What we know about Irvo Otieno and the 10 people charged in his death at a Virginia mental health facility
By Steve Almasy, CNN
Three of the 10 people facing murder charges in the death last week of a 28-year-old Black man at a Virginia mental health facility were security guards at the hospital who watched and then participated in the fatal smothering, the prosecutor told CNN Friday.
The victim’s family wants answers as to how a promising musician having what they called a mental health crisis ended with him dying — and why no one stood up for him and kept him from being killed.
The county prosecutor said seven law enforcement deputies, joined by the hospital workers, “smothered him to death” while restraining him.
“I’ve never seen anything like this,” Commonwealth’s Attorney Ann Cabell Baskervill said, referring to unreleased video that shows the man’s death.
Baskervill said the hospital security guards passively watched the alleged smothering but eventually joined in and piled on top of the victim along with the deputies.
The local law enforcement officers’ union says they “stand behind” the deputies while an attorney for one of the deputies charged said he looked forward to the full truth being shared in court.
Here’s what we know about the deadly incident.
Who was Irvo Otieno?
Irvo (pronounced EYE-voh) Otieno was 28. 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 United States when he was 4.
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 in that and he was happy with it,” she said at a news conference Thursday.
Irvo had a big heart, she said, and was the one his classmates came to when they had problems. He was a leader who brought his own perspective to the table, she added.
“If there was discussion, he was not afraid to go the other way when everybody else was following,” she said.
Her son had a mental illness that necessitated medicine, Ouko said. He had long stretches where “(you) wouldn’t even know something was wrong” and then there were times when “he would go into some kind of distress and then you know he needs to see a doctor,” she said.
What happened earlier this month?
On March 3, Otieno was arrested by Henrico County police who were responding to a report of a possible burglary, according to a police news release. The officers, 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 officers. Police took him to 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 Baskervill.
“They smothered him to death,” the prosecutor said.
A preliminary report from the Office of Chief Medical Examiner in Richmond identified asphyxiation as a cause of death, the commonwealth attorney’s office said in a statement.
Otieno was held on the ground in handcuffs and leg irons for 12 minutes by seven deputies, Baskervill said.
Baskervill said Friday that video of the apparent smothering shows there were hands over Otieno’s mouth, hands on his head and hands holding his braids back.
At the Henrico County jail, just before Otieno’s transfer to Central State Hospital on March 6, he was naked in his cell, with feces all over, according to Baskervill.
She told CNN the video from his cell, which she viewed, shows Otieno was clearly agitated and in distress. CNN has not seen the video.
Otieno was pepper sprayed before five or six Henrico jail deputies entered the cell and tackled him, Baskervill said.
“He’s on the ground underneath them for several minutes there,” she said. “And blows are sustained at the Henrico county jail.”
Asked if Otieno appeared combative, Baskervill said, “I would really characterize his behavior as being distressed, rather than assaultive, combative.”
Later, at Central State Hospital, Otieno was on the ground at one point with at least 10 people on top of him, Baskervill said.
“They’re putting their back into it, leaning down. And this is from head to toe, from his braids at the top of his head, unfortunately, to his toes,” she said.
Baskervill said Otieno was eventually put on his stomach, with the pressure on him continuing, and he died in that position.
Baskervill believes Otieno was dead before a 911 call was even made. Paramedics left and state police were not called until 7:28 pm, according to Baskervill.
“The delay in contacting proper authorities is inexplicable. Truly inexplicable,” she said.
Who are the people charged in the case?
The seven sheriff’s deputies and three hospital workers have been charged with second-degree murder.
The seven deputies who were 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, made even more so by the possibility of being criminally charged while performing their duty,” the group said. “The death of Mr. Otieno was tragic, and we express our condolences to his family. We also stand behind the seven accused deputies now charged with murder by the Dinwiddie County Commonwealth’s Attorney Ann Baskervill.”
The Central State Hospital workers who were 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.
