As Irvo Otieno’s family members recounted harrowing details of escalating mistreatment that ended in the 28-year-old Black man’s death, Virginia prosecutors announced they would be charging three additional people—state hospital employees—with his murder on Thursday.
The new details surrounding his death come two days after seven Henrico County sheriff’s deputies were also charged with the murder of Otieno as he was in the throes of a mental health crisis.
At a press conference Thursday afternoon, family and lawyers described videos that they allege show Otieno locked up naked in a Henrico County cell surrounded by his own feces. The footage allegedly also shows Otieno on March 6, when he was held face-down by seven deputies for 11 minutes, cuffed, shackled, and with a knee on his neck at Central State Hospital.
The three mental hospital employees charged Thursday with second-degree murder are Darian M. Blackwell, 23, of Petersburg; Wavie L. Jones, 34, of Chesterfield; and Sadarius D. Williams, 27, of North Dinwiddie.
“At some point [Otieno is] pulled down to the ground or slumps and then what follows is 12 minutes of him being splayed out on the ground with all seven and then ultimately some Central State people as well on top of him,” county prosecutor Ann Baskervill reportedly said Thursday, describing the surveillance footage. “No one assisting, no one blocking the others from having their hands on the victim who then died of asphyxiation by smothering.”
Lawyers for Otieno’s family likened his passing to the death of George Floyd.
“You’ll see one person take their knee off and another person put their knee on. And you said why?” asked lawyer Benjamin Crump, who claimed they saw no evidence in the videos that Otieno ever posed a threat to those around him.
Otieno’s mother, Caroline Ouko, said officials treated her son “worse than a dog.”
“He was treated inhumanely. And it was traumatic, and it was systematic,” said Ouko.
But while the family called for the videos to be released in the name of transparency, Baskervill released a statement on Thursday saying she would not be doing so “at this point” in order “to maintain the integrity of the criminal justice process.”
“The investigation by the Virginia State Police remains ongoing. Additional charges and arrests are pending,” reads the release, which says they would not be commenting further on the case.
“My son was tortured, ” charged Ouko, surrounded by her eldest son and other family members and supporters. “I saw the torture.”
Otieno, a former football player and avid hip-hop performer, began to experience symptoms of mental illness his senior year of high school, his mother said at Thursday’s press conference.
According to Ouko, she had called a doctor for help when Otieno showed symptoms of mental distress on March 3. But instead, police showed up at her door looking for a burglary suspect, eventually taking her son away in handcuffs to Parham Hospital. He had been hospitalized before, she said, and always came home.
Instead, that day local police officers say he became “physically aggressive” after they arrived at the hospital. He was charged with assault and taken from the hospital to jail instead.
The family maintains there is no record they’ve seen that shows aggression from Otieno.
During his time at the Henrico County jail, family members said on Thursday that he was held with handcuffs, naked, in a cell surrounded by his own feces.
Prosecutors also alleged on Wednesday at a court hearing that Otieno was pepper-sprayed and punched, according to ABC 8 News.
Once brought to Central State Hospital on March 6, the family said video showed seven individuals holding Otieno face-down on the floor while he is shackled and in handcuffs.
“You keep searching in your heart for which one of them will have the humanity to say that 11 minutes is far too long,” Crump said on Thursday. Family attorney Mark Krudis also noted that state hospital employees in blue shirts joined in on restraining Otieno after initially standing to the side.
“They were actually hands-on,” said Krudis.
According to ABC8 News, after the act, deputies washed and returned the handcuffs they used on Otieno to their car, and waited hours to report his death to the police.
“When they took my baby away… they took him away from me, they took him away from his brother, they took him away from his nieces, they took him away from his friends, and they took him away from a community that cared and loved him,” said Ouko. “And if one thing comes out of this, I pray and hope that moving forward, the officials can look into putting something in place so when people call, when they’re in mental distress, they can get real help.”
The sheriff’s office did not immediately respond to requests for comment on the allegations of what the family says they viewed on video.
On Wednesday, an attorney for one of the deputies, Jermaine Branch, maintained that the use of force was justified.
“It sounds like the victim in this matter had a history of severe mental problems and was physically very robust and had been a problem,” Branch’s attorney, Cary Bowen, said according to ABC8 News.