Video released of man's death at Virginia mental health facility

By Aditi Sangal and Mike Hayes, CNN

Updated 2:06 p.m. ET, March 21, 2023
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1:57 p.m. ET, March 21, 2023

Irvo Otieno was treated "worse than a dog," his mother said after viewing the video of his death

From CNN's Ray Sanchez

Irvo Otieno
Irvo Otieno (Courtesy The Krudys Law Firm, PLC)

Irvo Otieno’s family viewed the video, provided by prosecutors, on Thursday, March 16. His mother said Otieno was tortured.

“My son was treated like a dog, worse than a dog,” Caroline Ouko screamed, angry that no one stopped what led to her son’s death.

His older brother, Leon Ochieng, said people should be confident in calling for help when their loved ones are in crisis. He did not believe the people he saw on the video cared about preserving a life.

“What I saw was a lifeless human being without any representation,” Ochieng said, adding that his family is broken and demanding more awareness on how to treat those with mental illnesses.

“Irvo loved sports, music and the beach,” Ochieng wrote on the GoFundMe page. “He often said he wanted to be great one day and help his young relatives back in Kenya with their needs.”

Ouko urged people to take a moment and listen to her son’s music.

“He calls it like it is, but there is goodness in his music. And that’s all I’m left with now. He’s gone,” she said.

“I cannot be at his wedding. I’ll never see a grandchild … because someone refused to help him. No one stood up to stop what was going on. We have to do better.”

1:14 p.m. ET, March 21, 2023

3 Virginia hospital workers charged with second-degree murder in death of Irvo Otieno

From CNN's Michelle Watson, Eric Levenson and Sara Smart

From left to right, Darian M. Blackwell, Sadarius D. Williams and Wavie L. Jones
From left to right, Darian M. Blackwell, Sadarius D. Williams and Wavie L. Jones (Meherrin River Regional Jail)

Three hospital employees in Virginia were arrested Thursday and charged with second-degree murder in the death of Irvo Otieno, the 28-year-old Black man who died at a state mental health facility last week, the Office of the Commonwealth’s Attorney for Dinwiddie County said in a news release obtained by CNN affiliate WTVR.

Those charged come in addition to the seven sheriff’s deputies who were charged with second-degree murder on Tuesday.

The three Central State Hospital employees were identified as:

  • Darian M. Blackwell, 23, of Petersburg;
  • Wavie L. Jones, 34, of Chesterfield;
  • Sadarius D. Williams, 27, of North Dinwiddie.

They were arrested Thursday, March 16 and are being held without bail in the Meherrin River Regional Jail in Brunswick County, the commonwealth attorney’s office said.

CNN has not been able to determine whether the hospital employees have legal counsel.

Online court records show the seven deputies and three hospital employees are scheduled for a grand jury hearing Tuesday.

Otieno died March 6 at the state mental health facility during the intake process as he was being transferred from a Henrico County jail, according to Commonwealth’s Attorney Ann Cabell Baskervill.

Baskervill said she is not able to release the video to the public. “A key element of that evidence is the surveillance video from Central State Hospital that captures the intake process. To maintain the integrity of the criminal justice process at this point, I am not able to publicly release the video.”

CNN has reached out to the Central State Hospital for comment.

In court Wednesday, March 15, Baskervill said Otieno was in handcuffs and leg irons and was held on the ground for 12 minutes by all seven deputies. She said the surveillance video of the incident is “extremely clear” and “extremely alarming.”

“They smothered him to death,” she said. “He died of asphyxia due to being smothered.”

The Office of Chief Medical Examiner in Richmond’s preliminary report identifies asphyxiation as a cause of death, the commonwealth attorney’s office said in a statement.

11:44 a.m. ET, March 21, 2023

"Irvo is as American as apple pie," Otieno's mother says

From CNN's Ray Sanchez

Caroline Ouko holds a portrait of her son alongside attorney Ben Crump, left, and her other son, Leon Ochieng, right, during a press conference on March 16 in Dinwiddie, Virginia.
Caroline Ouko holds a portrait of her son alongside attorney Ben Crump, left, and her other son, Leon Ochieng, right, during a press conference on March 16 in Dinwiddie, Virginia. (CNN)

Aspiring rapper Irvo Otieno streamed his music – with titles like “Man in the Middle,” “Can’t Wait,” “Trapped Out,” and “Frenzy” – under the name Young Vo.

Otieno was 28, could write a song in less than five minutes, and wanted to start his own record label, said his mother, Caroline Ouko.

“He had found his thing. You know that feeling when you find your thing?” Ouko recalled. “He was happy with what he was doing… He would go in his room and shut the door. And he had it. He was brilliant and creative and bright.”

