‘Just trying to breathe’
Video shows Irvo Otieno pinned to floor before his death
Associated Press | 3/23/2023, 6 p.m.
DINWIDDIE - A large group of sheriff’s deputies and employees of a Virginia mental hospital pinned patient Irvo Otieno to the floor earlier this month until he was motionless and limp, then began unsuccessful resuscitation efforts, newly obtained surveillance video shows.
The footage obtained Tuesday, which has no audio, shows various members of the group attempting to restrain a handcuffed and shackled Mr. Otieno for about 20 minutes after he’s led into a room at Central State Hospital, where he was going to be admitted March 6. For most of that duration, the 28-year-old Black man is on the floor being held down by a fluctuating group that at one point appeared to reach 10 people.
Seven deputies and three hospital workers have been charged with second degree murder in Mr. Otieno’s death. Mr.. Otenio’s family said he was brutally mistreated, both at the state hospital and while in law enforcement custody in the preceding days. Attorneys for many of the defendants have said they will vigorously fight the charges.
Relatives of Mr. Otieno were shown video from the hospital last week by a prosecutor, Dinwiddie Commonwealth’s Attorney Ann Cabell Baskervill, who said that she planned to publicly release it Tuesday.
Attorneys for at least two of the defendants sought to block the video’s release, arguing that it could hinder a fair trial. The Associated Press obtained it and other footage Tuesday through a link included in a public court filing made by Ms. Baskervill.
According to timestamps in the footage, which was first reported by The Washington Post, an SUV carrying Mr. Otieno arrived at the hospital just before 4 p.m. By 4:19 p.m., a different camera shows him being forcibly led into a room with tables and chairs. He is quickly hauled toward a seat before eventually slumping to the floor, initially in a seated position then lying flat.
As time passes, an increasing number of workers hold him down as he appears to start to move on the floor. Mr. Otieno’s shirtless body is obscured at times by those restraining him or standing in front of the camera.
“He certainly did not deserve to be smothered to death, which is what happened,” Ms. Baskervill said in court Tuesday. The workers were holding him down “from his braids down to his toes,” she said.
By the 4:39 p.m. timestamp, someone is taking Mr. Otieno’s pulse and he appears unresponsive. Soon after, as Mr. Otieno’s body lies still, someone appears to administer two injections. By 4:42 p.m., CPR appears to be underway. Life-saving efforts seem to go on for nearly an hour. At 5:48 p.m., Mr. Otieno’s body is draped with a white sheet.
Final autopsy findings have not yet been released, though Ms. Baskervill has said multiple times that Otieno died of asphyxiation. Defense attorneys have raised the possibility that the injections contributed to his death, though Ms. Baskervill disputed that Tuesday, saying he was already dead when the shots were administered.
Ms. Baskervill’s filing also included a link to audio from Dinwiddie County 911 calls. In one, a caller from the hospital requests an EMS team, saying Mr. Otieno, who had been “very aggressive,” stopped breathing during attempts to restrain him. Subsequent calls reflected impatience by hospital callers about the length of time that had passed without an EMS crew’s arrival.
On Tuesday, a grand jury in Dinwiddie County signed off on second degree murder charges for all 10 defendants.
“Those 10 monsters, those 10 criminals, I was happy to hear that they were indicted. And that is just the beginning step,” Mr. Otieno’s mother, Caroline Ouko, said at a news conference Tuesday evening, vowing to fight for justice for her son.
In court, a judge also granted bond for two of the deputies and one hospital employee after hearing arguments from Ms. Baskervill and their defense attorneys.
Caleb Kershner, an attorney for Deputy Randy Boyer, said Mr. Otieno had been “somewhat combative” at the jail and hospital and that there was “significant need” to restrain him. Mr. Kershner said Deputy Boyer did not realize Mr. Otieno was in any danger as he was being restrained because Deputy Boyer was working near his legs.
Jeff Everhart, an attorney for Deputy Brandon Rodgers, said his client had been trying to help by moving Mr. Otieno to his side. But Ms. Baskervill said the video shows Mr. Otieno was moved on his side only when someone from the hospital came in and gave that direction.
The Associated Press sought comment about the video from defense attorneys for all the other defendants who have obtained counsel.
Rhonda Quagliana, an attorney for one of the hospital employees, Sadarius Williams, said in an emailed statement that her client was innocent. She said he had only minimal physical contact with Mr. Otieno and did not apply lethal force during the incident.
Douglas Ramseur, who represents another hospital employee, Wavie Jones, asked the judge Tuesday to implement a gag order in the case, arguing that the release of the video and subsequent media attention had damaged the defendants’ ability to get a fair trial. The judge, who granted bond for Jones, declined to grant the order.
Other defense attorneys did not respond to emails or phone calls.
Last week, Mr. Otieno’s family spoke at a news conference after seeing the footage, which they called heartbreaking and disturbing. They have equated his treatment to torture, and they and their attorneys reiterated a call at Tuesday night’s news conference for the U.S. Department of Justice to intervene in the case.
Mark Krudys, a family attorney, pushed back against what he said were “excuses” from defense attorneys about what happened at the hospital, including the assertion raised in court that Otieno had been combative.
“He was just trying to breathe,” Mr. Krudys said. “That’s all he was trying to do.”
The family is also being represented by Ben Crump, a prominent civil rights attorney who also represented the family of George Floyd. Mr. Crump has said Mr. Otieno’s treatment has close parallels with Floyd’s killing in police custody in Minneapolis in 2020, and NAACP President and CEO Derrick Johnson made a similar comparison in a statement Tuesday.
“Police are simply not a substitute for compassionate and informed mental health professionals,” Mr. Johnson said. “Rather than neglecting and criminalizing the Black community, we need action to make sure no one experiences or witnesses this kind of violence at the hands of law enforcement ever again.”
The Rev. Al Sharpton has been asked to deliver the eulogy at Otieno’s funeral, his National Action Network said Wednesday. Details have not been announced.