HENRICO COUNTY, Va. (WRIC)– We are still piecing together the moments leading up to the death of Irvo Otieno while he was going through the intake process at Central State Hospital in Dinwiddie County earlier this month.
Otieno’s mother, Caroline Ouko, was joined by other family members and the family’s attorneys during a press conference on Thursday, March 16. During the press conference, she reacted to her son’s death after her family had just watched some of the events that were captured on video.
“My son was treated like a dog, worse than a dog,” Ouko said. “I saw it with my own eyes.”
Ouko said that her son was 4 years old when he moved to the United States from Kenya. He attended both Tuckahoe Elementary School and Freeman High School in Henrico County.
Ouko said Otieno was a leader, had a big heart and was an aspiring hip-hop artist. However, after what happened earlier this month, his music is all she has left of him.
Leon Ochieng, Otieno’s older brother, had planned to spend his birthday weekend with him.
“I did not think in my life that I would witness my own blood, my brother being murdered,” Ochieng said. “At what point do we consider mental illness a crime?”
On Thursday March 2, a neighbor in the Three Chopt District called Henrico police and said he was concerned about Otieno’s behavior. The call was initially marked as a suspicious situation was but reclassified as a mental health problem.
The next day on March 3, Henrico Police responded to the same area at approximately 11:34 a.m., on the 8800 block of Fordson Road, when a woman thought her home was being burglarized. Officers found Otieno at the scene.
According to Henrico Police, officers placed Otieno under an emergency custody order (ECO), based on their observations and interactions with him and another family member. He was then taken to Parham Doctors’ Hospital in Henrico. Police then said he “became physically assaultive towards officers” at the hospital.
Instead of leaving Otieno at the hospital, police arrested him and took him to Henrico County Jail West. Ouko told 8News he was taken to jail without his medication.
Benjamin Crump and Mark Krudys are both attorneys who are representing the family of Otieno in this case.
Crump and Krudys watched footage inside of the jail where Otieno was being held for three days. The lawyers said he was treated brutally like an “animal.”
According to Krudys, Otieno was left naked in his cell for an entire day and feces was on the floor. Krudys said there was an incident where deputies force-rushed him while he had leg irons on.
Otieno was taken to Central State Hospital on March 6. Three and a half hours later, Virginia State Police were called to investigate his death.
Ann Baskervill, the Dinwiddie County Commonwealth’s Attorney, said he was pulled down to the ground at Central State Hospital and seven deputies were on top of him for 12 minutes. According to Baskervill, Otieno died of suffocation by smothering.
“Why would anybody not have enough common sense to say we’ve seen this movie before?” Crump, who also represented the family of George Floyd, asked.
Seven Henrico County Sheriff’s Office personnel have now been charged with second-degree murder.
Randy Joseph Boyer, 57; Dwayne Alan Bramble, 37; Jermaine Lavar Branch, 45; Bradley Thomas Disse, 43; Tabitha Renee Levere, 50; Brandon Edwards Rodgers, 48; and Kaiyell Dajour Sanders, 30, appeared in Dinwiddie County Circuit Court via video chat Wednesday morning. They were all charged after Otieno died in their custody.
Three Central State Hospital employees were also charged with second degree murder in connection to his death — Darian M. Blackwell, 23, of Petersburg; Wavie L. Jones, 34, of Chesterfield; and Sadarius D. Williams, 27, of North Dinwiddie. The hospital employees have reportedly been transported to the Meherrin River Regional Jail in Brunswick County, where they are being held without bond
Cary Bowen, the attorney for Deputy Branch, said the use of force was justified and claimed that the charges were highly unusual. Bowen also claimed said that the Commonwealth had taken an “aggressive position.”
However, Krudys disagreed with the opposition.
“I know that there has been intimations that have been raised by the defense counsel in connection with this matter that Mrs. Baskervill is potentially overcharging this,” Krudys said. “Nonsense.”
Henrico Commonwealth’s Attorney Shannon Taylor released a statement on Thursday, March 16:
“I want to assure the public that I am conducting a review of what happened in the Henrico jail on March 6, 2023, including studying the video evidence. This will be a thorough and comprehensive investigation of what occurred, and I will be releasing my findings upon its completion. I understand and share the public’s concerns and will do whatever I can to determine what occurred and how.”
Shannon Taylor, Henrico County Commonwealth’s Attorney
Lauren Cunningham from the Virginia Department of Behavioral Health also released a statement on Friday, March 17 regarding the investigation into Central State Hospital:
The Department of Behavioral Health and Developmental Services and Central State Hospital are fully cooperating with the Virginia State Police in this investigation and are working to ensure that Mr. Otieno’s family receives information about the tragic events at the hospital. The three hospital staff members who have been charged will be on administrative leave pending the results of the legal proceedings. We will respect the legal process while we and our staff continue to provide important care to the patients at Central State Hospital.
Virginia Department of Behavioral Health
In the midst of several remaining questions, Otieno’s family is still looking for peace.
“For now, I’m asking for justice for my son, justice for Irvo,” Ouko said.
Virginia State Police are currently investigating, but Krudys is calling on the Department of Justice to get involved as he believes abuse continued across two counties.
The majority of those charged will be back in court on Tuesday, March 21.