‘They murdered my baby’: Family of Irvo Otieno says video shows officers smother Black man to death

Three hospital workers and seven sheriff’s deputies charged over death

Josh Marcus
San Francisco
Friday 17 March 2023 01:23 GMT
Caroline Ouko, mother of Irvo Otieno, holds a portrait of her son with attorney Ben Crump, left, her older son, Leon Ochieng and attorney Mark Krudys at the Dinwiddie Courthouse in Dinwiddie, Virginia
Caroline Ouko, mother of Irvo Otieno, holds a portrait of her son with attorney Ben Crump, left, her older son, Leon Ochieng and attorney Mark Krudys at the Dinwiddie Courthouse in Dinwiddie, Virginia (AP)

The family of Irvo Otieno, a Black man who died in police custody in Virginia earlier this month, says video from a state mental hospital shows a large group of deputies smothering the 28-year-old to death.

"My son was treated like a dog, worse than a dog," Caroline Ouko said Thursday during a press conference. "He was murdered. They smothered the breath out of my baby. They murdered my baby."

According to the family and their attorneys, who have viewed the video, officers held down Otieno for at least minutes, a death reminiscent of the Minneapolis police murder of George Floyd.

“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 agonizing minutes,” civil rights attorney Ben Crump, who is working with the family of Otieno, said in a statement.

Seven Henrico County Sheriff’s deputies were charged on Tuesday with second-degree murder charges in the death, and three hospital workers were also hit with charges on Thursday related to the death.

Prosecutors said in court on Wednesday the officers can be seen on video “smothering him to death,” and that Otieno appeared non-combative and sitting on a chair before police pulled him to the ground. They added that other video obtained by state police, who are investigating the death, shows officers tackle and deliver blows to Otieno while he was naked in a jail cell.

Police, meanwhile, claim that Otieno became “physically assaultive” with officers when he was taken to a hospital on 3 March for an evaluation, following an encounter with police during a call about a potential burglary in progress. Otieno’s family say he was in the midst of a mental health crisis during the encounter.

He was later transferred to jail then a state mental hospital for evaluation.

The Independent has contacted the Henrico County Sheriff’s Office for comment.

“Public safety is what we stand for as a Sheriff’s Office,” the agency said in a statement earlier this week. “We will continue to maintain the highest professional standards in how we serve and protect those in our custody, the community at-large and our staff.”

The police union representing the charged officers say they support the seven deputies.

“We support our Brothers and Sisters, and hope for a quick resolution that clears their names,” The Henrico Fraternal Order of Police Lodge 4 wrote in a statement on social media.

The sheriff’s office is also investigating the death.

The deputies charged in the case are Jermaine Branch, Bradley Disse, Randy Boyer, Dwayne Bramble, Tabitha Levere, Brandon Rogers and Kaiyell Sanders. The hospital employees are Darian Blackwell, Wavie L Jones, and Sadarius D Williams.

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