One man lost his life on March 6, 2023. Irvo Otieno was in police custody when he stopped breathing on the floor of a mental hospital. Now, ten people are charged in his death.
What led to Otieno’s death, and why are so many people said to be at fault?
What Led to Irvo Otieno’s Arrest?
On March 3, 2023, police were called to a possible burglary in Henrico County, Virgina. Irvo Otieno, 28, was in a neighbor’s yard rearranging their lawn ornaments. When police arrived, they determined it was not a burglary but a mental health situation.
Officers were assisted by members of the county’s crisis intervention team, and Otieno’s mother arrived on the scene.
Otieno was placed under an emergency custody order and taken to a hospital, according to CNN. Otieno’s mother supported the decision to take her son to the hospital.
But Otieno wouldn’t stay at the hospital. According to reports, Otieno assaulted three officers and was then taken to the county jail and booked.
What Led to Irvo Otieno’s Death?
Three days after police took Otieno to the county jail, they planned to move him to Central State Hospital located south of Richmond. Otieno didn’t make it past the intake process at the Virginia mental health facility.
Caleb Kershner, attorney for one of the defendants, told CNN that Otieno wouldn’t get out of the vehicle when they arrived at the hospital. Deputies had to force him out.
Video, which has been seen by Otieno’s mother and family but not the public, shows what happened inside of the facility.
Otieno was in handcuffs and leg irons and held on the ground for 12 minutes. At one point, ten people were on top of him. The video shows hands over Otieno’s mouth, hands on his head, and hands holding his braids back. Otieno was put on his stomach and died in that position.
The Office of Chief Medical Examiner in Richmond says Otieno died of asphyxiation.
The Commonwealth’s Attorney Ann Cabell Baskervill says Otieno was smothered to death, and she criminally charged ten people for their role in his death.
Who Are the Ten People Charged?
Seven police deputies and three hospital workers were charged with second-degree murder related to Otieno’s death.
Baskervill points to incidents leading up to Otieno’s death as the reason for the charges.
According to AP News, before Otieno arrived at the hospital, he appeared to have been in distress. Video taken at the jail shows that before his transfer, he was naked with feces all over his cell. Otieno was pepper sprayed five or six times before Henrico jail deputies entered the cell and tackled him. Video of the event shows officers rushing into the cell, what appears to be a punch thrown, and Otieno’s lifeless body being carried out of the cell and put in a vehicle.
Otieno’s family says he was not given the medication he needed while in jail.
Once at the hospital, Baskervill says officers and hospital staff created a situation that caused Otieno to stop breathing, and they failed to help him when he needed aid. Some accounts of the incident say Otieno was given a shot to calm him down, but Baskervill says the shot was given after Otieno was already dead.
Baskervill says there was a lack of urgency to help Otieno after he appeared lifeless and to be not breathing. Otieno was brought to the facility at 4:00 pm but state police weren’t called to investigate his death until 7:28 pm.
What Charges Do the Ten Defendants Face?
The ten defendants face second-degree murder charges in Virginia.
Virginia defines murder that isn’t capital, first-degree murder as second-degree. As opposed to capital murder, second-degree murder is not premeditated. Second-degree murder is a homicide that happens in the heat of the moment or due to recklessness, among other situations.
While each of the ten people likely had different levels of involvement in Otieno’s death, they face the same charges. In Virginia, the penalties for second-degree murder include a minimum of five years and a maximum of 40 years in prison.
We will wait and see if the court system finds the ten defendants responsible for Otieno’s death and what criminal punishments they might face. We will also wait to see if a wrongful death lawsuit in civil court may also be pursued against the ten people involved.
Related: How Do You Sue for Wrongful Death?
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