What you need to know about Irvo Otieno, whose death in a mental institution prompted 10 murder charges

Updated March 17, 2023, 2:49 PM EDT

Top line

Prosecutors say black musician Irvo Otieno was choked to death March 6 in Henrico, Va., by police officers who brutalized him while transferring him from a county jail to a mental health facility, an incident that attorney, representing the Otieno family compared to 2020 the police killing of George Floyd.

Key facts

District Attorney Ann Cabell Baskerville said “extremely clear” and “extremely disturbing” video shows deputies restraining Irvo Otieno, a 28-year-old black musician, by putting their body weight on him and an officer’s knee on his neck for 12 minutes shortly after his admission to Dinwiddie County Central State Hospital.

Ten people — seven Henrico County sheriff’s deputies and three Central State Hospital employees — have been charged with second-degree murder.

Lawyers for the Otieno family said police officers “forced” Otieno, who was handcuffed, naked and surrounded by feces in his prison cell, against a metal bed and a hard wall before moving him to the psychiatric facility, where seven deputies, four of whom weighed at least 250 pounds, pressed down on “every part of [Otieno‚Äôs] body.”

Otieno’s family and lawyers said Otieno did not resist or pose a threat to officers and appeared “between lifeless and unconscious” in the video, which will not be released.

The Office of the Chief Medical Examiner ruled Otieno’s cause of death as suffocation in a preliminary report.

The Henrico Fraternal Order of Police Lodge 4, the local police union, said in a statement that Otieno’s death was tragic, but defended the officers, saying that police work is “difficult” because of “the possibility of being charged with criminal liability while performing their duties”.

Caleb Kershner, an attorney representing one of the deputies, called the second-degree murder charge “a last resort.”

Key background

Otieno was taken into custody March 3 by Henrico County police responding to a report of a possible burglary. A neighbor called police over concerns that Otieno was collecting lawn lights from a neighbor’s yard, which Mark Krudis, the Otieno family’s attorney, said was part of a mental health crisis. Otieno’s mother tried to de-escalate the officers who responded to the incident, Krudis 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. Lawyers for Otieno’s family said that during his three-day stay in jail before being taken to the psychiatric facility, Otieno was doused with pepper spray and denied the mental health medication he needed.

Tangent

Civil rights attorney Ben Crump compared the incident to the May 2020 killing of George Floyd, when both Floyd and Otieno were forcibly held to the ground by police officers. Crump has provided legal services to the families of unarmed black victims of police brutality, including Floyd and Breona Taylor.

What to watch out for

The 10 people charged with second-degree murder will appear before a Virginia grand jury on Tuesday. Baskerville also said additional charges and arrests are forthcoming.

Decisive quote

“It is truly shocking that almost three years after the brutal police killing of George Floyd, another family is grieving a loved one who is said to have died in exactly the same way,” Crump said.

More information

10 people are facing murder charges in connection with the death of a 28-year-old black man in a mental institution. Here’s what we know (CNN)

Video shows deputies choking Virginia man for 11 minutes before death, family says (The Washington Post)

Video of Virginia man who died in hospital shows ‘absolute brutality’ by deputies, family says (NBC News)

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