At the officers’ first court hearing Wednesday, Dinwiddie County Commonwealth’s Attorney Ann Cabell Baskervill said that Henrico County sheriff’s deputies held down 28-year-old Irvo Otieno on the floor of Central State Hospital for 12 minutes while he was shackled and handcuffed, according to local outlets. The incident occurred while Otieno was being admitted to the state mental institution on March 6.
Otieno suffocated from the weight of the deputies lying on top of him, Baskervill reportedly argued, describing it as an act of deliberately cruel treatment. The prosecutor said there was no justification for the officers’ actions, which she called a “demonstration of power that was unlawful,” according to the newspaper.
A judge granted bail to Branch and Disse after their attorneys argued the two deputies had clean backgrounds and were not a flight risk, though it’s unclear whether they have posted bail. The remaining deputies told the judge they are still working to retain counsel, and they will continue to be held until at least next week, the Times-Dispatch reported.
“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 nearly the exact, same manner — being pinned down by police for 12 agonizing minutes,” Crump said in a statement Thursday.
Krudys told The Associated Press on Thursday that he believes the incident stemmed from a neighbor calling police over a concern about Otieno gathering lawn lights from a yard. Otieno’s mother attempted to deescalate the encounter with police, and the family was initially supportive of him being taken to a hospital because they believed he was going to receive needed mental health treatment.
Police alleged that Otieno became “physically assaultive toward officers, who arrested him” and took him to Henrico County jail, where he was served with several charges and held over the weekend without most or all of his medications. According to Baskervill, Henrico jail video shows several deputies tackling and beating Otieno while he is naked, local outlets reported.
On March 6, authorities transported Otieno from the jail to Central State Hospital, a state-run psychiatric institution. According to Krudys, Otieno’s family was confused as to why their relative was sent to a state institution and not a facility meant to help heal and treat patients struggling with their mental health.
Otieno died when deputies allegedly attacked him during the intake process. Defense attorneys argued that two medical injections administered to Otieno during the incident may have played a part in his death, according to the Times-Dispatch. Baskervill disputed the claim, reportedly saying that Otieno “probably died before the injections” because his heart already stopped by the time the injections were administered.
The Henrico County medical examiner’s office has not yet released to the public its final determination on the cause and manner of Otieno’s death. According to the newspaper, Baskervill said the medical examiner ruled preliminarily that Otieno’s cause of death was asphyxiation and the manner was homicide — however, the doctor who performed the autopsy reportedly plans to view video from Central State and Henrico jail.
“Mental illness should not be your ticket to death. There was a chance to rescue him. There was a chance to stop what was going on. And I don’t understand how all systems failed him,” Ouko said.
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