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Video shows deputies smother Va. man for 11 minutes before death, family says

Family members of Irvo Otieno were shown video of the encounter, as prosecutors charged 3 hospital workers with murder. Seven deputies already had been charged.

Caroline Ouko said March 16 that, after seeing video of her son Irvo Otieno's death, he was “treated like a dog.” (Video: AP)
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DINWIDDIE COUNTY, Va. — Relatives of Irvo N. Otieno on Thursday watched video of his “traumatic” death at Central State Hospital as a local prosecutor brought second-degree murder charges against three of the facility’s employees — on top of the seven sheriff’s deputies already charged in his death.

“My son was treated like a dog, worse than a dog,” Otieno’s mother, Caroline Ouko, tearfully told reporters outside the Dinwiddie County Courthouse. “I saw it with my own eyes in the video. He was treated inhumanely, and it was traumatic, and it was systemic.”

Otieno’s brother, Leon Ochieng, said the video undermined claims made by attorneys for some of the deputies that Otieno was acting aggressively and had to be subdued.

Two lawyers for Otieno’s family, who watched the video with them, said the three hospital workers dressed in blue uniforms could be seen joining the deputies in brown — putting their weight on him as he lay prone on the hospital floor for 11 minutes, handcuffed, his feet shackled. They called on the Justice Department to investigate.

“What I saw was a lifeless human being without any representation, no [regard] for his human life,” Ochieng said, his voice breaking. “At what point do we consider mental illness a crime?”

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

Ouko said her 28-year-old younger son, whom she described as an aspiring hip-hop artist, was suffering from a mental health problem when police took him into custody at her Henrico County home on March 3.

He died of asphyxiation at the hospital three days later, after the seven deputies applied their body weight to him, Dinwiddie County Commonwealth’s Attorney Ann Cabell Baskervill said earlier this week.

Baskervill released a statement Thursday announcing charges against the three hospital workers but did not detail their alleged roles in the death on March 6.

“He’s face down, handcuffed, with leg irons, and you say, ‘My God, why?’” said 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. “It is so unnecessary, it is so unjustified. And you keep searching in your heart for which one of them would have the humanity to say that, ‘Eleven minutes is far too long to have him down, with the weight of our bodies and knees on his neck.’”

The hospital workers charged are: Darian M. Blackwell, 23, of Petersburg; Wavie L. Jones, 34, of Chesterfield; and Sadarius D. Williams, 27, of North Dinwiddie. They were transported to the Meherrin River Regional Jail in Brunswick County and were being held without bond. Attorneys for them were not listed in records online.

Baskervill’s statement said “additional charges and arrests are pending.” It also said she was “not able” to publicly release the video to “maintain the integrity of the criminal justice process at this point.”

Caleb Kershner, an attorney for one of the sheriff’s deputies, Randy Boyer, said his client was “100 percent” innocent.

“We’re all very, very shocked and surprised,” Kershner said, calling the second-degree murder charge an “extreme measure.”

“It appears as if we have a death in custody — very unfortunate circumstance,” Kershner said. “And that’s a pretty serious charge to levy against law enforcement officers who were moving someone from a prison cell to Central State, when someone dies in custody.”

Kershner said he had received only limited information about the case, but had met with his client on Thursday. The defense attorney said Otieno had received what he assumed was a sedative shot around the time of his death.

Holding a framed photo of her smiling son dressed in a suit and tie, Ouko left it to the family’s two attorneys to detail what they saw in two videos Baskervill allowed them to watch.

One showed Otieno in his Henrico County jail cell, the other at the hospital. Crump and Mark Krudys, another attorney for Otieno’s family, alleged that Otieno was mistreated at the jail and the hospital. The videos were taken by surveillance cameras at both locations, not body-camera footage, Krudys said.

Krudys said the family chose not to watch most of the jail video, which was in some ways more graphic than the images from the hospital, where the scrum of deputies and workers obscured Otieno.

He said the jail video showed Otieno naked, surrounded by feces and handcuffed, when five deputies “force rushed” him against a metal bed and hard wall.

“I’m sorry to say this in front of the family, but the public needs to know: He’s carried out by the arms and legs, almost upside down, like an animal,” Krudys said, adding that the deputies then transported him to Central State. Mentally ill patients in the Richmond area are treated at that hospital.

The videos had no sound, so it was not clear what was said, but one of the deputies appeared to be laughing at one point, Krudys said.

Personnel from the Henrico County Sheriff’s Office went to the hospital just before 4 p.m. on March 6 to admit Otieno as a patient, the prosecutor has said. About 3½ hours later, the state police were called to investigate his 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.

The prosecutor identified the deputies, all who live in Virginia, as Jermaine Lavar Branch, 45, of Henrico; Boyer, 57, of Henrico; Dwayne Alan Bramble, 37, of Sandston; 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.

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.

The family’s lawyers indicated that the burglary allegation was an outgrowth of his mental health issue, which his mother said periodically afflicted him since he was a student at Freeman High School. She declined to say if he had been diagnosed with a specific mental illness.

The lawyers suggested that Otieno’s mental state led him to take or gather solar lights from a neighbor’s home, leading the neighbor to make a complaint to police. At least 10 police officers responded to his mother’s home, although the lawyers said it was not clear if they were responding to the neighbor’s complaint or to a request for mental health help from Otieno’s mother.

“There was a huge show of force,” Krudys said. “And he went peacefully.”

Officers took him to a Henrico County hospital for evaluation, but later moved him to the county jail, where he was charged with assault on a law enforcement officer, disorderly conduct in a hospital and vandalism, the Henrico police said.