What To Know About Irvo Otieno, Whose Death At A Mental Health Facility Sparked 10 Murder Charges
Updated Mar 17, 2023, 02:49pm EDT
Prosecutors say Black musician Irvo Otieno was smothered to death on March 6 in Henrico, Virginia, by police officers who treated him brutally while transferring him from a county jail to a mental health facility, an incident a lawyer representing the Otieno family compared to the 2020 police killing of George Floyd.
The County Commonwealth’s Attorney Ann Cabell Baskervill said an “extremely clear” and “extremely alarming” video shows deputies restraining Irvo Otieno, a 28-year-old Black musician, by putting their body weight on him and one officer’s knee on his neck for 12 minutes shortly after admitting him to Central State Hospital in Dinwiddie County.
Ten people—seven Henrico County sheriff’s deputies and three employees at Central State Hospital—have been charged with second-degree murder.
Attorneys for the Otieno family said officers “force rushed” Otieno, who was handcuffed, naked and surrounded by feces in his jail cell, against a metal bed and a hard wall, before transferring him to the mental facility where seven deputies, four of whom weighed at least 250 pounds, pushed down on “every part of [Otieno’s] body.”
Otieno’s family and attorneys said Otieno did not resist or pose a threat to the officers and appeared to be “in between lifelessness and unconsciousness” in the video, which will not be released to the public.
The Office of Chief Medical Examiner identified Otieno’s cause of death as asphyxiation in a preliminary report.
The Henrico Fraternal Order of Police Lodge 4, the local police union, said in a statement Otieno’s death was tragic, but defended the officers, saying police work is “difficult” because of the “possibility of being criminally charged while performing their duty.”
Caleb Kershner, an attorney representing one of the deputies, called the second-degree murder charge an “extreme measure.”
Otieno was taken into custody on March 3 by Henrico County police responding to a report of a possible burglary. A neighbor called police over concerns of Otieno gathering lawn lights from a neighbor’s yard, which Mark Krudys, an attorney for the Otieno family, said was part of a mental health crisis. Otieno’s mother tried to de-escalate the police officers that responded to the incident, Krudys said. Officers took Otieno to a hospital for evaluation, where authorities say he assaulted three officers, who then took him to a local jail and charged him with assault on a law enforcement officer, disorderly conduct in a hospital and vandalism. Attorneys for Otieno’s family said during his three-day stay in jail, before being taken to the mental health facility, Otieno was pepper sprayed and denied the mental health medication he needed.
Civil rights attorney Ben Crump compared the incident to the killing of George Floyd in May 2020, as both Floyd and Otieno were forcibly held to the ground by officers. Crump has provided legal services to the families of unarmed Black victims of police violence, including Floyd and Breonna Taylor.
What To Watch For
The ten people charged with second-degree murder will appear before a Virginia grand jury on Tuesday. Baskerville also said additional charges and arrests are pending.
“It is truly shocking that nearly three years after the brutal killing of George Floyd by police, another family is grieving a loved one who allegedly died in the exact same manner,” Crump said.
10 people connected to the death of a 28-year-old Black man at a mental health facility face murder charges. Here’s what we know (CNN)
Video shows deputies smother Va. man for 11 minutes before death, family says (The Washington Post)
Video of Virginia man who died at hospital shows ‘absolute brutality’ by deputies, family says (NBC News)