DINWIDDIE COUNTY, Va. (WRIC) — Ten people, including three Virginia mental hospital employees and seven sheriff’s deputies, have been charged with murder in the death of a 28-year-old Black man seen in security video being pinned to the ground, according to officials.
Irvo Otieno was arrested by Henrico Police on March 3. Days later, on March 6, Henrico Sheriff’s deputies took him to Central State, a psychiatric hospital in Dinwiddie. They claimed he became combative and the deputies restrained him. He was later declared dead.
The medical examiner’s preliminary ruling was that Otieno’s death was a homicide caused by asphyxiation.
Otieno’s case marks the latest example of a Black man’s in-custody death that has law enforcement under scrutiny. It follows the the fatal beating of Tyre Nichols in Memphis, Tennessee, and the killing of George Floyd in police custody in Minneapolis.
The three employees of Central State Hospital now charged with second degree murder in Otieno’s death, along with the seven deputies charged Tuesday, are Darian M. Blackwell, 23, of Petersburg; Wavie L. Jones, 34, of Chesterfield; and Sadarius D. Williams, 27, of North Dinwiddie.
On Thursday, Otieno’s family was joined by their lawyers — Ben Crump and Mark Krudys — to speak about the surveillance footage, which Krudys said showed all seven deputies pushing down “every part of his body” with “absolute brutality.”
“I was not really prepared to see this,” Krudys said of the video footage, stressing that Otieno 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. You cannot even see his image many times.”
Otieno, a 28-year-old from Henrico County, had a history of mental health struggles and was experiencing mental distress at the time of his initial encounter with law enforcement earlier this month, according to statements from his family and one of their attorneys.
Krudys said the footage from the hospital showed a lack of urgency to help Otieno after the deputies determined “that he was lifeless and not breathing.”
“And then you see people standing around with their hands in their pockets and looking away,” Krudys said at the news conference. “And there’s an appreciable period of time before any kind of rescue efforts are started.”
After CPR is administered, the deputies “drift away out of the room and into a conversation by themselves,” Krudys said.
Otieno, whose family is from Kenya, was a deeply loved and well-regarded young man, an aspiring musician who had been a well-known high school athlete in the area, Krudys said. Otieno was 4 years old when he moved to the U.S.
“Irvo is as American as apple pie. This is what he knows. This is home for him,” Otieno’s mother Caroline Ouko said. “This was my baby. He cared for people. He cared that people were treated right. That was at the core of his upbringing in our home. He cared that people were treated equally.”
“I cannot be at his wedding. I’ll never see a grandchild … because someone refused to help him,” Ouko said. “No one stood up to stop what was going on.”
As of Thursday, the surveillance footage of the events leading to Otieno’s death had not been made public.
“A key element of that evidence is the surveillance video from Central State Hospital that captures the intake process,” said Dinwiddie Commonwealth’s Attorney Ann Baskervill. “To maintain the integrity of the criminal justice process at this point, I am not able to publicly release the video.”
Otieno was first taken into custody March 3, according to a timeline provided by Henrico County Police, a separate agency.
The police department said in a news release that officers encountered Otieno while responding to a report of a possible burglary March 3 in suburban Richmond, and that based on his behavior, put him under an emergency custody order and took him to a local hospital for evaluation. The news release did not describe the behavior that led to the order.
Krudys said a neighbor called police over concern about Otieno gathering lawn lights from a yard. He said Otieno’s mother tried to de-escalate the initial police encounter and the family supported his being taken to a hospital, believing that he needed mental health treatment.
While he was at the hospital, police said he became “became physically assaultive toward officers, who arrested him” and took him to a local jail that is managed by the Henrico Sheriff’s Office, where he was served with several charges.
Around 4 p.m. on March 6, employees of the sheriff’s office arrived at the Central State Hospital south of Richmond to admit Otieno, Baskervill said.
Krudys said Otieno was not provided access to needed medications while he was in jail. He also said the family does not understand why Otieno was taken from the jail to the state hospital about 45 minutes away rather than to a local, much closer mental health facility.
During a hearing for the seven Henrico deputies on March 15, Baskervill alleged that Central State Hospital employees stood by while Otieno was smothered by the Henrico deputies, despite the fact that by the end of the 12 minutes he was held down, he offered no resistance.
“At some point he’s pulled down to the ground or slumps and then what follows is 12 minutes of him being splayed out on the ground with all seven and then ultimately some Central State people as well on top of him,” Baskervill said. “No one assisting, no one blocking the others from having their hands on the victim who then died of asphyxiation by smothering.”
The judge set bail for two of the deputies Wednesday. It wasn’t immediately clear if they have been released. The other deputies were in the process of securing legal counsel and remained in custody, news outlets reported.
Edward Nickel, an attorney for Deputy Bradley Disse, one of the defendants, said in an email Thursday that Disse has served “honorably” during a 20-year career with the sheriff’s department.
“He is looking forward to his opportunity to try this case and for the full truth to be shared in court and ultimately vindicated,” Nickel said in an email.
Another defense attorney could not immediately be reached for comment. The Henrico Fraternal Order of Police-Lodge 4 stood by the deputies in a statement posted to social media on Tuesday, urging against a rush to judgment and stressing that the charges are yet to go through the rigors of the legal system.
Baskervill has said the Virginia State Police, which is handling the investigation, was not called to the hospital until several hours after Otieno died. Additional charges and arrests are pending, according to the news release Thursday from her office.
The Associated Press contributed to this report.