Otieno, whose family emigrated from Kenya when he was 4, was smothered to death on March 6 at Central State Hospital in Virginia, a prosecutor said. Seven Henrico County sheriff’s deputies and three hospital security guards have been charged with second-degree murder in this death.

“All I’m left with is his voice,” Ouko lamented.

Ouko, holding a framed portrait of a smiling Otieno during the news conference in Dinwiddie, said her son came to the US from Kenya as a boy. He went to kindergarten at Tuckahoe Elementary School and graduated in 2012 from Douglas S. Freeman High School, where – according to the Richmond Times-Dispatch – he played football and basketball. He attended college in California.

“Irvo is as American as apple pie,” his mother said. “This is what he knows. This is home for him. And when you’re home you are in a community. We live in a community. We have friends. This young man you see here had a big heart.”

Classmates turned to Otieno when they had problems, Ouko said. He was a listener and a leader who brought his own perspective to the table, she added.

“If there was discussion, he was not afraid to go the other way when everybody else is following,” she said. “This was my baby. He cared for people. He cared that people were treated right. That was at the core of his upbringing in our home. He cared that people were treated equally.”

In middle school, Otieno would invite classmates eating lunch alone to join him, Ouko said. “He was kind.”

10:59 a.m. ET, March 21, 2023

7 Virginia deputies were arrested and charged with second-degree murder

From CNN's Sara Smart, Michelle Watson, Brian Todd and Eric Levenson

From top left, Tabitha Levere, Randy Boyer, Kaiyell Sanders and Dwayne Bramble. From bottom left, Jermaine Branch, Brandon Rodgers and Bradley Disse.
From top left, Tabitha Levere, Randy Boyer, Kaiyell Sanders and Dwayne Bramble. From bottom left, Jermaine Branch, Brandon Rodgers and Bradley Disse. (Meherrin River Regional Jail)

Seven sheriff’s deputies in central Virginia were arrested and charged with second-degree murder Tuesday, March 14 in the death of 28-year-old Black man Irvo Otieno who prosecutors say was fatally “smothered” while in custody.

The Henrico County deputies involved in the death of Irvo Otieno turned themselves in to state police Tuesday and are on administrative leave as investigations by their agency and state police continue, county Sheriff Alisa Gregory said in a statement.

The seven deputies who were charged were identified as:

  1. Randy Joseph Boyer, 57, of Henrico;
  2. Dwayne Alan Bramble, 37, of Sandston;
  3. Jermaine Lavar Branch, 45, of Henrico;
  4. Bradley Thomas Disse, 43, of Henrico;
  5. Tabitha Renee Levere, 50, of Henrico;
  6. Brandon Edwards Rodgers, 48, of Henrico;
  7. Kaiyell Dajour Sanders, 30, of North Chesterfield.

All seven are slotted to appear before a grand jury on March 21, court records show.

CNN has sought comment from the deputies.

Disse’s attorney Peter B. Baruch issued a statement defending his client: “Deputy Disse has had a 20-year career with the Sheriffs department, and has served honorably. He is looking forward to his opportunity to try this case and for the full truth to be shared in court and being vindicated.”

Bramble’s attorney Steven Hanna said he was still gathering information and declined to comment further.

The Henrico Fraternal Order of Police Lodge 4, the local police union, issued a statement on Facebook saying they “stand behind” the deputies.

“Policing in America today is difficult, made even more so by the possibility of being criminally charged while performing their duty,” the group said, adding that Otieno's death "was tragic, and we express our condolences to his family. We also stand behind the seven accused deputies now charged with murder by the Dinwiddie County Commonwealth’s Attorney Ann Baskervill.”

9:40 a.m. ET, March 21, 2023

Family attorneys say video of Irvo Otieno's murder is "inhumane"

From CNN's Michelle Watson, Eric Levenson and Sara Smart

Irvo Otieno died March 6 at the state mental health facility during the intake process as he was being transferred from a Henrico County jail, according to Commonwealth’s Attorney Ann Cabell Baskervill.

“The criminal information warrants are based on the evidence collected, analyzed and evaluated to-date,” Baskervill said, according to the news release announcing the arrests of the hospital workers. She said the surveillance video from Central State Hospital that captures the intake process “a key element of that evidence."

CNN has reached out to the Central State Hospital for comment.

In court Wednesday, Baskervill said Otieno was in handcuffs and leg irons and was held on the ground for 12 minutes by all seven deputies. She said the surveillance video of the incident is “extremely clear” and “extremely alarming.”

“They smothered him to death,” she said. “He died of asphyxia due to being smothered.”

