Video from a state mental hospital shows a Black Virginia man who was handcuffed and shackled being pinned to the ground by deputies who are now facing second-degree murder charges in his death, according to relatives of the man and their attorneys who viewed the footage on Thursday.
Speaking at a news conference shortly after watching the video with a local prosecutor, the family and attorneys condemned the brutal treatment they said Irvo Otieno, 28, was subjected to, first at a local jail and then at the state hospital where authorities say he died on 6 March during the admission process.
They called on the US Department of Justice to intervene in the case, saying Otieno’s constitutional rights were clearly violated.
“What I saw today was heartbreaking, America. It was disturbing. It was traumatic. My son was tortured,” said Otieno’s mother, Caroline Ouko.
Lawyer Ben Crump, who represented George Floyd’s family after the Minneapolis man’s murder by police in 2020 and is now working with Otieno’s, quickly drew a comparison.
“It is truly shocking that nearly three years after the brutal killing of George Floyd by police, another family is grieving a loved one who allegedly died in nearly the exact same manner – being pinned down by police for 12 agonizing minutes,” Crump said in a statement.
Mark Krudys, another attorney for Otieno’s family, said at the news conference that the video showed all seven of the deputies now facing charges pushing down on Otieno, who 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,” he said.
Ten people so far have been charged with second-degree murder in Otieno’s death. The seven Henrico county sheriff’s deputies were charged on Tuesday and additional charges were announced on Thursday against three people who were employed by the hospital.
The footage the family watched on Thursday has not been publicly released. But the Dinwiddie county commonwealth’s attorney, Ann Cabell Baskervill, also described it in court on Wednesday, saying at the first hearing for the deputies that Otieno was smothered to death, local news outlets reported.
Baskervill said Otieno did not appear combative and was sitting in a chair before being pulled to the ground by the officers, the Richmond Times-Dispatch reported.
She announced on Thursday in a news release the additional charges against the hospital employees: Darian Blackwell, 23, of Petersburg, Wavie Jones, 34, of Chesterfield, and Sadarius Williams, 27, of North Dinwiddie. They were being held without bond, and it was not immediately clear if they had attorneys who could speak on their behalf. Additional charges and arrests are pending, Baskervill said.
Otieno, who was a child when his family emigrated from Kenya and grew up in suburban Richmond, had a history of mental health struggles and was experiencing mental distress at the time of his initial encounter with law enforcement officers earlier this month, his family and their attorneys said.
That set off a chain of events before authorities say he died on 6 March while being admitted to Central State hospital south of Richmond.
Krudys said the footage from the hospital also showed a lack of urgency to help Otieno after the deputies determined “that he was lifeless and not breathing”.
Ouko clutched a framed photo of her son at the news conference.
“There is goodness in his music and that’s all I’m left with now – he’s gone,” Ouko said.
“I cannot be at his wedding. I’ll never see a grandchild … because someone refused to help him. No one stood up to stop what was going on,” she said.
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