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Saturday, June 15, 2024 | Back issues
Courthouse News Service Courthouse News Service

More charges filed in death of Black man smothered at Virginia hospital  

Three hospital workers join seven police officers facing murder charges for the March 6 death of Irvo Otieno.

DINWIDDIE, Va. (CN) — Three more people have been added to the list of those charged with second-degree murder for the death of mental health patient Irvo Otieno at a Virginia hospital.

The 28-year-old Black man was smothered to death after being held down for 11 minutes by deputies and hospital staff, according to Dinwiddie County's chief prosecutor Ann Cabell Baskervill. The Henrico County Sheriff's Office took Otieno to Central State Hospital around 4 p.m. on March 6, and state police were called to investigate his death just hours later around 7:30 p.m. 

Hospital workers Darian Blackwell, 23, Wavie Jones, 34, and Sadarius Williams, 27, join the seven Henrico deputies charged on Tuesday. 

Otieno's family and their attorneys held a news conference Thursday afternoon at the Dinwiddie County Courthouse.

Prominent civil rights attorney Ben Crump, representing the family, was joined by Otieno's mother, Caroline, who held up a photograph of her son. Crump said that Baskervill allowed the family to watch security videos of the incident before they were released. 

"What we just viewed on the videos leading to the death of Irvo was 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," Crump said.

State police investigators said they heard that Otieno was combative during the intake process. Baskervill disagreed in a bail hearing for two of the officers Wednesday, stating that Otieno did not appear combative and that he was in a chair before being pulled to the floor. Otieno was restrained with handcuffs and had leg irons on.  

"He, in the videos, is never confrontational with them," Crump said. "He is not posing a threat to them."

Baskervill described security footage of the incident that showed Otieno was asphyxiated from the weight of the officers on top of him. The officers allegedly pressed their knees onto Otieno's body and neck. 

Crump has represented the families of other Black men killed by police, including Michael Brown, Keenan Anderson and George Floyd and Trayvon Martin. The attorney compared Otieno's death to the police killing of Floyd. 

"When we think about the tragic killing of George Floyd, you say why would anybody, why would any law enforcement officer put a knee on the neck of a person who is face down, handcuffed and restrained?" Crump said. "Why wouldn't anybody have the common sense to say we've seen this movie before?" 

Otieno's body was transported to the chief medical examiner's office in Richmond, whose preliminary report identifies asphyxiation as a cause of death. 

Crump made a call for policy change at the press conference. 

"We're better than this, America," he said. "We have to change laws, we have to prevent anybody else's child from being taken from this Earth the way Caroline's child was taken from this Earth." 

 A Dinwiddie County grand jury will hear the case next week for a final determination of charges going forward.

Categories / Civil Rights, Criminal, Health, Regional

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