(NEW YORK) — The family of Irvo Otieno, a man who died in police custody earlier this month, reacted to the recent death of the Virginia man during a Thursday news conference.
Three days after being arrested on March 3, Otieno was transported to Central State, a psychiatric hospital in Petersburg, Virginia from Henrico County jail after reportedly suffering a mental health crisis. The same day on March 6, Otieno was pronounced dead.
On Thursday, family attorneys Ben Crump and Mark Krudys, alongside family members of Otieno, viewed videos from the day leading up to his death.
According to attorneys for the family at the press conference, there were seven deputies who held Otieno down for around 11 to 12 minutes, eventually causing him to suffer from asphyxia.
“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 during the conference. “The weight of seven individuals on his body while he’s face down, handcuffed with leg irons. … It is so unnecessary, it’s so unjustifiable.”
Caroline Ouko, Otieno’s mother, described during the conference that her son was having a mental health crisis and was initially transported to Henrico Doctors’ Hospital on March 3, a hospital farther than the family’s residence. While in the hospital, Otieno was arrested and taken to Henrico Police Department without the ability to see his family, according to his mother.
“Even though Irvo was going through mental illness, what I saw today was heartbreaking America. It was disturbing. It was traumatic. My son was tortured,” Ouko said. “Mental illness should not be your ticket to death. There was a chance to rescue him, there was a chance to stop what was going on. And I don’t understand how all systems failed him.”
Although the Henrico County Sheriff’s Office is conducting an independent review of the incident alongside an investigation by Virginia State Police, the attorneys call the Department of Justice to intervene.
Seven deputies from the Henrico County Sheriff’s Office were arrested and charged with second-degree murder in the death of the 28-year-old on Wednesday and during their court appearance, Dinwiddie County Attorney Ann Baskervill alleged that Otieno had been victim to hours of assaults prior to his death.
Krudys told the press that Otieno had been subject to previous brutality in his cell while he was handcuffed before he was taken to Central State.
“He’s naked. He’s lost. … There’s feces on the ground. It is so inhumane,” Krudys said. “We also saw a glimpse of the video where it’s like an animal being carried by legs and arms, with his pants falling off him, into the vehicle.”
Henrico County Sheriff Alisa A. Gregory released a statement the week after Otieno’s death, extending her “deepest sympathies and condolences” to Otieno’s family and friends.
“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 in the statement.
Otieno’s older brother emotionally spoke during the press conference, telling the public that after viewing the footage, he’d “witnessed a homicide.”
“What I saw was a lifeless human being, without any representation. No regard to his human life,” he said. “At what point do we stop preserving life? At one point do we consider mental illness a crime? Can someone explain to me why my brother is not here right now?”
The seven deputies arrested were Randy Joseph Boyer, 57; Dwayne Alan Bramble, 37; Jermaine Lavar Branch, 45; Bradley Thomas Disse, 43; Tabitha Renee Levere, 50; Brandon Edwards Rodgers, 48; and Kaiyell Dajour Sanders, 30.
Each of the seven deputies appeared in court on Wednesday.
A lawyer for Branch spoke in court Wednesday, saying the officer allegedly “did not administer any blows to the deceased, or violence towards him, other than simply trying to restrain him.”
Branch’s lawyer, Cary Bowen, told ABC News by phone that Cabell Baskervill was trying to fashion the case as something that is “malicious.”
“There was no weapon used. There was no pummeling or anything like that. I think everybody agrees,” Bowen said. “And the way she was casting it was that they ended up suffocating. He couldn’t breathe. And she’s acting like the guy didn’t resist and he wasn’t manic or bipolar or whatever. Just a nice guy who they’re picking on.”
Three more individuals were arrested Thursday: Darian M. Blackwell, 23; Wavie L. Jones, 34; and Sadarius D. Williams, 27.
No plea deals have been entered as of Thursday. The three additional people involved in the arrest will appear in court on Tuesday.
“He was murdered,” Ouko said. “They smothered the breath out of my baby. They murdered my baby. … Why did they do that? What right did they have to do that?”
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