The hospital said the workers have been placed on leave “pending the results of the legal proceedings.”
“The Department of Behavioral Health and Developmental Services and Central State Hospital are fully cooperating with the Virginia State Police in this investigation and are working to ensure that Mr. Otieno’s family receives information about the tragic events at the hospital,” the department and the hospital said in a statement.
CNN has not been able to determine whether the hospital employees have legal counsel.
Is there video of what happened?
There is video footage but it will not be released to the public. CNN requested the footage but was told the material is not subject to mandatory disclosure because the investigation is ongoing.
“To maintain the integrity of the criminal justice process at this point, I am not able to publicly release the video,” said Baskervill, noting surveillance video from the mental health facility recorded the intake process.
Otieno’s family has viewed 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 older brother, Leon Ochieng, said people should be confident in calling for help when their loved ones are in crisis. He did not believe the people he saw on the video cared about preserving a life.
“What I saw was a lifeless human being without any representation,” Ochieng said, adding his family is now broken and is calling for more awareness on how to treat those with mental illnesses.
“Can someone explain to me why my brother is not here, right now?” Ochieng said.
Have the deputies commented on the deadly incident?
CNN has sought comment from the deputies and received word from attorneys of three of the individuals charged.
Caleb Kershner, the attorney for Boyer, told CNN he has yet to see the video but said “nothing was outside the ordinary” in the process of transferring Otieno from jail to the mental health facility.
Kershner told CNN Otieno refused to get out of the vehicle when arriving at the hospital and deputies had to use force to get him out.
Kershner also said hospital staff administered a sedative to Otieno when he was still alive and resisting. However, Baskervill on Wednesday said the shot was given after Otieno was already dead. CNN has reached out to the hospital for comment but did not receive an immediate response.
“My client was simply holding his leg throughout any ordeal in order to ensure that what we estimate to be a 350-pound man, who was having a severe mental health episode, as not let loose in a medical facility where he could severely injure other people,” Kershner said. “From my review of the case, nothing was outside the ordinary or outside the scope of their training for what they did.”
Peter B. Baruch, an attorney for Disse, issued a statement defending his client.
“Deputy Disse has had a 20-year career with the Sheriffs department, and has served honorably. He is looking forward to his opportunity to try this case and for the full truth to be shared in court and being 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.
An attorney representing one of the deputies told CNN he and other defense attorneys have not yet been able to review the video of Otieno’s death.
The lawyer said he is “shocked” the video has not been released and believes “they are overcharging” the deputies in this case.
What are attorneys saying?
Family attorneys 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 he is restrained with handcuffs, he has leg irons on, and you see in the majority of the video that he seems to be in between lifelessness and unconsciousness, but yet you see him being restrained so brutally with a knee on his neck,” Crump said Thursday.
Crump said the video is a “commentary on how inhumane law enforcement officials treat people who are having a mental health crisis as criminals rather than treating them as people who are in need of help.”
Much like the arrest and death of George Floyd in Minneapolis in 2020, Otieno was face down and restrained, Crump said.
“Why would anybody not have enough common sense to say we’ve seen this movie before?” he said.
Family attorney Mark Krudys said the deputies had engaged in excessive force.
“His mother was basically crying out for help for her son in a mental health situation. Instead, he was thrust into the criminal justice system, and aggressively treated and treated poorly at the jail,” he said.
The video from the mental health facility shows the charges are appropriate, Krudys said.
“When you see that video … you’re just going to ask yourself, ‘Why?'” he said.
What is next in the case?
The 10 defendants will appear in court Tuesday before a grand jury, according to online court records. If the case goes to trial and any of them are convicted, the prison sentence for second-degree murder in Virginia is a minimum of five years with a maximum of 40 years.
Crump has called for the US Department of Justice to take part in the investigation.
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CNN’s Sara Smart, Kimberly Berryman, Michelle Watson, Brian Todd and Eric Levenson contributed to this report.