of Henrico; Boyer, 57, of Henrico; Dwayne Alan Bramble, 37, of Sandston; 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.
An attorney for deputy Randy Boyer has already declared that his client is “100 percent” innocent. In fact, attorney Caleb Kershner said he’s “very, very shocked and surprised” by the murder charges, which he called an “extreme measure.”
“It appears as if we have a death in custody—very unfortunate circumstance,” Kershner said. “And that’s a pretty serious charge to levy against law enforcement officers who were moving someone from a prison cell to Central State when someone dies in custody.” (And yet the officers were not charged for “moving someone from a prison cell.” They were charged for allegedly using their body weight to smother a man to death.)
The Post noted that Kershner said he had received only limited information about the case, which is strange for someone who is “100 percent” sure his client did nothing wrong.
As for the burglary allegation that brought deputies to the scene in the first place, Otieno’s family’s lawyers indicated it was a result of Otieno’s mental health problems, which his mother said he’s experienced since high school, although she “declined to say if he had been diagnosed with a specific mental illness,” the Post reported.
From the Post:
The lawyers suggested that Otieno’s mental state led him to take or gather solar lights from a neighbor’s home, leading the neighbor to make a complaint to police. At least 10 police officers responded to his mother’s home, although the lawyers said it was not clear if they were responding to the neighbor’s complaint or to a request for mental health help from Otieno’s mother.
But what Otieno did to attract police attention is neither here nor there. According to attorney Mark Krudys, five of the seven charged deputies “force rushed” Otieno against a metal bed and hard wall.
“I’m sorry to say this in front of the family, but the public needs to know: He’s carried out by the arms and legs, almost upside down, like an animal,” Krudys said.
Krudys has been joined in representing the family by famed civil attorney Ben Crump.
“He’s face down, handcuffed, with leg irons, and you say, ‘My God, why?’” Crump reportedly said in response to the video. “It is so unnecessary, it is so unjustified. And you keep searching in your heart for which one of them would have the humanity to say that, ‘Eleven minutes is far too long to have him down, with the weight of our bodies and knees on his neck.’”
Meanwhile, Baskerville said in a statement that “additional charges and arrests are pending,” but she declined to release the video to the public in order to “maintain the integrity of the criminal justice process at this point.”
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