10 people connected to death of 28-year-old Black man at a mental health facility face murder charges

10 people connected to death of 28-year-old Black man at a mental health facility face murder charges


Ten people connected to the death of a 28-year-old Black man during the intake process at a Virginia mental health facility last week have been charged with second-degree murder.

His family wants answers as to how a promising musician having what they called a mental health crisis ended with him dying – and why no one stood up for him and kept him from being killed.

The county prosecutor says law enforcement deputies “smothered him to death” while restraining him. Hospital workers have also been charged.

The local law enforcement officers’ union says they “stand behind” the deputies while an attorney for one of the deputies charged said he looked forward to the full truth being shared in court.

Here’s what we know about the deadly incident.

Who was Irvo Otieno?

Irvo (pronounced EYE-voh) Otieno was 28. He had a passion for music, family attorney Mark Krudys said Thursday, and was working to become a hip-hop artist. Originally from Kenya, he came to the US when he was 4.

His mother, Caroline Ouko, said he had “found his thing” with music and could write a song in less than five minutes. “He put his energy in that and he was happy with it,” she said at a news conference Thursday.

Irvo had a big heart, she said, and was the one his classmates came to when they had problems. He was 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 was following,” she said.

Her son had a mental illness that necessitated medicine, Ouko said. 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,” she said.

Irvo Otieno

What happened earlier this month?

On March 3, Otieno was arrested by Henrico County police who were responding to a report of a possible burglary, according to a police news release. The officers, accompanied by members of the county’s crisis intervention team, placed him under an emergency custody order.

The officers transported him to a hospital where authorities say he assaulted three officers. Police took him to county jail and he was booked.

On March 6, Otieno was taken to a state mental health facility in Dinwiddie County and died during the intake process, according to Commonwealth’s Attorney Ann Cabell Baskervill.

“They smothered him to death,” the prosecutor said.

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

Otieno was held on the ground in handcuffs and leg irons for 12 minutes by seven deputies, Baskervill said.

Who are the people charged in the case?

Seven sheriff’s deputies in Henrico County and three hospital workers have been charged with second-degree murder.

The seven deputies who were charged were identified in Baskervill’s release Tuesday 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.

The Henrico Fraternal Order of Police Lodge 4, the local law enforcement officers’ union, issued a statement Tuesday 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. “The death of Mr. Otieno 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.”

The hospital workers arrested Thursday were identified as Darian M. Blackwell, 23, of Petersburg; Wavie L. Jones, 34, of Chesterfield; and Sadarius D. Williams, 27, of North Dinwiddie.

Clockwise from top left: Tabitha Renee Levere, Randy Joseph Boyer, Kaiyell Dajour Sanders, Dwayne Alan Bramble, Bradley Thomas Disse, Brandon Edwards Rodgers and Jermaine Lavar Branch.

Is there video of what happened?

There is video footage but it will not be released to the public. CNN requested the footage but was told the material is not subject to mandatory disclosure because the investigation is ongoing.

“To maintain the integrity of the criminal justice process at this point, I am not able to publicly release the video,” said Baskervill, noting surveillance video from the mental health facility recorded the intake process.

Otieno’s family has viewed the video provided by prosecutors Thursday and his mother says Otieno was tortured.

“My son was treated like a dog, worse than a dog,” she screamed, angry that no one stopped what led to her son’s death. “We have to do better.”

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 now 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.

Have the deputies commented on the deadly incident?

CNN has sought comment from the deputies and received word from attorneys of two of the individuals charged.

Peter B. Baruch, an attorney for Disse, 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,” he said.

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

CNN has not heard from the other attorneys it has identified as representing the other defendants.

What are attorneys saying?

Family attorneys say Otieno posed no threat to the deputies.

Civil rights attorney Ben Crump, who is working on behalf of the family, said Otieno was not violent or aggressive with the deputies.

“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,” Crump said Thursday.

Crump said 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.

Much like the arrest and death of George Floyd in Minneapolis in 2020, Otieno was face down and restrained, Crump said.

“Why would anybody not have enough common sense to say we’ve seen this movie before?” he said.

Family attorney Mark Krudys 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 video from the mental health facility shows the charges are appropriate, Krudys said.

“When you see that video … you’re just going to ask yourself, ‘Why?’” he said.

What is next in the case?

The 10 defendants will appear in court on Tuesday before a grand jury, according to online court records. Crump has called for the US Department of Justice to take part in the investigation.

If convicted, the prison sentence for second-degree murder in Virginia is a minimum of five years with a maximum of 40 years.

CNN’s Sara Smart, Michelle Watson, Brian Todd and Eric Levenson contributed to this report.


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