Seven Virginia sheriff’s deputies have been charged with murder in the death of a man who had been arrested and was physically restrained while being admitted to a hospital this month, authorities said.
The seven Henrico County deputies are charged with second-degree murder in the March 6 death of Irvo Otieno, 28, the Dinwiddie County Commonwealth’s Attorney’s Office said in a statement Tuesday.
The prosecutor’s office said that Otieno was to be admitted to a hospital, that he was physically restrained and that he died during the intake process.
"He died of asphyxia due to being smothered to death, thanks to having at least seven people, including the defendant, on top of him and holding him down," Commonwealth’s Attorney Ann Cabell Baskervill said at a court hearing Wednesday, according to courtroom video broadcast by NBC affiliate WWBT of Richmond.
The medical examiner’s office in Richmond did not immediately respond to a request for comment after business hours Wednesday about a cause and manner of death.
The Henrico County Sheriff’s Office went to Central State Hospital at 3:58 p.m. to admit Otieno as a patient, the prosecutor’s office said.
State investigators "were told he had become combative during the admission process. Otieno, who was physically restrained, died during the intake process,” the prosecutor's office said.
An attorney for Otieno’s family said he was treated brutally.
“The family is truly grief-stricken after learning of the brutal nature of Irvo’s death and his inhumane treatment in the hours preceding his death,” Mark Krudys said. “The public, and experienced mental health professionals alike, will be appalled when the facts of this case are fully made known.”
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, were charged, the prosecutor’s office said.
Not all of the deputies who were charged had attorneys listed for them in online court records. Attorneys listed for four of them did not immediately respond to requests for comment Wednesday night, or they declined to comment.
Cary Bowen, who represents Branch, said his client has been with the department for 24 years.
"None of them are known as bullies," he said, according to video from WWBT.
Otieno had been arrested and was accused of assaulting Henrico County police officers at Parham Doctors’ Hospital after they responded to a possible burglary call March 3, Henrico police said in a statement.
Henrico police officers had placed Otieno under an “emergency custody order,” the department said. Virginia law says such orders are used in cases of mental illness.
At the hospital, Otieno “became physically assaultive toward officers, who arrested him” and took him to a local jail, which is managed by the Henrico County Sheriff’s Office, where he was served with several charges.
Baskervill’s statement said Henrico County sheriff’s office employees took him to Central State Hospital, south of Richmond, just before 4 p.m. March 6 to be admitted. Around 7:30 p.m., state police were called to investigate his death.
The seven deputies have been placed on administrative leave, Henrico County Sheriff Alisa Gregory said.
“As an office, we are cooperating fully with the investigation of the Virginia State Police,” Gregory said in a statement. “Separately, we are conducting our own independent review of this incident.”
The Henrico Fraternal Order of Police Lodge called the death of Otieno tragic and said it was awaiting more information.
“We support our Brothers and Sisters, and hope for a quick resolution that clears their names,” the union said in a statement Tuesday.
The seven deputies were arrested through a legal tactic known as "criminal information," which Baskervill, the Dinwiddie County commonwealth’s attorney, said was rare in Virginia.
The process "is for the purpose of protecting other Henrico County jail residents. It allows for a justified and immediate removal of these seven individuals from their current capacities," she said in Tuesday's statement.