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Family discusses Otieno’s death after watching video of incident

A blue sign that says Central State Hospital surrounded by grass in front of an office building
Crixell Matthews
VPM News File
Ten people have been charged in the death of Irvo Otieno, who died March 6 as he was being admitted to Central State Hospital.

Three more people have been charged with second-degree murder.

Updated at 6:13 p.m. Thursday.

A total of 10 people, including seven Sheriff’s deputies and three Central State Hospital employees, are facing second-degree murder charges in the death of Irvo Otieno last week.

Otieno’s family joined their attorneys Thursday to watch video footage of the incident shortly before addressing the media outside the Dinwiddie County Courthouse.

“My son was treated like a dog. Worse than a dog,” said Caroline Ouko.

She said Otieno was brought to the United States from Kenya when he was 4 and attended Tuckahoe Elementary and Douglas S. Freeman High schools in Henrico County.

“This is my baby,” Ouko said, holding a photo of Otieno with a wide smile. “He cared for people. He cared that people were treated right. That was at the core of his upbringing in our home.”

Ouko told reporters that her son had struggled with mental health in the past and had previously been hospitalized — but he always came home.

“Mental illness should not be your ticket to death,” she said. “I don’t understand how all systems failed him. I don’t understand why one single system could not hold up and say, ‘We stop here.’”

Otieno’s older brother, Leon Ochieng, had come to visit for the weekend, but said it turned into a tragic nightmare.

“I witnessed a homicide,” Ochieng said, discussing his 28-year-old sibling. “I did not think in my life that I'd witness my own blood brother being murdered.”

High-profile civil rights attorney Ben Crump, who’s represented the families of George Floyd and Breonna Taylor, has joined the family’s legal team — along with local attorney Mark Krudys.

Crump said in the video, Otieno was not confrontational with the officers. 

“The weight of seven individuals on his body while he’s face down, handcuffed with leg irons, and you say, ‘My god, why?’” Crump said.

Sheriff’s deputies charged with murdering man at state hospital arraigned (1:08 p.m. Thursday)

Seven Henrico County sheriff’s deputies charged with murder in the death of a man at a state mental hospital were arraigned Wednesday. Five remain in custody while two were granted bond.

Dinwiddie County Commonwealth's Attorney Ann Cabell Baskervill said during the hearing that surveillance video she obtained shows deputies throwing 28-year-old Irvo Noel Otieno to the ground during the intake process at the hospital and that he is face down on the floor in handcuffs.

“He died of asphyxia due to being smothered to death, thanks to having at least 7 people … on top of him and holding him down,” Baskervill said.

An attorney for one of the deputies called the charges premature.

Bob Matson, vice president of the Henrico Fraternal Order of Police and a former candidate for Henrico sheriff agreed.

Baskervill filed what’s called “criminal information,” which is a document charging a defendant of a crime without first obtaining an indictment or a warrant.

“There’s no outside party. No judge or no magistrate or grand jury gets to hear probable cause to see if there was actually enough cause to warrant an arrest,” Matson said.

Baskervill declined a VPM News request for an interview Wednesday but responded, in part, to Matson’s comments about the process she used to charge the officers.

“The charges were brought in accordance with the strict requirements of Virginia criminal law, and they will go before a grand jury meeting next Tuesday,” Baskervill said.

Matson asked for the public to allow due process to run its course.

“The tendency is to accuse and convict them in the press, the public, before the facts are even out there,” he said “We just ask that people wait for the full story to come out. Because this is an unusual process. This is not the way things are usually done.”

On March 3, Henrico officers responded to a reported burglary in the Three Chopt Magisterial District, where they identified Otieno and took him to Parham Doctors’ Hospital under an emergency custody order with the help of Henrico’s Crisis Intervention Team.

The department said Otieno physically assaulted officers at the hospital and was moved to the Henrico County Jail, where he was charged with assault on a law enforcement officer, disorderly conduct in a hospital and vandalism.

Three days later, sheriff’s deputies transported Otieno to Central State Hospital, where he died while being admitted as a patient.

The medical examiner has yet to rule on Otieno’s cause of death.

This is a developing story.

Whittney Evans is VPM News’ features editor.