(Trends Wide) — Ten people associated with the death of Irvo Otieno, a 28-year-old black man, during the admission process at a Virginia mental health facility last week, have been charged with manslaughter.
Otieno’s family wants answers about how an up-and-coming musician who had what they called a mental health crisis ended up dead, and why no one stood up for him and prevented him from being killed.
The county attorney says law enforcement officers “choked him to death” while restraining him. Hospital workers have also been charged.
The local law enforcement union says they “stand behind” the officers, and a lawyer for one of the accused officers said he hoped the full truth would come out in court.
This is what we know about the deadly incident in which Ivo Otieno died.
Who was Irvo Otieno?
Irvo Otieno was 28 years old. He was passionate about music, family attorney Mark Krudys said Thursday, and was working to become a hip-hop artist. Originally from Kenya, he came to the US when he was 4 years old.
Her mom, Caroline Ouko, said she had “found her thing” with music and could write a song in less than five minutes. “She put her energy into it and she was happy with it,” she said at a news conference Thursday.
Irvo had a big heart, he said, and was the one his teammates turned to when they had problems. He was a leader who brought his own perspective, he added.
“If there was an argument, he wasn’t afraid to go the other way when everyone else was following him,” she said.
Her son had a mental illness that required medicine, Ouko said. She had long periods where “you didn’t even know something was wrong” and then there were times where she “would go into some kind of angst and then I knew she needed to see a doctor,” she said.
What happened earlier this month?
On March 3, Otieno was arrested by Henrico County police responding to a report of a possible robbery, according to a police news release. Deputies, accompanied by members of the county’s crisis intervention team, placed him under an emergency custody order.
The officers transported him to a hospital where authorities say he assaulted three police officers. The police took him to the county jail and he was booked.
On March 6, Otieno was taken to a state mental health facility in Dinwiddie County and died during the intake process, according to Commonwealth attorney Ann Cabell Baskervill.
“They suffocated him to death,” the prosecutor said.
A preliminary report from the Richmond Office of the Chief Medical Examiner identifies asphyxia as a cause of death, the Commonwealth’s attorney’s office said in a statement.
Otieno was held to the ground in handcuffs and shackles for 12 minutes by seven police officers, Baskervill said.
Who are the defendants in the case?
Seven Henrico County Sheriff’s Office deputies and three hospital workers have been charged with manslaughter.
The seven officers who were charged were identified in Baskervill’s statement Tuesday as Randy Joseph Boyer, 57, of Henrico; Dwayne Alan Bramble, 37, of Sandston; Rama Jermaine Lavar, 45, of Henrico; 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 Fraternal Order of Police Lodge 4, the local union for law enforcement officers, issued a statement Tuesday saying they “stand behind” the deputies.
“Policing in the United States today is difficult, made more so by the possibility of being criminally charged in the line of duty,” the group said. “Mr. Otieno’s death was tragic and we express our condolences to his family. We also stand with the seven officers now charged with murder by Dinwiddie County Commonwealth’s Attorney Ann Baskervill.”
The hospital workers arrested Thursday were identified as Darian M. Blackwell, 23, of Petersburg; Wavie L. Jones, 34, of Chesterfield; and Sadarius D. Williams, 27, of North Dinwiddie.
Is there a video of what happened?
There is video footage, but it will not be released to the public. Trends Wide requested the images but was told the material is not subject to mandatory disclosure because the investigation is ongoing.
“In order to maintain the integrity of the criminal justice process at this time, I cannot release the video,” Baskervill said, noting that surveillance video from the mental health center recorded the intake process.
Otieno’s family watched the video provided by prosecutors on Thursday and his mother says Otieno was tortured.
“My son was treated like a dog, worse than a dog,” she yelled, angry that no one stopped what led to her son’s death. “We have to do better.”
His older brother, Leon Ochieng, said people need to have the confidence to ask for help when their loved ones are in crisis. He did not believe that the people he saw in the video cared about preserving a life.
“What I saw was a lifeless human being, without any representation,” Ochieng said, adding that his family is now broken and he calls for more awareness on how to treat people with mental illness.
“Can someone explain to me why my brother is not here right now?” Ochieng said.
Have the officers commented on Otieno’s death?
Trends Wide sought comment from the agents and heard from the attorneys for two of the accused individuals.
Peter B. Baruch, Disse’s attorney, issued a statement defending his client.
“Deputy Disse has had a 20-year career with the Sheriff’s department and has served honorably. He is looking forward to the opportunity to try this case and for the full truth to be shared in court and vindicated,” he said.
Bramble’s attorney, Steven Hanna, said he was still gathering information and declined to comment further.
Trends Wide has not heard from the other attorneys it has identified as representing the other defendants.
What do the lawyers say?
Family attorneys say Otieno did not pose a threat to the officers.
Civil rights attorney Ben Crump, who is working on behalf of the family, said Otieno was not violent or aggressive toward the officers.
“You see in the video that he is restrained in handcuffs, he has leg shackles, and for most of the video you see that he seems to be somewhere between inertia and unconsciousness, yet you still see him being so brutally immobilized with a knee in his neck,” Crump said Thursday.
Crump said the video is a “comment on how law enforcement officials treat people in a mental health crisis inhumanely, [los tratan] like criminals instead of treating them like people who need help,” he said.
Similar to the arrest and death of George Floyd in Minneapolis in 2020, Otieno was face down and restrained, Crump said.
“Why wouldn’t someone have enough common sense to say that we’ve seen this movie before?” he said.
The family’s lawyer, Mark Krudys, said the officers had used excessive force.
“His mother was basically crying out for help for her son in a mental health situation. Instead, he was pushed into the criminal justice system and was aggressively treated and mistreated in jail,” she said.
Video from the mental health center shows the charges are appropriate, Krudys said.
“When you see that video…you’ll just wonder, ‘Why?’” he said.
What’s next in the case?
All 10 defendants will appear in court Tuesday before a grand jury, according to online court records. Crump has asked the US Department of Justice to become involved in the investigation.
If convicted, the prison sentence for second degree murder in Virginia is a minimum of five years with a maximum of 40 years.
— Trends Wide’s Sara Smart, Michelle Watson, Brian Todd and Eric Levenson contributed to this report.