The Office of Chief Medical Examiner in Richmond’s preliminary report identifies asphyxiation as a cause of death, the commonwealth attorney’s office said in a statement.

The Otieno family and their attorneys were shown the video by prosecutors Thursday, March 16 civil rights attorney Ben Crump said in a news conference.

The video is a “commentary on how inhumane law enforcement officials treat people who are having a mental health crisis as criminals rather than treating them as people who are in need of help,” he said.

“He, in the videos, (is) never confrontational with them. He is not posing a threat to them. He’s not violent or aggressive with them. You see in the video he is restrained with handcuffs, he has leg irons on, and you see in the majority of the video that he seems to be in between lifelessness and unconsciousness, but yet you see him being restrained so brutally with a knee on his neck,” he said.

Crump called on the US Department of Justice to join the investigation into Otieno’s death, saying his constitutional rights were violated.

Caroline Ouko, Otieno’s mother, said the video was “heartbreaking” and added, “My son was tortured.”

She also spoke about her son’s mental illness, saying he had long stretches where “(you) wouldn’t even know something was wrong” and then there were times when “he would go into some kind of distress and then you know he needs to see a doctor.”

“Mental illness should not be your ticket to death,” Ouko added.

She said she followed her son to the hospital on March 3 and a doctor who was treating Otieno approached her and said her son was going to be alright. Ouko said they pulled her son off treatment and took him to jail but didn’t take his medicine.

Ouko attempted to see her son several times, she said, but, “They refused (to let) me to see my baby.”

She said she wouldn’t wish this upon any other parent or child. “They murdered my baby,” She added, “Why was my son murdered? What was the reason?”

Otieno’s older brother, Leon Ochieng said he witnessed a “homicide” in the video.

“What I saw was a lifeless human being without any representation,” Ochieng said.

Ochieng said his family is broken and is calling for more awareness on how to treat those with mental illnesses. “Can someone explain to me why my brother is not here, right now?” Ochieng said.

Otieno had also been on medication for mental illness, but he was not able to take the medication while in custody, family attorney Mark Krudys told CNN.

9:35 a.m. ET, March 21, 2023

Prosecutor releases video of Irvo Otieno's death at a mental health facility

From CNN’s Kimberly Berryman, Brian Todd and Andy Rose

(Dinwiddie County Commonwealth's Attorney)
(Dinwiddie County Commonwealth's Attorney)

A Virginia prosecutor released surveillance video Tuesday from a mental hospital showing the events that led to Irvo Otieno's death. It shows Otieno lying shackled and unresponsive after being pinned to the floor by multiple security officers.

Dinwiddie County Commonwealth’s Attorney Ann Cabell Baskervill charged seven sheriff’s deputies and three hospital employees with second-degree murder, telling CNN last week, “They smothered him to death.”

The newly released video begins as Otieno, bound by his hands and feet, is forcibly brought into a room and dragged into an upright seated position on the floor with his back against a chair. Ten minutes later, after Otieno has turned onto his side with three people holding him, his body jerks, and five more deputies and workers move to pin Otieno to the floor.

A clear view of Otieno is blocked in much of the video, but one deputy appears to be laying his body across Otieno for most of the incident as he is forced onto his stomach.

Eventually, Otieno is rolled onto his back, where several deputies appear to be restraining him with their knees. One deputy holds Otieno’s head still by grabbing his braided hair. The recording does not include audio.

After 12 minutes of being pinned to the ground, one deputy can be seen shaking Otieno’s hair and attempting to take a neck pulse. Otieno is unresponsive. Three more minutes pass before CPR begins, with Otenio’s limbs still shackled.

Medical workers from the hospital are seen converging on the room as CPR continues for nearly an hour. After he is pronounced dead, Otieno is covered in a white sheet, still lying on the floor, his body briefly left alone in the room.

The time stamp on the video shows Otieno’s body being covered at 5:48 p.m.

Baskervill initially declined to release the video but changed course after Otieno’s family approved.

9:18 a.m. ET, March 21, 2023

Hospital 911 calls say Otieno was initially "aggressive" and then no longer breathing 

From CNN's Brian Todd, Kimberly Berryman, and Michelle Watson 

Employees at Central State Hospital in Dinwiddie County, Virginia, called 911 multiple times on the day Irvo Otieno, a 28-year-old Black man, died while in custody to report he wasn't breathing and was "aggressive" at one point, according to 911 calls and the Dinwiddie dispatch audio provided to CNN by the Dinwiddie County Commonwealth's Attorney's office.   

Otieno was smothered to death on March 6 at the Virginia psychiatric hospital a prosecutor said.  

