June 8, 2023
Video shows Virginia hospital patient pinned by officers, staff before his death | CBC News

Video shows Virginia hospital patient pinned by officers, staff before his death | CBC News

A large group of sheriff’s deputies and employees of a Virginia mental hospital pinned patient Irvo Otieno to the floor until he was motionless and limp, then began unsuccessful resuscitation efforts, newly obtained surveillance video of the incident earlier this month shows.

The footage obtained Tuesday, which has no audio, shows various members of the group struggling with a handcuffed and shackled Otieno, who was Black, for about 20 minutes after being led into a room at Central State Hospital, where he was going to be admitted March 6. For most of that time, Otieno is on the floor being restrained by a fluctuating group that at one point appeared to reach 10 people pressing down on various parts of his body. 

The death has led to second-degree murder charges against seven deputies and three hospital workers and an outcry from his family, who has said Otieno, 28, was brutally mistreated, both at the state hospital and while in law enforcement custody for several days earlier. Attorneys for many of the defendants have said they will vigorously fight the charges.

Relatives of Otieno were shown video from the hospital last week by a prosecutor, Dinwiddie Commonwealth’s Attorney Ann Cabell Baskervill, who said that she planned to publicly release it Tuesday. 

But attorneys for at least two of the defendants sought to block the video’s release, arguing that it could hinder a fair trial. The Associated Press obtained it and other footage Tuesday through a link included in a public court filing made by Baskervill. 

A man smiles at the camera.
This undated photo provided by Ben Crump Law shows Otieno. Seven sheriff’s deputies and three hospital workers are facing second-degree murder charges in his death. (Courtesy of Ben Crump Law/The Associated Press)

According to timestamps in the footage, which was first reported by The Washington Post, an SUV carrying Otieno arrived at the hospital just before 4 p.m. local time. By 4:19 p.m., a different camera shows him being forcibly led into a room with tables and chairs. He is quickly hauled toward a seat before eventually slumping to the floor, initially in a seated position then lying flat. 

As time passes, an increasing number of workers hold him down as he appears to start to move on the floor. Otieno’s shirtless body is difficult to see at times, obscured by people at least partly on top of him or someone standing in the way of the camera. 

WATCH | Charges laid against hospital workers, deputies:

10 charged in death of Virginia man at mental hospital

Seven deputies and three hospital employees have been charged with second-degree murder in the death of Irvo Otieno, 28.

“He certainly did not deserve to be smothered to death, which is what happened,” Baskervill said in court Tuesday. The workers were holding him down, “from his braids down to his toes,” she said. 

By the 4:39 p.m. timestamp, someone is taking his pulse and he appears unresponsive. Soon after, as Otieno’s body lies still, someone appears to administer two injections. By 4:42 p.m., CPR appears to be underway. Life-saving efforts seem to go on for nearly an hour. At 5:48 p.m., Otieno’s body is draped with a white sheet. 

‘Very aggressive’

Final autopsy findings have not yet been released, though Baskervill has said multiple times that he died of asphyxiation.

Defence attorneys have raised the possibility that the injections contributed to his death, though Baskervill disputed that Tuesday, saying he was already dead when the shots were administered. 

The link in Baskervill’s filing includes audio from Dinwiddie County 911 calls. In one, a caller from the hospital requests an EMS team, saying Otieno, who had been “very aggressive,” stopped breathing during attempts to restrain him. Subsequent calls reflected impatience by hospital callers about the length of time that had passed without an EMS crew’s arrival. 

A woman stands at a lectern with her eyes downcast, flanked by other men and women.
Caroline Ouko, centre left, Otieno’s mother, speaks of her son with attorney Mark Krudys, left, her older son, Leon Ochieng, center right, and attorney Ben Crump, right, at First Baptist Church of South Richmond, Richmond, Va., on Tuesday. (Daniel Sangjib Min/Richmond Times-Dispatch/The Associated Press)

On Tuesday, a grand jury in Dinwiddie County signed off on second-degree murder charges for all 10 defendants.

A judge also granted bond for two of the deputies and one hospital employee after hearing arguments from Baskervill and their defence attorneys. 

Caleb Kershner, an attorney for Deputy Randy Boyer, said in court that Otieno had been “somewhat combative” at the jail and hospital. He said Boyer did not realize Otieno was in any danger as he was being restrained because Boyer was working near his legs. 

Jeff Everhart, an attorney for Deputy Brandon Rodgers, said his client had been trying to help by moving Otieno to his side. But Baskervill said the video shows Otieno was moved on his side only when someone from the hospital came in and gave that direction.

The Associated Press sought comment about the video from defence attorneys for all the other defendants who have obtained counsel. 

Rhonda Quagliana, an attorney for one of the hospital employees, Sadarius Williams, said in an emailed statement that her client was innocent. She said he had only minimal physical contact with Otieno and did not apply lethal force during the incident. 

Douglas Ramseur, who represents another hospital employee, Wavie Jones, asked the judge Tuesday to implement a gag order in the case, arguing that the release of the video and subsequent media attention had damaged the defendants’ ability to get a fair trial. The judge, who granted bond for Jones, declined to grant the gag order. 

Other defence attorneys did not immediately respond to emails or phone calls.

‘Treated like a dog, worse than a dog’

Last week, Otieno’s family spoke at a news conference after seeing the footage, which they called heartbreaking and disturbing. They have equated his treatment to torture and called on the U.S. Department of Justice to intervene in the case. 

“My son was treated like a dog, worse than a dog,” said his mother, Caroline Ouko.

The family is being represented by Ben Crump, a prominent civil rights attorney who also represented the family of George Floyd. Crump has said Otieno’s treatment has close parallels with Floyd’s killing in police custody in Minneapolis in 2020, and NAACP President and CEO Derrick Johnson made a similar comparison in a statement Tuesday. 

“Police are simply not a substitute for compassionate and informed mental health professionals. Rather than neglecting and criminalizing the Black community, we need action to make sure no one experiences or witnesses this kind of violence at the hands of law enforcement ever again,” Johnson said.

Crump and the family, who previously indicated support for the video being made public, planned to hold a news conference later Tuesday.

Charges against the deputies were announced last Tuesday. In a news release Thursday announcing the charges against the three hospital employees, Baskervill said additional charges were pending. 

An investigation into the events that preceded Otieno’s death — both at the Henrico County hospital where he was taken and the jail where his family said other video they viewed showed evidence of mistreatment — is ongoing, Henrico County Commonwealth’s Attorney Shannon Taylor said in a statement. 

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