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Hospital video footage shows Irvo Otieno was held down before his death

A large group of sheriff’s deputies and employees of a Virginia mental hospital pinned patient Irvo Otieno to the floor until he was motionless and limp, then began unsuccessful resuscitation efforts, newly obtained surveillance video of the incident earlier this month shows.

The footage obtained on Tuesday, 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 was led into a room at Central State hospital in Petersburg, Virginia, where he was going to be admitted on 6 March. For most of the duration of the video, Otieno is on the floor being restrained by a fluctuating group that at one point appeared to number 10 people pressing down on various parts of his body.

The death of the 28-year-old Black man has led to second-degree murder charges against seven deputies and three hospital workers and an outcry from his family, who 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 said that she planned to publicly release it on Tuesday.

A still from the video footage showing Virginia sheriff deputies restraining Irvo Otieno at the Central State hospital in Petersburg, Virginia, on 6 March. Photograph: Dinwiddie county commonwealth attorney/Reuters

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 obtained it and other footage on Tuesday through a link included in a public court filing made by Baskervill.

According to timestamps in the footage, which was first reported by the Washington Post, an SUV carrying Otieno arrived at the hospital just before 4pm. By 4.19pm, a different camera shows him being forcibly led into a room with tables and chairs. He is quickly hauled toward a seat before he eventually slumps to the floor, initially in a seated position then lying flat.

As time passes, an increasing number of workers hold him down as he appears to start to move on the floor. Otieno’s shirtless body is difficult to see at times, obscured by people at least partly on top of him or someone standing in the way of the camera.

“He certainly did not deserve to be smothered to death, which is what happened,” Baskervill said in court on Tuesday. The workers were holding him down “from his braids down to his toes”, she said.

By 4.39pm, according to the timestamp, someone checks Otieno’s pulse and he appears unresponsive. Soon after, as Otieno’s body lies still, someone appears to administer two injections. By 4.42pm, CPR appears to be underway. Life-saving efforts seem to go on for nearly an hour. At 5.48pm, Otieno’s body is draped with a white 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 Baskervill disputed that on Tuesday, saying he was already dead when the shots were administered.

The link in Baskervill’s filing includes audio from Dinwiddie county 911 calls. In one, a caller from the hospital requests an EMS team, saying Otieno, who had been “very aggressive”, stopped breathing during attempts to restrain him. Subsequent calls reflected impatience by hospital callers about the length of time that had passed without an EMS crew’s arrival.

On Tuesday, a grand jury in Dinwiddie county signed off on second-degree murder charges for all 10 defendants.

A judge also 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 gave that direction.

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. 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 on 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.

Irvo Otieno, right, posing with his mother and brother in an undated photo.
Irvo Otieno, right, posing with his mother and brother in an undated photo. Photograph: Ben Crump Law/AFP/Getty Images

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 US Department of Justice to intervene in the case.

“My son was treated like a dog, worse than a dog,” said his mother, Caroline Ouko.

The family is being represented by Ben Crump, a prominent civil rights attorney who also represented the family of George Floyd. Crump said Otieno’s treatment has close parallels with Floyd’s killing at the hands of the police in Minneapolis in 2020, and NAACP president and CEO Derrick Johnson made a similar comparison in a statement on Tuesday.

“Police are simply not a substitute for compassionate and informed mental health professionals. Rather than neglecting and criminalizing the Black community, we need action to make sure no one experiences or witnesses this kind of violence at the hands of law enforcement ever again,” Johnson said.

Crump and the family, who previously indicated support for the video being made public, planned to hold a news conference later on Tuesday.

Charges against the deputies were announced last Tuesday. In a news release on Thursday announcing the charges against the three hospital employees, Baskervill said additional charges were pending.

An investigation into the events that preceded Otieno’s death – both at the Henrico county hospital where he was taken and the jail where his family said another video they viewed showed evidence of mistreatment – is ongoing, Henrico county commonwealth’s attorney Shannon Taylor said in a statement.

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