Funeral plans have been announced for a Black man who died after he was pinned down by several officers and healthcare staff at a mental health hospital in Virginia earlier this month.
The life of Irvo Otieno will be celebrated and mourned on Wednesday at a church in Chesterfield, which is near the hospital where the 28-year-old was allegedly killed by seven deputies and three hospital employees who were all indicted by a grand jury on second-degree murder charges.
National Action Network (NAN) Founder and President Rev. Al Sharpton is slated to deliver Otieno’s eulogy at the funeral, where the civil rights leader plans to call for reforms to how police and emergency workers respond to mental health crises.
According to a press release from NAN, Sharpton’s “eulogy will bring to light the need for independent monitors in matters of police misconduct in mental health cases.”
Civil rights attorney Ben Crump, who has been retained by Otieno’s family, is also expected to attend the funeral and is scheduled to deliver a call for justice.
A public viewing is scheduled for Tuesday at a funeral home in Richmond.
What happened to Irvo Otieno?
Last week, a new surveillance video released by a prosecutor showed Otieno being pinned on the floor by multiple security guards. The incident occurred at a Virginia State Mental health hospital prior to his death March 6.
Officials from the Dinwiddie County Commonwealth office also released a 911 phone call that offered more details into the harrowing incident. According to CNN, in the audio, a caller repeatedly asked for medical assistance after Otieno stopped breathing. They claimed he was “very aggressive” and combative prior to losing oxygen.
During the March 6 incident, Otieno was being transferred from a Henrico County jail to Central State Hospital, a Dinwiddie official said. According to family members, Otieo had a long-running history of mental health struggles. Initially, he was taken to a Richmond area hospital for psychiatric treatment March 3, but allegedly, he became violent and combative at the facility.
Otieno was criminally charged and transferred to jail where he was denied access to crucial medication for his condition, family members said.
The new footage that was released this week, officers could be seen carrying Otieno into the hospital from an SUV just before 4 p.m. March 6.
Nearly 20 minutes after the SUV’s arrival, officers removed Otieno from the vehicle and forcefully escorted him inside. He was hunched over and appeared to be in distress.
Further along in the clip, a different camera showed Otieno being forcibly led into a room with tables and chairs. The officers pushed him toward a seat and eventually, he slumps down toward the floor.
Several officers then force Otieno to lie face down flat on the floor. At times, his body can barely be seen in the video due to the number of officers pinning him down to the ground with their weight.
The officers involved denied causing harm to Otieno
Seven deputies and three hospital employees were indicted by a grand jury on second-degree murder charges.
In a hearing, prosecutor Ann Cabell Baskervill said that the deputies “smothered Otieno to death.” But officials involved in the harrowing ordeal denied hurting Otieno.
During a bond hearing, defense attorneys for the indicted officials said they were only trying to restrain Otieno and that there was no evidence of an intent to kill the man in distress.
“One said in court that his client only worked to secure leg irons on Otieno, while another said his client put his body weight on the man for just a short period of time and then tried to position Otieno on his side so he would not have trouble breathing,” according to the Associated Press.
“At no time did he realize that Mr. Otieno … was in any danger whatsoever,” said attorney Caleb Kershner, who represents one of the seven Henrico County deputies who have been charged, along with three hospital employees.”
Steve Benjamin, a Richmond criminal defense attorney, said the video did not provide enough evidence to suggest that the officers and hospital employees were responsible for Otieno’s death.
“We don’t know if those who were observing were saying to the deputies, ‘Get off him, he can’t breathe.’ We don’t know if he was saying he couldn’t breathe or if he was threatening violence to those who were trying to restrain him. We simply have no idea,” Benjamin, who isn’t involved in the case added.
The Otieno Family pushes back against the claims
Otieno’s family has pushed back against the claims of innocence cried by the suspects involved in the 28-year-old’s fatal incident.
During a press conference Tuesday evening, family attorneys Mark Krudys and Ben Crump said that the defense attorneys were coming up with “excuses” to minimize the actions of those involved.
“They are trying to say … ‘Well, he was struggling. Well, he was still resisting.’ No he wasn’t. He was trying to breathe,” Crump told newscasters as Otieno’s mother sobbed in the background. The family believes he was mistreated not only at the hospital but also while he was in custody with police.
All 10 defendants have been granted bond and have pre-trial hearings set for late April or May, the Associated Press noted.
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