Seven Henrico County sheriff’s deputies were charged Tuesday with second-degree murder in last week’s death of a 28-year-old mental health patient from Henrico who apparently was asphyxiated during a struggle with officers while being admitted to Central State Hospital in Dinwiddie County.
At the direction of Dinwiddie Commonwealth’s Attorney Ann Cabell Baskervill, state police agents served each of the deputies with a “criminal information,” a formal charging document that originates in circuit court and is the equivalent of an arrest warrant.
The deputies are accused of collectively killing Irvo N. Otieno, 28, by essentially smothering the 6-foot 2-inch, 270-pound man as they attempted to restrain him during the admission process at Central State Hospital. Authorities said he became combative. Hospital security footage captured the incident that occurred late on the afternoon of March 6.
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Neither Baskervill nor the state medical examiner released the cause of death, but multiple sources indicated it was asphyxiation.
“The family is deeply disturbed by how Irvo was treated and when the full story comes out, the public will be shocked at the totality of the circumstances and the abuse that Irvo underwent,” attorney Mark Krudys, who is representing the family’s interest, said Tuesday.
He said family members do not wish to address the public today.
The deputies turned themselves in at the Virginia State Police Bureau of Criminal Investigation’s Richmond Field Office Tuesday morning. They were identified as Randy Joseph Boyer, 57, of Henrico; Dwayne Alan Bramble, 37, of Sandston; Jermaine Lavar Branch, 45, of Henrico; Bradley Thomas Disse, 43, of Henrico; Tabitha Renee Levere, 50, of Henrico; Brandon Edwards Rodgers, 48, of Henrico; and Kaiyell Dajour Sanders, 30, of North Chesterfield.
“Use of criminal information to render an arrest is rare in Virginia, but necessary in this particular incident,” Baskervill said in a statement. “This legal tactic is for the purpose of protecting other Henrico County jail residents. It allows for a justified and immediate removal of these seven individuals from their current capacities.”
The investigation by the Virginia State Police remains ongoing, Baskervill said, and additional arrests and charges are pending.
“Mr. Otieno’s family was notified by my office this morning of these charges and I will continue to work with and for his family in relation to pursuing this case to its fullest extent,” Baskervill said.
Under the Freedom of Information Act, the Richmond Times-Dispatch requested a copy of the hospital security footage from the Virginia Department of Behavioral and Developmental Services, which oversees the state-run psychiatric facility. But officials declined to release it, citing exemptions under FOIA that pertain to investigative files relating to an ongoing criminal investigation and health records.
Reached for comment, Henrico Sheriff Alisa Gregory said her office is cooperating fully with the Virginia State Police investigation; separately, she said her office is conducting an internal review of the incident.
“As Henrico County Sheriff and on behalf of our entire office, I extend my deepest sympathies and condolences to the family and friends of Mr. Irvo Otieno,”Gregory said in a statement. “ The events of March 6, at their core, represent a tragedy because Mr. Otieno’s life was lost. This loss is felt by not only those close to him but our entire community. “
Gregory said the seven deputies involved have been placed on administrative leave pending the outcome of the criminal charges against them.
Otieno, 28, a 2012 Douglas Freeman High School graduate and honor student who played football and basketball, had a history of mental health problems dating to his late teens, his family said. On Friday morning, March 3, he experienced severe mental distress and his mother, Caroline Ouku, called his psychiatrist for help, she told the Times-Dispatch.
Ouku said she sought assistance in getting her son specialized treatment that could include hospitalization. When Henrico police showed up, Ouko believed they were responding as a result of her call to Otieno’s doctor.
But police arrived after receiving a call from a neighbor about a possible burglary in the neighborhood, and Otieno was a suspect.
Ouko said she had earlier spoken with a neighbor about light fixtures that her son had pulled from a neighbor’s yard, but believed the matter was settled after she explained that her son was experiencing mental distress and offered to compensate the neighbor.
After a responding group of 10 to 12 officers initially drew their Tasers, police summoned the county’s Crisis Intervention Team and placed Otieno under an emergency custody order. That led to Otieno being transported to Henrico Doctor’s Hospital for treatment.
While continuing to experience mental distress, Otieno at one point became physically aggressive towards officers at the hospital, police said. He was charged with three counts of assault and battery of a law enforcement officer, disorderly conduct on hospital grounds and destruction of property (an officer’s uniform). Otieno was then taken to Henrico Jail later that day.
Otieno was held in jail over the weekend of March 4-5 without his medications, his family said. His mother was advised that he could not be provided with the medications until he was seen by a jail physician on Monday.
On Monday, Otieno appeared in Henrico General District Court on his charges via a video hookup from the Henrico Jail. His mother was present and she said she pleaded with the judge to allow her son to be stabilized with his medications so he could be released and return home. The judge denied granting bail, indicating to Ouko that her son may be sent to Central State Hospital.
Later on Monday, unbeknownst to Otieno’s family, Henrico sheriff’s deputies transported Otieno to Central State Hospital. He arrived with the officers at about 3:58 p.m., Baskervill said. At 7:28 p.m., state police were called to investigate his death, the prosecutor added.
The family learned Tuesday that Otieno had died in custody after they contacted the Office of the Chief Medical Examiner. In response to questions the family asked about what occurred, a spokeswoman advised that about 4:30 p.m. Monday, Otieno was being transferred to Central State Hospital and that he “fell unconscious and they were not able to revive him.”
After graduating from high school, Otieno — a native of Kenya who arrived in the U.S. with his family when he was 4 years old — attended college for two years in California. His mental health problems first surfaced there, his family said. He subsequently was diagnosed with bipolar and anxiety disorder, and had prior hospitalizations.
Mark Bowes (804) 649-6450
@RTDMarkBowes on Twitter