Three hospital workers and seven US police officers are facing charges of second-degree murder in a Black inmate’s death at a psychiatric hospital in Virginia, announced the case prosecutor on Thursday.
Irvo Otieno, aged 28, died on March 6 at Central State Hospital in Petersburg where he was transferred from a local prison due to his mental condition.
According to the results of the preliminary autopsy, Otieno died of asphyxiation while being “physically restrained”, said Dinwiddie County District Attorney Ann Cabell Baskervill in a statement.
Video footage of the death of Otieno was shown to his family on Thursday.
Though Otieno “was going through mental illness, what I saw today was heartbreaking,” said his mother Caroline Ouko in a press conference.
She stated the video shows “seven officers on one man,” and that it “goes on and on.”
“What I saw today was heartbreaking, America. It was disturbing. It was traumatic. My son was tortured. My son was treated like a dog, worse than a dog. I saw it with my own eyes… they smothered my baby,” she added.
The family have hired Ben Crump who is a high-profile lawyer and is known for fighting cases which involve violence carried out against African Americans by police officials.
Speaking to the media, Crump said that the police had handcuffed Otieno and had his ankles shackled, and he was pinned down for 12 minutes by seven police officers.
“It is truly shocking that nearly three years after the brutal killing of George Floyd by police, another family is grieving a loved one who allegedly died in nearly the exact same manner — being pinned down by police for 12 agonising minutes,” said Crump in a statement.
The video is a “commentary on how inhumane law enforcement officials treat people who are having a mental health crisis as criminals rather than treating them as people who are in need of help,” he stated.
“He, in the videos, (is) never confrontational with them. He is not posing a threat to them. He’s not violent or aggressive with them. You see in the video he is restrained with handcuffs, he has leg irons on, and you see in the majority of the video that he seems to be in between lifelessness and unconsciousness, but yet you see him being restrained so brutally with a knee on his neck,” Crump said.
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Another attorney representing Otieno’s family, Mark Krudys, said that all the seven deputies who were seen in the video are now facing charges.
“You can see that they’re putting their back into it. Every part of his body is being pushed down with absolute brutality,” he stated.
On March 3, police first took Otieno into custody. The police department stated that the officers encountered Otieno while looking into the complaint of a possible burglary in suburban Richmond and that based on his behaviour, they kept him under an emergency custody order and took him to a local hospital for evaluation.
(With inputs from agencies)
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