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Dinwiddie prosecutor drops charges for 5 in Otieno death

Ouko listens to remarks
Shaban Athuman
VPM News
Caroline Ouko listens as attorney Mark Krudys gives remarks on Monday, May 6, 2024 in Richmond, Virginia.

Caroline Ouko, Irvo Otieno's mother, said, “We shouldn’t have to wait for justice.”

Dinwiddie Commonwealth’s Attorney Amanda Mann has dropped charges against five of the eight deputies charged in the 2023 death of Irvo Otieno.

On Friday, Mann filed nolle prosequi motions (which translates to “unwilling to prosecute”) for five Henrico County sheriff’s deputies: Randy Boyer, Dwayne Bramble, Jermaine Branch, Bradley Disse and Tabitha Levere. All had been charged with second-degree murder.

In a statement released Monday, Mann said the motions were granted by the Dinwiddie’s circuit court on Sunday. As first reported by WTVR, Mann’s requests came after the court refused to reschedule the order of trials. Those were set by an interim Commonwealth's Attorney — not Mann — following Ann Cabell Baskervill's resignation in 2023.

“The current elected Commonwealth’s Attorney does not find the order to be sound and competent prosecutorial decision making. … The order in which the defendants are tried is of strategic importance to the Commonwealth,” all five motions read.

Her office provided no further information on the cases.

In March 2023, the 28-year-old Otieno was killed at Central State Hospital during a mental health crisis while in police custody. The state medical examiner later ruled his death a homicide.

Caroline Ouko, Otieno’s mother, said at a Monday press conference with her family’s attorneys that no one is above the law.

“And if they think they're going to get away with it, we are not going to stand on the side and watch them do that. We demand justice and nothing less,” she said.

Ouko said Boyer, Bramble, Branch, Disse and Levere should all be prosecuted.

“There is no single day that we never think about him and miss him and it is such a blow,” she said. “We should not have to wait for justice.”

The attorneys for Otieno’s family — Ben Crump, who appeared remotely, and Mark Krudys — wondered aloud why the charges were dropped, especially given the video evidence showing how Otieno was killed.

Ouko listens to remarks
Shaban Athuman
VPM News
The 28-year-old Irvo Otieno died while handcuffed and pinned to the floor of Central State Hospital for about 11 minutes by seven Henrico County sheriff’s deputies and three hospital employees.

“If he's handcuffed and restrained, face down, saying 'I can't breathe,' and he is suffocated to death,” said Crump. “I mean, what more do we need to present to the Commonwealth’s Attorney to say, ‘This is a prosecutable case?’ We need to go forward.”

Krudys said the first of the eight criminal trials was supposed to start in less than a month. But now, questions remain as to whether the charges will be reinstated and a new set of trials will occur. The family’s attorneys say they’d work with Mann’s office to get the five’s criminal charges reinstated.

“[Mann] has explained to the family that her intention is to go forward with what she considers to be the strategically strongest cases,” said Krudys. “And then thereafter, this would go before a grand jury, again. But she controls the decisions in connection with the matter. And this is her decision. We stated vehemently that we disagreed with it.”

Both attorneys and Ouko are asking the U.S. Department of Justice for help.

“One of the reasons that we were trumpeting DOJ’s involvement is because of their resources. And when they have a particular situation, they can put a number of prosecutors and investigate,” said Krudys. “What case calls out for DOJ involvement more than this one does?”

Charges were previously dropped for two Central State Hospital hospital employees by Mann’s predecessor, Baskervill.

As VPM News reported in September, Otieno’s family reached a $8.5 million settlement with Virginia and Henrico County. The settlement agreement said the state, county and the sheriff have not admitted any liability and deny that their actions caused Otieno’s death, but agreed to collectively pay the $8.5 million to Otieno’s family.

One outcome of Irvo’s death was the passage of a set of bills collectively known as “Irvo’s Law.” Ouko was barred from seeing Otieno during his original emergency custody order when he was in Henrico County — an action she maintains led to his death at Central State Hospital. (A state investigation later determined Parham Doctors' Hospital failed to meet care standards when its staff initially treated Otieno.)

The new law, which becomes effective July 1, amends state code on emergency custody and temporary detention orders as well as evaluations. It also permits a family member or legal guardian to be present for support and decision making assistance, in some cases.

Mann said in Monday’s press release that the criminal cases for the three remaining defendants are still pending: Wavie Lavon Jones, Brandon Edward Rodgers and Kaiyell Dajour Sanders.

Ian M. Stewart is the transportation reporter and fill-in anchor for VPM News.
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