DINWIDDIE COUNTY, Va. (WRIC) — Ten people, including three employees of a Virginia mental hospital and seven sheriff’s deputies, have been charged with manslaughter in the death of a 28-year-old black man seen on security footage pinned to the ground, according to officials.
Irv Otien was arrested by Henrico police on March 3rd. A few days later, on March 6, Henrico Sheriff’s deputies took him to Central State Psychiatric Hospital in Dinwiddie. They claimed he became combative, and the deputies restrained him. He was later pronounced dead.
The medical examiner’s preliminary ruling was that Otien’s death was a homicide caused by suffocation.
Otien’s case represents the latest example of the death of a black man in police custody. A deadly beating ensues Tire Nichols in Memphis, Tennessee, and murder George Floyd in police custody in Minneapolis.
The three Central State Hospital employees now charged with second-degree murder in Otien’s death, along with seven deputies charged Tuesday, are Darian M. Blackwell, 23, of Petersburg; Wavie L. Jones, 34, of Chesterfield; and Sadarius D. Williams, 27, of North Dinwiddie.
On Thursday, Otien’s family was joined by their attorneys — Ben Crump and Mark Krudys — to talk about the surveillance video, which Krudys said shows all seven deputies pushing “every part of his body” with “absolute brutality.”
“I wasn’t really ready to see this,” Krudys said of the video, noting that Otieno was in handcuffs and leg irons.
“You can see they are putting their backs into it. Every part of his body was pushed with absolute brutality. You don’t even get to see his picture many times.”
Otieno, a 28-year-old from Henrico County, had a history of mental health issues and was experiencing mental health problems at the time of his first encounter with police earlier this month, according to statements from his family and one of their attorneys.
Krudis said hospital footage showed a lack of urgency to help Otien after deputies found him “lifeless and not breathing.”
“And then you see people standing with their hands in their pockets and looking away,” Krudys said at a news conference. “And there is a significant period of time before any kind of rescue can be initiated.”
After performing CPR, deputies “walk out of the room on their own and into the conversation,” Krudys said.
Otieno, whose family is from Kenya, was a well-liked and respected young man, an aspiring musician who was a well-known high school athlete in the area, Krudys said. Otieno was 4 years old when he moved to the US
“Irvo is as American as apple pie. That’s what he knows. This is a home for him,” said Otien’s mother, Caroline Ouko. “This was my baby. He cared about people. He cared that people were treated right. That was the core of his upbringing in our home. He cared about people being treated equally.”
“I can’t be at his wedding. I will never see my grandchild… because someone refused to help him,” said Ouko. “No one stood up to stop what was happening.”
As of Thursday, surveillance footage of the events leading up to Otieno’s death had not been released to the public.
“A key element of that evidence is the surveillance video from Central State Hospital that captures the intake process,” said Ann Baskervill, Dinwiddie Commonwealth’s Attorney. “To maintain the integrity of the criminal justice process, I am unable to publicly release the video at this time.”
Otieno was first taken into custody on March 3, according to a timeline provided by Henrico County police, a separate agency.
It was announced by the Police Administration Media Release that officers encountered Otien while responding to a report of a possible burglary on March 3 in suburban Richmond and that based on his behavior, they placed him under an emergency arrest warrant and took him to a local hospital for evaluation. The press release did not describe the conduct that led to the order.
Krudis said a neighbor called police because of concerns that Otieno was collecting lawn lights from the yard. He said Otien’s mother tried to de-escalate the first police encounter and the family supported taking him to hospital, believing he needed mental health treatment.
While at the hospital, police said he became “physically aggressive toward the arresting officers” and was taken to a local jail operated by the Henrico Sheriff’s Office, where he was charged with several charges.
Around 4 p.m. March 6, sheriff’s office employees arrived at Central State Hospital south of Richmond to admit Otien, Baskervill said.
Krudys said Otien was not given access to necessary medication while in prison. He also said the family did not understand why Otieno was taken from prison to a state hospital about 45 minutes away, rather than a local, much closer mental health facility.
During a hearing for seven Henrico deputies on March 15, Baskervill alleged that Central State Hospital employees stood by while Otieno was smothered by Henry’s ambassadorsdespite the fact that he was held until the end of 12 minutes, he did not resist.
“At some point he went down to the ground or collapsed, and then what follows is 12 minutes of him being strewn across the ground with all seven of them, and then eventually some people from Central State on top of him,” Baskervill said. “No one helps, no one stops others from holding hands on the victim who then died of suffocation by suffocation.”
A judge set bail for the two deputies on Wednesday. It was not immediately clear if they were released. Other MPs were in the process of looking for a lawyer and remained in custody, news outlets report.
Edward Nickel, an attorney for Deputy Bradley Disse, one of the defendants, said in an email Thursday that Disse served “with honor” during a 20-year career with the sheriff’s department.
“He looks forward to his opportunity to try this case and to have the full truth shared in court and ultimately vindicated,” Nickel said in an email.
Another defense attorney was not immediately available for comment. Henrico Fraternal Order of Police-Lodge 4 stood by deputies in a statement posted on social media Tuesday, urging against a rush to judgment and stressing that the charges have yet to go through the rigors of the legal system.
Baskervill said Virginia State Police, who are leading the investigation, were not called to the hospital until hours after Otieno died. Additional charges and arrests are pending, her office said in a statement Thursday.
The Associated Press contributed to this report.