Video released after 7 Va. deputies charged with second-degree murder over in-custody death
The footage, which has no audio, shows various members of the group struggling with a handcuffed and shackled man
By Denise Lavoie and Sarah Rankin
DINWIDDIE, Va. — A large group of sheriff's deputies and employees of a Virginia mental hospital pinned patient Irvo Otieno to the ground until he was motionless and limp, then began unsuccessful resuscitation efforts, newly obtained surveillance video shows.
The footage, which has no audio, shows various members of the group struggling with a handcuffed and shackled Otieno over the course of about 20 minutes after he's led into a room at Central State Hospital, where he was going to be admitted March 6. For most of that duration, Otieno is on the floor being restrained by a fluctuating group that at one point appeared to reach 10 people pressing down on various parts of his body.
The death of the 28-year-old man has led to second-degree murder charges against seven deputies and three hospital workers and an outcry from his family, who has said he was brutally mistreated, both at the state hospital and while in law enforcement custody for several days earlier. Attorneys for many of the defendants have said they will vigorously fight the charges.
Relatives of Otieno were shown video from the hospital last week by a prosecutor, Dinwiddie Commonwealth's Attorney Ann Cabell Baskervill, who had said that she planned to publicly release it Tuesday.
But attorneys for at least two of the defendants sought to block the video's release, arguing that it could hinder a fair trial. The Associated Press and other news outlets obtained it and other footage through a link included in a public court filing made by Baskervill.
According to timestamps included in the footage, an SUV carrying Otieno arrived at the hospital just before 4 p.m. March 6. By 4:19 p.m., a different camera shows him being brought into a room with tables and chairs. He is hauled toward a seat before eventually slumping to the floor.
An increasing number of workers put their hands on him, holding him down as he appears to start to move on the floor. Otieno’s body is difficult to see at times, obscured by someone on top of him or someone standing.
“He certainly did not deserve to be smothered to death, which is what happened,” Baskervill said in court Tuesday. The workers were holding him down, “from his braids down to his toes,” she said.
By the 4:39 p.m. timestamp, someone is taking his pulse and he appears unresponsive. Soon after, as Otieno's body lies still, someone appears to administer two injections. By 4:42 p.m., CPR appears to be underway. Life-saving efforts continue for over a half-hour until the workers step back from Otieno's body, which is draped with a sheet.
Final autopsy findings have not yet been released, though Baskervill has said multiple times that he died of asphyxiation. Defense attorneys have raised the possibility that the injections contributed to his death, though she disputed that Tuesday, saying he was already dead when the shots were administered.
The prosecutor initially charged the 10 defendants through a process known as a criminal information. On Tuesday, a grand jury in Dinwiddie County signed off on second-degree murder charges for all 10.
Also Tuesday, a judge granted bond for two of the deputies and one hospital employee after hearing arguments from Baskervill and their defense attorneys.
Caleb Kershner, an attorney for Deputy Randy Boyer, said in court that Otieno had been “somewhat combative” at the jail and hospital. He said Boyer did not realize Otieno was in any danger as he was being restrained because Boyer was working near his legs.
“Clearly, there was a significant need to restrain this man given the mental health issues that were going on,” Kershner said.
Jeff Everhart, an attorney for Deputy Brandon Rodgers, said his client had been trying to help by moving Otieno to his side. But Baskervill said the video shows Otieno was moved on his side only when someone from the hospital came in and told him to roll him over.
The Associated Press sought comment about the video from defense attorneys for all the other defendants who have obtained counsel.
Rhonda Quagliana, an attorney for one of the hospital employees, Sadarius Williams, said in an emailed statement that her client was innocent of the charges. She said he had only minimal physical contact with Otieno and did not apply lethal force during the incident.
Douglas Ramseur, who represents another hospital employee, Wavie Jones, asked the judge Tuesday to implement a gag order in the case, arguing that the release of the video and subsequent media attention had damaged the defendants' ability to get a fair trial. The judge, who granted bond for Jones, declined to grant the gag order.
Other defense attorneys did not immediately respond to emails or phone calls.
Last week, Otieno's family spoke at a news conference after seeing the footage, which they called heartbreaking and disturbing. They have equated his treatment to torture and called on the U.S. Department of Justice to intervene in the case.
The family is being represented by Ben Crump, a prominent civil rights attorney who also represented the family of George Floyd. Crump and the family, who previously indicated support for the video being made public, planned to hold a news conference later Tuesday.
Charges against the seven deputies were announced last Tuesday. In a news release Thursday announcing the charges against the three hospital employees, Baskervill said additional charges were pending.