Seven Henrico County sheriff’s deputies and three hospital security guards have been charged with second-degree murder in the death of the promising hip-hop artist whose family said was having a mental health crisis when he died. 

In hospital surveillance video released by prosecutors, Otieno is restrained and pinned to the floor by multiple security officers. About 12 minutes after the incident began, Otieno appears unresponsive. Three more minutes pass before CPR begins, with Otenio’s limbs shackled.  

Hospital staff at the mental health facility called for emergency services.  

It’s unclear if they have the necessary equipment or training to handle the situation. 

In what appears to be the first call at 4:40 p.m. local time, an employee can be heard asking for EMS help, saying they're administering CPR but that the patient, Otieno, is "very aggressive."

“The patient is a new admission, so we’re still in the admission unit, and then he’s very aggressive,” the employee says. “They’re doing a CPR right now.”

The dispatcher asks for clarification on Otieno's condition, "I’m sorry, is the patient aggressive or is he not breathing?"

"He used to be aggressive, right, so they’re trying to put him in a restraint then eventually he is no longer breathing,” the employees says.

In another call that appears to happen at 5:02 p.m local time, a stressed hospital employee can be heard saying they called "at least 15 minutes ago," and were still looking for medical help, for an "emergency."  

“You said they were en route the last time, I mean, how far were they coming from," the employee asks the dispatcher.

"Ma’am they’re coming and they’re coming as quickly as they can," the dispatcher responds. 

“This is just totally unacceptable, and y'all know it too. Totally unacceptable.” the employee responds. 

The commonwealth attorney Ann Cabell Baskervill told CNN in an interview with Brian Todd that she believed the hospital didn't make the 911 calls until after Otieno had died.   

The surveillance video from the hospital obtained by CNN does not clearly show what time Otieno first appears unresponsive, but an officer is seen attempting to take a pulse from his neck at 4:39 p.m. local time that appears to be around the time that hospital employees first called 911 based on the file names of the 911 recordings provided to CNN 

CNN has reached out to the hospital for clarification on when the initial 911 calls were placed.   

9:10 a.m. ET, March 21, 2023

What we know about Irvo Otieno’s death

From CNN's Sara Smart, Michelle Watson, Brian Todd and Eric Levenson

 Irvo Otieno
 Irvo Otieno (Courtesy The Krudys Law Firm, PLC)

Irvo Otieno’s family is originally from Kenya, and he came to the US at the age of 4, Mark Krudys, the attorney for Otieno’s family, told CNN.

Otieno, 28, had been on medication for mental illness.

March 3: That morning, the Henrico County Police responded to a report of a possible burglary and encountered Otieno, police said in a news release on March 10. Police officers – with the county’s Crisis Intervention Team – put him under an emergency custody order due to their interactions with and observations of him, police said.

According to Virginia law, a person can be placed under an emergency custody order when there is reason to believe they could hurt themselves or others as a result of mental illness.

Krudys said Otieno was experiencing a mental health crisis on March 3, and his mother was on scene and implored police not to be aggressive with him.

“I think it’s a relatively small thing,” Krudys said when asked what Otieno may have been accused of and why police were involved. “It’s like he was collecting these lights that were on the lawn. It was not done out of any type of wrongful intent. He was just troubled at the time.”

Henrico police officers eventually placed Otieno into custody without further incident, Krudys said.

Otieno was not able to take the medication while in custody, Krudys said.

He was taken for evaluation to a local hospital, where he became “physically assaultive towards officers,” police said. He was held on three counts of assault on a law enforcement officer, disorderly conduct in a hospital and vandalism, police said.

Otieno was then transferred to the Henrico County Jail West.

March 6: At around 4 p.m. ET, Otieno was taken to be admitted to Central State Hospital, a state-run mental health facility south of Richmond, by the Henrico County Sheriff’s Office, according to the commonwealth attorney’s office. It’s not clear why deputies transferred Otieno.

During the intake process, Otieno became “combative” and was “physically restrained,” the attorney’s office said, citing what state police investigators were told. He died at the hospital “during the intake process,” the office said.

Virginia State Police were called to investigate his death at 7:28 p.m. ET, the office said.

Krudys, who has not seen video of the incident, said the deputies had engaged in excessive force.

“His mother was basically crying out for help for her son in a mental health situation. Instead, he was thrust into the criminal justice system, and aggressively treated and treated poorly at the jail,” he said.

The cause of Otieno’s death has not been released, according to Dinwiddie County Commonwealth’s Attorney Ann Cabell Baskervill.

CNN has sought comment from the Richmond medical examiner’s office and Central State Hospital.