3 Virginia Hospital Workers Charged With Murder In Death Of Irvo Otieno

Attorney Ben Crump (left) is pictured here at a press conference on March 16 alongside members of Irvo Otieno’s family in Dinwiddie, Virginia. ((L-R) Ben Crump, members of Irvo Otieno’s family)

By Michelle Watson, Eric Levenson and Sara Smart, CNN

(CNN) — Three hospital employees in Virginia were arrested Thursday and charged with second-degree murder in the death of Irvo Otieno, the 28-year-old Black man who died at a state mental health facility last week, the Office of the Commonwealth’s Attorney for Dinwiddie County said in a news release obtained by CNN affiliate WTVR.

Those charged come in addition to the seven sheriff’s deputies who were charged with second-degree murder on Tuesday.

The three Central State Hospital employees were identified as Darian M. Blackwell, 23, of Petersburg; Wavie L. Jones, 34, of Chesterfield; and Sadarius D. Williams, 27, of North Dinwiddie. They were arrested Thursday and are being held without bail in the Meherrin River Regional Jail in Brunswick County, the commonwealth attorney’s office said.

CNN has not been able to determine whether the hospital employees have legal counsel.

Online court records show the seven deputies and three hospital employees are scheduled for a grand jury hearing Tuesday.

Also on Thursday, Otieno’s family watched surveillance video that prosecutors have said shows law enforcement officers fatally smothering him.

“My son was treated like a dog, worse than a dog,” Otieno’s mother, Caroline Ouko, said. “I saw it with my own eyes on the video.”

Otieno died March 6 at the state mental health facility during the intake process as he was being transferred from a Henrico County jail, according to Commonwealth’s Attorney Ann Cabell Baskervill.

Baskervill said she is not able to release the video to the public.

“The criminal information warrants are based on the evidence collected, analyzed and evaluated to-date,” Baskervill said, according to the news release announcing the arrests of the hospital workers.

“A key element of that evidence is the surveillance video from Central State Hospital that captures the intake process. To maintain the integrity of the criminal justice process at this point, I am not able to publicly release the video.”

CNN has reached out to the Central State Hospital for comment.

In court Wednesday, Baskervill said Otieno was in handcuffs and leg irons and was held on the ground for 12 minutes by all seven deputies. She said the surveillance video of the incident is “extremely clear” and “extremely alarming.”

“They smothered him to death,” she said. “He died of asphyxia due to being smothered.”

The Office of Chief Medical Examiner in Richmond’s preliminary report identifies asphyxiation as a cause of death, the commonwealth attorney’s office said in a statement.

Family attorneys say video is ‘inhumane’

The Otieno family and their attorneys were shown the video by prosecutors Thursday, civil rights attorney Ben Crump said in a news conference.

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,” he said.

“He, in the videos, (is) never confrontational with them. He is not posing a threat to them. He’s not violent or aggressive with them. 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,” he said.

Crump compared the video to that of the death of George Floyd, who was handcuffed, forced to the ground and held down by Minneapolis police officers in May 2020.

“This was a mental health crisis. He wasn’t committing a crime,” he said.

Crump called on the US Department of Justice to join the investigation into Otieno’s death, saying his constitutional rights were violated.

Ouko, Otieno’s mother, said the video was “heartbreaking” and added, “My son was tortured.”

She also spoke about her son’s mental illness, saying 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.”

“Mental illness should not be your ticket to death,” Ouko added.

She said she followed her son to the hospital on March 3 and a doctor who was treating Otieno approached her and said her son was going to be alright. Ouko said they pulled her son off treatment and took him to jail but didn’t take his medicine.

Ouko attempted to see her son several times, she said, but, “They refused (to let) me to see my baby.”

She said she wouldn’t wish this upon any other parent or child. “They murdered my baby,” She added, “Why was my son murdered? What was the reason?”

Otieno’s older brother, Leon Ochieng said he witnessed a “homicide” in the video.

“What I saw was a lifeless human being without any representation,” Ochieng said.

Ochieng said his family is 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.

Otieno’s family is originally from Kenya, and Irvo came to the US at the age of 4, family attorney Mark Krudys told CNN. He had a passion for music and was working to become a hip-hop artist, he said.

Otieno had also been on medication for mental illness, but he was not able to take the medication while in custody, Krudys said.

The timeline of Otieno’s death

Otieno’s interactions with law enforcement began March 3, according to authorities.

That morning, Henrico Police responded to a report of a possible burglary and encountered Otieno, police said in a news release on March 10. Police officers — along with the county’s crisis intervention team — put him under an emergency custody order due to their interactions with and observations of him, police said.

According to Virginia law, a person can be placed under an emergency custody order when there is reason to believe they could hurt themselves or others as a result of mental illness.

Krudys said Otieno was experiencing a mental health crisis on March 3, and his mother was on scene and implored police not to be aggressive with him. Henrico Police officers eventually placed Otieno into custody without further incident, Krudys said.

Otieno was taken for evaluation to a local hospital, where he became “physically assaultive towards officers,” police said. He was held on three counts of assault on a law enforcement officer, disorderly conduct in a hospital and vandalism, police said.

Otieno was then transferred to the Henrico County Jail West.

At around 4 p.m. on March 6, Otieno was taken to be admitted to Central State Hospital, a state-run mental health facility south of Richmond, by the Henrico County Sheriff’s Office, according to the commonwealth attorney’s office. It’s not clear why deputies transferred Otieno.

During the intake process, Otieno became “combative” and was “physically restrained,” the attorney’s office said, citing what state police investigators were told. He died at the hospital “during the intake process,” the office said.

Virginia State Police were called to investigate his death at 7:28 p.m., the office said.

Krudys, who has not seen video of the incident, 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 Henrico Fraternal Order of Police Lodge 4, the local law enforcement officers union, issued a statement on Facebook 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.”

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