Lawyers for Family of Virginia Man Killed in Police Custody Want DOJ to Step In

Lawyers for Family of Virginia Man Killed in Police Custody Want DOJ to Step In
Caroline Ouko, mother of Irvo Otieno, holds a portrait of her son with attorney Ben Crump (L) and her older son, Leon Ochieng at the Dinwiddie Courthouse in Dinwiddie, Va., on March 16, 2023. (Daniel Sangjib Min/Richmond Times-Dispatch via AP)
Masooma Haq

Lawyers for the family of a Virginia man who died in police custody say the Department of Justice should be involved in the case.

Ten people, including seven Henrico County sheriff’s deputies, have been charged with second-degree murder for the March 6 death of 28-year-old Irvo Noel Otieno.

“You’ve got those two jurisdictions, and it’s a story—as you can see—it’s a continuum of abuse that went on, and it has to be fully addressed in that manner,” attorney Mark Krudys said at a news conference on March 16, speaking about how Otieno’s journey began in Henrico County, Virginia, and ended at Central State Hospital in Dinwiddie County, Virginia.

Civil Rights lawyer Ben Crump, who represented George Floyd’s family, is also representing Otieno’s family.

“We are calling for the Department of Justice to intervene in this matter, because we do think his constitutional rights were violated,” Crump said at the news conference.

Otieno was first taken into custody on March 3, according to the Henrico County Police Department.

Irvo Otieno. (Courtesy of Ben Crump Law via AP)
Irvo Otieno. (Courtesy of Ben Crump Law via AP)

In a news release from that day, the department said the officers encountered Otieno near his home while responding to a possible burglary, and that based on Otieno’s behavior, they put him under emergency custody and took him to a local hospital for evaluation.

At the hospital, Otieno became combative and was charged with 3 counts of “assault on a law enforcement officer” and disorderly conduct, police said.

Otieno was then transferred to the Henrico County Jail West, and on March 6, he was taken to be admitted to Central State Hospital, where he died during the intake process.

Mental Health Crisis

According to Krudys, Otieno was experiencing a mental health crisis when the neighbor first called the police over concerns about him. He said Otieno’s mother, Caroline Ouko, tried to deescalate the situation with the police officers on March 3 and that the family wanted him to go to the hospital to get help for his mental health.

Otieno’s mother, Caroline Ouko, said her son was brutalized by the deputies, and she asked why no one stepped in to stop the abuse.

“What I saw today was heartbreaking, America. It was disturbing. It was traumatic. My son was tortured,” she said at the news conference after viewing a video of her son’s death at the hospital. “My son was treated like a dog, worse than a dog.”

The video of Otieno in the hospital viewed by his family has not been released publicly.

Dinwiddie County Commonwealth’s Attorney Ann Cabell Baskervill, who also viewed the footage, described Otieno being smothered. She said the video did not show Otieno fighting but rather being forced to the ground by the officers while seated in a chair and then held down for 12 minutes, the Richmond Times-Dispatch reported.

Krudys also said that the video showed all seven deputies pushing down on Otieno, even though he was restrained with handcuffs and leg irons.

Three hospital employees were also charged with second-degree murder, making a total of 10 people charged in connection to the death.

The seven deputies charged with second-degree murder are Randy Joseph Boyer, 57; Dwayne Alan Bramble, 37; Jermaine Lavar Branch, 45; Bradley Thomas Disse, 43; Tabitha Renee Levere, 50; Brandon Edwards Rodgers, 48; and Kaiyell Dajour Sanders, 30, the Richmond Times-Dispatch reported.

Baskervill revealed the names of the additional charges against the hospital employees: Darian M. Blackwell, 23; Wavie L. Jones, 34; and Sadarius D. Williams, 27.

Hospital’s Response

In a statement to The Epoch Times, Lauren Cunningham, spokeswoman for the Virginia Department of Behavioral Health and Developmental Services, said the agency is fully cooperating with the Virginia Stare Police and is working to ensure that Otieno’s family receives information about his death.

“The three hospital staff members who have been charged will be on administrative leave pending the results of the legal proceedings,” Cunningham said. “We will respect the legal process while we and our staff continue to provide important care to the patients at Central State Hospital.”

At the age of 4, Otieno emigrated with his family from Kenya and grew up in suburban Richmond. He had a history of mental health issues and his mother said he was experiencing one of these mental health episodes and was distressed when the police first came to his house on March 3.

Krudys said the footage from the hospital also showed a lack of urgency to help Otieno after the deputies saw he was not breathing.

Shannon Taylor, the commonwealth’s attorney for Henrico County, said in a statement on March 16 that she’s conducting a review of what happened in the jail that day.
Henrico County Sheriff Alisa A. Gregory released a statement on March 14 but declined to comment further, The Associated Press reported.
Masooma Haq began reporting for The Epoch Times from Pakistan in 2008. She currently covers a variety of topics including U.S. government, culture, and entertainment.
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