7 Virginia deputies charged with 2nd-degree murder in death of Black man who was 'smothered' in custody, prosecutor says
By Sara Smart, Michelle Watson, Brian Todd and Eric Levenson, CNN
Seven sheriff's deputies in central Virginia were arrested and charged with second-degree murder Tuesday in the death of a Black man who prosecutors say was fatally "smothered" while in custody.
Irvo Otieno, 28, died on March 6 at a state mental health facility during the intake process as he was being transferred from a Henrico County jail, according to a statement from Dinwiddie County Commonwealth's Attorney Ann Cabell Baskervill.
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.
"They smothered him to death," she said. "He died of asphyxia due to being smothered."
She said the incident was captured on video that is "extremely clear, extremely alarming."
The video is 12 minutes long and shows "deliberate and cruel treatment," she added. CNN obtained audio of the court hearings for all seven of the deputies from the Dinwiddie Circuit Court Clerk.
An attorney for the family noted the "brutal nature" of his death in a statement.
"The family is grief stricken after learning of the brutal nature of Irvo's death and his inhumane treatment in the hours preceding his death," Mark Krudys, the attorney for Otieno's family, told CNN. "The public, and experienced mental-health professionals alike, will be deeply disturbed when the facts of this case are fully made known."
The case comes as law enforcement use of force has been under scrutiny nationwide, particularly as it relates to violence against Black people.
7 deputies turned themselves in Tuesday
The Henrico County deputies 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 events of March 6, at their core, represent a tragedy because Mr. Otieno's life was lost," Gregory said. "This loss is felt by not only those close to him but our entire community."
The seven deputies who were charged were identified in Baskervill's release 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.
Dinwiddie County Court records show that the deputies were scheduled to appear in court Wednesday morning for an appointed counsel hearing. At least two have bonded out, according to state court records.
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," he said.
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. "The death of Mr. Otierno 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."
What we know about Otieno's death
Otieno's family is originally from Kenya, and Irvo came to the US at the age of 4, Krudys, the family attorney, told CNN. He had a passion for music and was working to become a hip-hop artist, he said.
Otieno had also been on medication for mental illness, but he was not able to take the medication while in custody, Krudys said.
Otieno's interactions with law enforcement began March 3, according to authorities.
That morning, Henrico 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 County police officers eventually placed Otieno into custody without further incident, Krudys said.
Otieno 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.
At around 4 p.m. on March 6, 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., 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, Baskervill told CNN in an email. CNN has sought comment from the Richmond medical examiner's office and Central State Hospital.
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