HENRICO COUNTY, Va. — Three employees of a state-run psychiatric facility have been charged with second-degree murder in the death last week of Irvo Otieno, according to multiple reports.
Otieno, 28, died March 6 as he was being transferred from Henrico County Jail to Central State Hospital. Prosecutors said he was smothered to death by seven deputies who held him on the ground for 12 minutes while he was wearing handcuffs and leg irons, according to WTVR-TV.
Authorities on Tuesday announced second-degree murder charges against the deputies who had been tasked with transporting Otieno. On Thursday, officials said three Central State Hospital employees — identified as Darian M. Blackwell, 23; Wavie L. Jones, 34; and Sadarius D. Williams, 27 — were also charged, WRIC-TV reported.
Henrico police arrested Otieno on March 3 after detaining him on an emergency custody order based on unspecified interactions he had with officers. Police said in a news release that officers approached Otieno after he was identified as a potential suspect in a possible burglary reported that morning.
Officers took Otieno to a hospital for evaluation, where authorities said he “became physically assaultive towards officers.” He was arrested on three counts of assaulting a law enforcement officer and one count each of disorderly conduct in a hospital and vandalism, police said.
Ben Crump, an attorney representing Otieno’s family, said Thursday that the 28-year-old’s mother told authorities on the day of his arrest that she believed he was dealing with a mental health issue. She earlier told the Richmond Times-Dispatch that she had called her son’s psychiatrist for help that day, hoping to get him specialized treatment.
This is Irvo Otieno. A 28-yo aspiring musician deeply loved by his parents, who emigrated from Kenya when he was 4. On March 6, he was handcuffed and brutally smothered to death for 12 mins. by 7 Henrico County (VA) Sheriff’s deputies at a state mental health facility. pic.twitter.com/biyd8Mewph— Ben Crump (@AttorneyCrump) March 16, 2023
“He needed mental health help,” attorney Mark Krudys, who is also representing Otieno’s family, said at a news conference. “He needed help from physicians — not the brutality of correctional officers.”
Krudys said video viewed by attorneys and family members on Thursday showed Otieno was left naked in a jail cell with feces on the ground before his transfer to Central State Hospital. He said Otieno was handcuffed before five deputies got on top of him. He was later carried from his cell by his arms and legs “almost upside-down … like an animal.”
Video from Central State Hospital showed seven deputies in uniform pushing “every part of his body … down with absolute brutality,” Krudys said. He noted that at the time, Otieno was in handcuffs and leg irons.
“He poses no danger to the individuals around him, and yet they continue to apply force for an appreciable, excruciating period of time,” he said. “Every part of his body being forcefully pushed down by those officers.”
In court on Thursday, Dinwiddie Commonwealth’s Attorney Ann Baskervill said Otieno was smothered to death by authorities, WRIC reported.
“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.”
Crump described the incident as unnecessary, unjustifiable and brutal. Otieno’s older brother, Leon Ochieng, called it a “tragic, senseless, inhumane nightmare.”
“People are dealing with mental illness — you should not wake up and feel sick and consider whether or not you should call for help,” he said. “You should have confidence in knowing that the local … police, the local government, is working to make sure that the care that you receive from the minute that they deal with you is … focused on preserving your life, but not ending it.”
Otieno’s mother, Carolina Ouko, remembered her son as a young man with a big heart, a strong sense of equality and a lover of hip-hop music. She accused authorities of having tortured her son.
“Mental illness should not be your ticket to death. There was a chance to rescue him, there was a chance to stop what was going on, and I don’t understand how all systems failed him. I don’t understand why one single system could not hold up and say, ‘Stop, we stop here.’ My son was treated like a dog — worse than a dog. I saw it with my own eyes on the video.”
She called for accountability and the creation of dedicated response teams to handle mental health issues.
“I cannot be at his wedding,” she said, getting emotional during Thursday’s news conference. “I’ll never see a grandchild out of Otieno because someone refused to help him. No one stood up to stop what was going on. We have to do better.”
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