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Video shows Va. deputies pile on top of Irvo Otieno before his death

Seven sheriff’s deputies and three hospital workers have been charged with murder in the case.

Surveillance video from Central State Hospital in Virginia shows law enforcement officers and medical staff piling on top of Irvo Otieno before his death. (Video: Dinwiddie County Commonwealth's Attorney's Office)
11 min

As many as 10 sheriff’s deputies and medical staff at Virginia’s Central State Hospital can be seen piling on top of a shackled Irvo Otieno for approximately 11 minutes until he stops moving, according to new video showing the encounter that led to the 28-year-old Black man’s death.

The hospital surveillance video, which has no sound, shows Otieno’s final moments on March 6, from the time Henrico County sheriff’s deputies drag him into a hospital admissions room in handcuffs and leg irons, to the 11 minutes in which they restrain Otieno on the ground, to the moment when they release Otieno’s limp body around 4:40 p.m.

Minutes later, video shows workers beginning to apply chest compressions and a defibrillator machine to Otieno’s upper body, before a medical technician drapes him with a white sheet at 5:48 p.m.

Otieno, of Henrico, Va., is the latest Black man to die at the hands of law enforcement in an incident that was caught on camera, sparking community outrage and calls for accountability. Otieno’s family has said his death bears a resemblance to the killing of George Floyd by Minneapolis police officers in 2020, which sparked demonstrations across the country. It also follows the death of Tyre Nichols, a 29-year-old Black man who died after being pulled over and beaten by police during a traffic stop in Memphis earlier this year. That incident, too, was caught on camera.

“Let me be clear — mental illness is not a crime. Being a Black man in America is not a crime,” NAACP chief executive Derrick Johnson said in a statement about the Otieno case, adding, “No person should ever face this level of violence from those who are meant to ‘serve and protect’ and treat people facing mental health crises.”

Dinwiddie County Commonwealth’s Attorney Ann Cabell Baskervill charged seven Henrico County sheriff’s deputies and three staff members at the hospital with second-degree murder in Otieno’s death, and has said she expects more arrests and charges. A grand jury in Dinwiddie County, where the hospital is located, indicted the 10 defendants Tuesday morning, according to court records. The prosecutor has said Otieno died of asphyxia as law enforcement officers and hospital staff piled on him.

In court on Tuesday, Baskervill said that there was “no evidence” Otieno had been combative and that he “certainly did not deserve to be smothered to death.” Defense attorneys for several of those charged have asserted their clients’ innocence or suggested they did not apply lethal force.

In a public filing in the case Monday, Baskervill listed Dropbox links containing the footage as part of her obligation to turn over information to defense attorneys. Lawyers for two defendants sought to block the release of the video in court filings Monday, arguing that by releasing evidence or giving statements to the news media, prosecutors could influence the pool of potential jurors, and prevent the defendants from receiving a fair trial.

Otieno’s family and their civil rights attorneys, Ben Crump and Mark Krudys, viewed the hospital surveillance video last week and urged prosecutors to release it publicly.

At a news conference Tuesday, Otieno’s mother, Caroline Ouko, said her son was a sensitive and caring young man, gentle and slow to anger. “Those 10 monsters, those 10 criminals, I was happy to hear that they were indicted and that is just the beginning step,” she said, adding, “We will achieve justice for Irvo Otieno.”

Caroline Ouko said March 16 that, after seeing video of her son Irvo Otieno's death, he was “treated like a dog.” (Video: AP)

The Dropbox links in Baskervill’s filing also included footage of Otieno and sheriff’s deputies arriving at the hospital’s sally port March 6, as well as 911 recordings of hospital workers apparently calling for help after the incident, and other emergency communications.

Surveillance video taken outside Central State Hospital shows two SUVs pulling up at 3:58 p.m., according to timestamps on the footage. For nearly 20 minutes, sheriff’s deputies and hospital staff are seen milling around the entrance, close to the vehicles. At 4:16 p.m., a shackled and handcuffed Otieno is taken out of the back seat of the first SUV and walked by deputies into the hospital.

Footage taken just inside the hospital shows the deputies forcing Otieno forward — he remains on his feet — as hospital staff trail behind through the entrance. Sheriff’s deputies appear in control of the situation as Otieno is brought down a hallway and through an open door at 4:17 p.m.

Otieno is next seen in surveillance video timestamped at 4:19 p.m., as he enters the admissions area of the hospital. The roughly two-minute gap — based on timestamps — is not accounted for in video reviewed by The Post.

Four to five Henrico County sheriff’s deputies can be seen dragging Otieno into the admissions room. Then, two deputies get into position, holding down Otieno as he sits on the ground, with his back propped against a seat.

But after Otieno, who is in handcuffs and leg irons, appears to make a movement shortly before 4:28 p.m., more deputies and hospital staff bear down on him. At least eight people pile on top of Otieno, some holding down his legs, while others restrain his upper body.

At 4:31 p.m., the group seems to lose its grip on Otieno for a moment, and they roll him around on the ground. Nine or 10 people are holding down Otieno. Hospital staff are in the room watching or helping to restrain him.

Deputies and staff ease their hold on Otieno and roll him onto his side moments before 4:40 p.m. Otieno is shirtless and appears not to be moving. One minute later, a medical worker lowers the top of Otieno’s pants and administers an injection. He is still immobile. Resuscitation efforts, including chest compressions and defibrillator charges, take up less than one hour on the video.

“You’ll note that those resuscitation efforts were very slow in beginning,” Krudys said Monday. Otieno’s mother wants the public to see the video, Krudys said.

