Seven US deputies in Virginia charged with murder of man in custody
Seven deputy sheriffs in Virginia have been charged with second-degree murder over the death of a man in custody.
Irvo Otieno, a 28-year-old black man, died on 6 March while he was being transferred from a jail to a mental health facility.
Prosecutors have accused the deputy sheriffs of suffocating Mr Otieno during the transfer.
Medical examiners have not released a cause of death for Mr Otieno.
His hands and legs were both cuffed and he was held on the ground for 12 minutes by all seven Henrico County deputy sheriffs, said Dinwiddie County Commonwealth’s lawyer Ann Cabell Baskervill in court on Wednesday.
“They smothered him to death,” Ms Baskervill said, according to a local ABC News report. “He died of asphyxia due to being smothered.”
Prosecutors said they were told Mr Otieno was being “combative” before he was restrained.
The incident was captured on video that shows “deliberate and cruel treatment” according to Ms Baskervill.
Mr Otieno was arrested on 3 March as the suspect in a possible burglary, a police news release said.
Officers placed Mr Otieno under an emergency custody order, used when a person is believed that they could harm themselves or others as a result of mental illness, “based on their interactions and observations”.
Police added that Mr Otieno was taken to a hospital for evaluation, where he “became physically assaultive towards officers”. He was then arrested and transferred to jail, where he was charged with assault.
Mr Otieno’s family said he had been on medication for mental illness but was not able to take it while he was in custody. They added he was experiencing a mental health crisis the day he was arrested.
The seven deputies are being investigated by their agency and state police, said Henrico County Sheriff Alisa Gregory in a statement.
“The events of March 6, at their core, represent a tragedy because Mr. Otieno’s life was lost,” Ms Gregory added. “This loss is felt by not only those close to him but our entire community.”
The seven deputies were identified by prosecutors as 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.
Mark Kurdys, a lawyer for Mr Otieno’s family, told CNN they were “grief stricken after learning of the brutal nature of Ivor’s death and his inhumane treatment in the hours preceding his death.”
All seven deputies are scheduled to appear before a grand jury on 21 March.