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Sheriff’s deputies in Va. charged in man’s death, prosecutor says

The prosecutor said the man died of asphyxiation after seven deputies applied their body weight to him as they attempted to subdue him

Visitors walk toward Building 114, the S.T.A.R. Center, at Central State Hospital in Virginia. Seven Virginia sheriff's office employees have been charged with second-degree murder in connection with the death of a 28-year-old man at Central State Hospital last week. (Bob Brown/AP)
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Seven deputies at a Virginia sheriff’s office have been charged with second-degree murder in connection with the death of a person they were trying to subdue at a state hospital, authorities said.

The seven deputies of the Henrico County Sheriff’s Office were charged in connection with the death of Irvo N. Otieno at Central State Hospital on March 6, according to Dinwiddie County Commonwealth’s Attorney Ann Cabell Baskervill.

Personnel from the Henrico County Sheriff’s Office went to the hospital just before 4 p.m. to admit Otieno, 28, as a patient, the prosecutor said. About 3½ hours later, the state police were called to investigate Otieno’s death, Baskervill said.

Investigators from the state police “were told he had become combative during the admission process,” Baskervill said in a statement Tuesday. “Otieno, who was physically restrained, died during the intake process,” she said.

Baskervill said Wednesday that Otieno died of asphyxiation after the seven deputies applied their body weight to him as they attempted to subdue him.

The prosecutor identified the deputies as Jermaine Lavar Branch, 45, of Henrico; Randy Joseph Boyer, 57, of Henrico; Dwayne Alan Bramble, 37, of Sandston, Va.; Bradley Thomas Disse, 43, of Henrico; Tabitha Renee Levere, 50, of Henrico; Brandon Edwards Rodgers, 48, of Henrico; and Kaiyell Dajour Sanders, 30, of North Chesterfield, Va.

“What they said is they were trying to subdue him, and he was a big aggressive guy,” said Cary Bowen, Branch’s defense attorney, asserting that his client was innocent.

Bowen said that according to witnesses, Otieno was given two injections “to calm him down.”

“And after that he expired. He no longer was combative,” Bowen said.

Baskervill said Otieno had received one injection that was “probably … given after his death, the death being due to asphyxia.”

A representative for the medical examiner’s office referred questions to the Virginia State Police, which declined to comment because of the ongoing investigation.

Mentally ill patients in the Richmond area are treated at Central State. They may be sent by jails or the courts, according to the Central State website.

Mark Krudys, an attorney for Otieno’s family, said that authorities have told Otieno’s mother, Caroline Ouko, that “Irvo had handcuffs on and leg irons at the time that the officers piled on him.”

“He posed absolutely no danger to them,” Krudys said. “This is definitely, from our perspective, excessive force, unnecessary force.”

Krudys said that Otieno’s family also will be represented by attorney Ben Crump, who has provided legal services to the families of George Floyd, Breonna Taylor and other unarmed Black people who were killed by law enforcement officers. After Otieno’s family views a video that shows his death in the coming days, they will be making a public announcement, Krudys said.

“What his mother was seeking to do was help him when he was in distress,” Krudys said. “She was seeking medical help, and instead what happened? It transformed into him being treated as less than human. He was in the cell naked. He was pepper-sprayed in the cell. When he was taken out, we understand he wasn’t given an opportunity to wash the pepper spray off.”

The Henrico County police department, which is separate from the sheriff’s office, said that on March 3 Otieno was identified and approached as a “potential suspect” in a possible burglary.

Based on officers’ interactions and observations, he was placed under an emergency custody order, Henrico police said in a statement issued Tuesday.

Officers took him to a hospital for further evaluation, police said. At the hospital, they said, he “became physically assaultive” toward officers, and they arrested him and took him to the county jail.

He was charged there with assault on a law enforcement officer, disorderly conduct in a hospital and vandalism, the Henrico police said.

Peter Baruch, an attorney for Disse, said his client is “really looking forward to the truth coming out and getting vindicated.”

Attorneys for the other deputies could not immediately be reached.

The prosecutor’s office said the seven deputies were held without bond.