“She feels very strongly that the public should see what happened to her son,” he said.

Douglas Ramseur, an attorney for hospital worker Wavie Jones, asked a judge on Tuesday to impose a gag order, arguing that the prosecutor’s public statements about the case would make it difficult for the defendants to get a fair trial. Circuit Court Judge Joseph M. Teefey Jr. denied the request and said he wanted to “tread lightly” on any restriction on the First Amendment. But, at Ramseur’s request, the judge ordered the prosecution and defense to submit evidence in the case under seal.

In an email Tuesday morning, Baskervill said she felt strongly that the public should see the video, adding that the court would be able to screen any potential jurors for bias at the start of a trial.

“There is no agenda here other than transparency,” Baskervill said.

Audio recordings of 911 calls and emergency communications — which have file names appearing to indicate when they occurred — show hospital staff growing impatient as they await an ambulance.

The first call seems to come in around 4:40 p.m. The dispatcher appears to have trouble hearing or understanding a woman who calls from the hospital to say that they have a patient who is no longer breathing.

“We have an emergency in building 39,” the woman at the hospital says. “We have a newly admitted [patient] but he is no longer breathing. … The patient is a new admission, and then he’s very aggressive. So they’re doing a CPR now. There’s no pulse anymore.”

The dispatcher responds: “I’m sorry, is the patient aggressive or is he not breathing?”

“He used to be aggressive, right,” the woman at the hospital says.

In a call timestamped at 5:02 p.m., a woman who had identified herself in a previous call as “Harrison in admissions” is heard calling the Dinwiddie County dispatcher again.

“We called at least 15 minutes ago, we had an emergency 15, 20 minutes ago,” the hospital worker says.

“Yes, ma’am,” the female dispatcher responds. “We have medics en route.”

“You said they were en route the last time,” the hospital worker says. “I mean, how far — where they coming from? Were they coming from Southside?”

The dispatcher responds that the medics “are coming as quickly as they can” and explains that they also had been handling a motor vehicle accident, but the hospital worker is exasperated.

“This is just totally unacceptable, and y’all know it, too,” she says. “Totally unacceptable.”

“They’re coming,” the dispatcher assures her.

A stretcher can be seen in the admissions room at 5:08 p.m.

The attorneys for Otieno’s family said he was mistreated at the Henrico County Jail, where he was taken by authorities on March 3 after police responded to a call for service in his neighborhood, and Otieno’s mother sought to get him medical help. The family’s lawyers suggested that Otieno’s mental state led him to gather solar lights from a neighbor’s home, after which the neighbor complained to police. At least 10 police officers responded to Otieno’s mother’s home, her lawyers said.

Police first took Otieno to a hospital for a mental health evaluation, then booked him in the jail when he became unruly, authorities said. Otieno was then taken to Central State Hospital three days later, on March 6.

Krudys said the jail surveillance video, which Otieno’s family for the most part declined to watch, was in some ways more graphic than the images from the hospital. Attorneys for Otieno’s family have said he was held naked in a cell and was battered and pepper-sprayed by Henrico County sheriff’s office employees. The jail video was not available.

The Henrico County commonwealth’s attorney, Shannon Taylor, said her office would conduct its own investigation into the events leading up to Otieno’s death. The Henrico Doctors’ Hospital, where Otieno was first taken March 3, and the Henrico County Jail are both in Taylor’s jurisdiction. Central State Hospital is in nearby Dinwiddie County, which is Baskervill’s jurisdiction.

“My office is working diligently to do a thorough investigation, working to get numerous relevant videos, and talking to others involved,” Taylor said in a statement Tuesday. “I am committed to ensuring this investigation of these most tragic circumstances where a young man has died will be thorough and complete.”

Court records show the Henrico County sheriff’s deputies charged so far are Virginia residents Jermaine Branch, 45, Randy Boyer, 57, Bradley Disse, 43, Tabitha Levere, 50, and Brandon Rodgers, 48, all of Henrico; as well as Dwayne Bramble, 37, of Sandston; and Kaiyell Sanders, 30, of North Chesterfield.

The hospital workers charged are: Darian Blackwell, 23, of Petersburg; Jones, 34, of Chesterfield; and Sadarius Williams, 27, of North Dinwiddie.

At hearings on Tuesday, attorneys for some of those charged said they should be released on bond, arguing that their clients did not intend to cause harm.

Ramseur said Jones was not in a position of authority at Central State Hospital, and could not refuse when he was told to help deputies with Otieno. “It wasn’t a choice,” Ramseur said. “He is really just a worker bee.”

Jeffrey Everhart, an attorney for Rodgers, suggested that his client merely tried to roll Otieno onto his side, as a precaution against smothering.

Caleb Kershner, who represents Boyer, said his client had been “fully cooperative” with authorities, and was “not at any time putting his body weight on the deceased.”

Kershner said Otieno “clearly needed medical attention,” and was talking in a “word salad” while acting in a “somewhat combative” manner.

Baskervill disputed that Otieno had been combative. Boyer and the other defendants, she said, waited 3½ hours before notifying the Virginia State Police of Otieno’s death and called a funeral home to attend to the body instead of the medical examiner.

Rhonda Quagliana, an attorney for Williams, said in a statement Tuesday that her client “had only minimal physical contact with Mr. Otieno and did not apply any lethal force during the incident.”

Five of the 10 defendants — Boyer, Branch, Disse, Jones and Rodgers — had been released on bond as of Tuesday, while the others remained in jail, court records show.