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.
Speaking at a news conference shortly after watching the video on Thursday, 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 he died on March 6.
They called on the US Department of Justice to intervene in the case, saying Otieno’s constitutional rights were clearly violated.
Otieno’s case marks the latest example of a Black man’s in-custody death that has law enforcement under scrutiny.
It follows the fatal beating of Tyre Nichols in Memphis, Tennessee, and the killing of George Floyd in police custody in Minneapolis.
Ben Crump, who represented Floyd’s family and is now working with Otieno’s, quickly drew a comparison at the news conference.
“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 agonising minutes,” Crump said.
Mark Krudys, another attorney for Otieno’s family, said 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. You cannot even see his image many times,” 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 Tuesday and additional charges were announced on Thursday against three people who the hospital employed.
‘Unlawful demonstration of power’
The footage that the family watched on Thursday has not been publicly released. But Dinwiddie County Commonwealth’s Attorney Ann Cabell Baskervill also described it in court Wednesday, saying at the first hearing for the deputies that Otieno was smothered to death, local news outlets reported.
Baskervill said in court that the officers had no justification for putting Otieno, who was being checked into the hospital, on the floor.
Like the family, she said Otieno did not appear combative and was sitting in a chair before being pulled to the floor by the officers, the Richmond Times-Dispatch reported.
It was a “demonstration of power that was unlawful,” Baskervill said.
She announced on Thursday in a news release the additional charges against the hospital employees: Darian M. Blackwell, 23, of Petersburg; Wavie L. Jones, 34, of Chesterfield; and Sadarius D. Williams, 27, of North Dinwiddie. They were being held without bond, and it wasn’t immediately clear if the three have attorneys who can speak on their behalf.
Otieno, a 28-year-old from Henrico County, had a history of mental health struggles and was experiencing mental distress during his initial encounter with law enforcement earlier this month, his family and their attorneys said at the news conference.
He died on March 6 as he was being admitted to Central State Hospital south of Richmond, Baskervill said in a news release on Tuesday.
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.
‘I’ll never see a grandchild’
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.
“There is goodness in his music and that’s all I’m left with now — he’s gone,” Otieno’s mother, Caroline Ouko, said at the news conference while clutching a framed photo of her son.
“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.
Krudys said a neighbour called the 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.
The judge set bail for two of the deputies on 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.