Ten people connected to the death of a 28-year-old black man during the intake process at a Virginia mental health facility last week have been charged with second-degree murder.
His family wants answers about how a promising musician who had what they called a mental health crisis ended up dead – and why no one stood up for him and stopped him from killing himself.
The county attorney says law enforcement deputies “choked him to death” while restraining him. Hospital workers were also blamed.
The local law enforcement officers union says they “stand behind” the deputies, while an attorney for one of the deputies charged said he looks forward to sharing the full truth in court.
Here’s what we know about the fatal incident.
Irvo (pronounced EYE-voh) Otieno was 28 years old. He had a passion for 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.
His mother, Caroline Ouko, said he had “found his thing” with music and could write a song in less than five minutes. “He put his energy into it and he was happy with it,” he said at a news conference Thursday.
Irvo had a big heart, he said, and was the one his classmates came to when they were in trouble. He was a leader who brought his own perspective to the table, she added.
“If there was a debate, he wasn’t afraid to go the other way when everyone was following,” he said.
Her son had a mental illness that required medicine, Ouko said. He had long stretches where “(you) wouldn’t even know anything was wrong” and then there were times when he “went into some kind of agony and then you know he needs to see a doctor,” she said.
On March 3, Otieno was arrested by Henrico County police responding to a report of a possible burglary, according to a police news release. Officers, accompanied by members of the county’s crisis intervention team, placed him under an emergency detention order.
Officers took him to a hospital where authorities say he assaulted three officers. Police transported him to the county jail and he was booked.
On March 6, Otieno was transferred to a state mental health facility in Dinwiddie County and died during the intake process, according to Commonwealth’s Attorney Ann Cabell Baskervill.
“They choked him to death,” the prosecutor said.
A preliminary report from the Office of the Chief Medical Examiner in Richmond identifies asphyxiation as the cause of death, the Commonwealth’s Attorney’s office said in a statement.
Otieno was held on the ground in handcuffs and leg irons for 12 minutes by seven deputies, Baskerville said.
Seven Henrico County sheriff’s deputies and three hospital employees have been charged with second-degree murder.
The seven deputies charged were identified in Baskervill’s release Tuesday as Randy Joseph Boyer, 57, of Henrico. Dwayne Alan Bramble, 37, of Sandston; Jermaine Lavar Branch, 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 law enforcement officers’ union, issued a statement Tuesday saying they “stand behind” the deputies.
“Policing in America today is difficult, even more so because of the possibility of being criminally charged while in the line of duty,” the group said. “Mr Otieno’s death was tragic and we extend our condolences to his family. We also stand behind the seven accused deputies now charged with murder by Dinwiddie County Commonwealth’s Attorney Ann Baskerville.”
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.
There is video but it will not be released. CNN requested the footage but was told the footage is not subject to mandatory disclosure because the investigation is ongoing.
“To preserve the integrity of the criminal justice process at this point, I am unable to release the video,” Baskervill said, noting that surveillance video from the mental health center captured the shooting process.
Otieno’s family saw the video provided by prosecutors Thursday, and his mother says Otieno was tortured.
“My son was treated like a dog, worse than a dog,” she screamed, angry that no one stopped what led to her son’s death. “We have to do better”
His elder brother, Leon Ochieng, said people should have the confidence to call for help when their loved ones are in crisis. He did not believe that the people he saw in the video were interested in preserving a life.
“What I saw was a lifeless human being without any representation,” Ochieng said, adding that his family is now torn apart and is calling for more awareness about how to treat people with mental illness.
“Can someone explain to me why my brother isn’t here right now?” Ochieng said.
CNN has reached out to lawmakers for comment and has heard from lawyers for two of the people charged.
Peter B. Baruch, Disse’s attorney, issued a statement defending his client.
“Deputy Diess had a 20-year career with the Sheriff’s department and served honorably. He looks forward to his opportunity to try this case and have the full truth shared in court and vindicated,” he said.
Bramble’s attorney, Steven Hanna, said he was still gathering information and declined to comment further.
CNN has not heard from the other attorneys it has identified as representing the other defendants.
Family lawyers say Otieno posed no threat to the deputies.
Civil rights attorney Ben Crump, who is working on behalf of the family, said Otieno was not violent or aggressive with the deputies.
“You see in the video that he’s handcuffed, he’s got leg irons, and you see in the majority of the video that he appears to be somewhere between lifeless and unconscious, yet you see him being so brutally restrained with a knee to his neck,” said Cramps on Thursday.
Crump said the video is “a commentary on how inhumane law enforcement officials treat people in mental health crisis as criminals instead of treating them as people who need help,” he said.
Like the arrest and death of George Floyd in Minneapolis in 2020, Otieno was face down and restrained, Crump said.
“Why doesn’t anyone have enough common sense to say we’ve seen this movie before?” he said.
Family attorney Mark Krudys said deputies had used excessive force.
“His mother was basically crying out for help for her son in a mental health condition. Instead, he was brought into the criminal justice system and treated aggressively and poorly in prison,” she said.
Video from the mental health center shows the charges are appropriate, Krudys said.
“When you see this video … you’re just going to ask yourself, ‘Why?'” he said.
The 10 defendants will appear in court Tuesday before a jury, according to online court records. Crump called on the US Department of Justice to join the investigation.
If convicted, the prison sentence for second-degree murder in Virginia is a minimum of five years and a maximum of 40 years.