© Reuters. FILE PHOTO: A portrait of Irvo Otieno, who died during an encouter with law enforcement in Petersburg, in this handout picture from an unknown location released on March 16, 2023. Ben Crump Law/Handout via REUTERS
By Brendan O’Brien and Brad Brooks
(Reuters) -Virginia sheriff deputies and medical staffers wrestled with a handcuffed Irvo Otieno, a 28-year-old Black man, for several minutes at a state mental hospital before he died, video surveillance shows.
The altercation took place on March 6 as Otieno was being admitted to Central State Hospital in Petersburg, Virginia, according to Dinwiddie County Commonwealth Attorney Ann Cabell Baskervill.
Otieno’s death, which has captured national attention, is the latest example of a Black man dying during a violent encounter with law enforcement.
Police have arrested and charged three former employees of the mental health hospital and seven sheriffs deputies of Henrico County, Virginia, with second-degree murder in Otieno’s death. Most of the deputies and hospital employees involved in the case are also Black. A grand jury on Tuesday formally indicted the ten people charged.
The video, a download link of which was made available in court documents, shows about six officers carrying Otieno into a room. He appeared to struggle as he was put on the ground. At times as many as 10 deputies and hospital workers held him down while his legs were shackled and his arms were held behind his back. Another six deputies and medical staffers were in the room watching the encounter.
Later the video shows Otieno slumped over and motionless. Officers turned him over and began chest compressions. They brought in a defibrillator machine and attempted to revive him. When it is clear Otieno was dead, a lone healthcare worker draped a white sheet over his lifeless body.
The family, who viewed the surveillance video last week, said during a Tuesday evening press conference with their attorney, the civil rights lawyer Ben Crump, that a mental health crisis should not be a “death penalty.”
“Ivor was my baby. He was special, he was caring, he was loving,” said Caroline Ouko, Ivor’s mother. “Those ten monsters, those ten criminals, I was happy to hear they were indicted. But that is just the beginning step. We will achieve justice for Ivor.”
A preliminary report by medical examiners said Otieno, who immigrated to the U.S. from Kenya when he was four years old, died of asphyxiation. Prosecutors say they were told he was restrained during the intake process because he was “combative.”
But Crump said the video clearly showed Otieno in handcuffs and leg shackles, and questioned why it was necessary for multiple officers to smother him as he was already restrained.
Officials have not ruled out making more charges or arrests.
Authorities have not said why Otieno was taken into custody or why he was being transferred to the mental health facility, which is located about 25 miles (40 km) south of Richmond.
The deputies were placed on administrative leave and the Henrico County sheriff’s office is conducting an independent investigation into the incident. The department did not respond to requests for comment on Tuesday.
Otieno’s death comes after the high-profile police brutality case in January involving some Memphis police officers, who beat Tyre Nichols after a traffic stop. Nichols died after enduring punches and kicks.