Seven Virginia deputies charged with murder after inmate held down for 12 minutes: Prosecutor
(DINWIDDIE COUNTY, Va.) — Irvo Otieno, a 28-year-old man who died in police custody earlier this month, was held down by seven Virginia sheriff’s deputies for 12 minutes, according to Ann Cabell Baskervill, the Commonwealth Attorney for Dinwiddie County, who described the “cruel” incident Thursday during a court hearing.
Cabell Baskervill described the incident as “a demonstration of power that is unlawful” and “it killed him.”
“There was no legitimate purpose for putting him down on the ground other than revenge, frustration or demonstration of power,” Cabell Baskervill said. “What it seems is [it’s] this demonstration of power that killed him.”
Cabell Baskervill said the preliminary cause of death was asphyxiation by smothering, his death was not reported for 3 1/2 hours and at no point during that incident was 911 alerted. Between Otieno’s death and the call made to state police about the incident, Otieno’s body was moved, handcuffs were removed and washed and a funeral home had been called instead of the medical examiner’s office, the commonwealth’s attorney said in court.
All seven sheriff’s deputies, from Henrico County, Virginia, have been arrested and charged with second-degree murder in the death of Otieno.
Cabell Baskervill said that the brutal incident began in the Henrico County Jail, where Otieno, during his four-day stay, was punched by officers in his side and torso. She alleged at one point he was pepper-sprayed while he sat in his cell alone.
Otieno was then handcuffed and his legs were restrained with leg irons, which was the case until his death, according to Cabell Baskervill. From Henrico County Jail, he was transported to Central State Hospital, a state-run inpatient psychiatric facility located in Dinwiddie County, Virginia, on March 6. The officers allegedly used lights and sirens to transport him even though there was no apparent emergency relating to his transport.
Otieno arrived at the Central State Hospital at 3:58 p.m. to be admitted as a patient. During the admission, “State Police investigators were told he had become combative during the admission process,” according to a statement released by Cabell Baskervill.
Cabell Baskervill alleged that none of the seven deputies “made truthful statements to the State Police either that night or yesterday upon arrest.”
The incorrect timeline given to police by the deputies can be disproven based on timestamps and video evidence that has yet to be released or shown in court, Cabell Baskervill said.
Cabell Baskervill pushed back against officers’ claims that Otieno was combative, saying video footage shows that Otieno “was not agitated and combative,” saying he was fidgety, stressed and anxious, which is justified due to the treatment he had been receiving.
Otieno was thrown to the ground and held down for 12 minutes, at least eight of which he was held face down, she said.
All seven deputies were in the room at the time of his death, according to Cabell Baskervill.
There is no body-worn camera or car camera footage of the incident, however, several videos do exist from Central State Hospital and Henrico County Jail.
The seven arrested deputies were identified 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.
Two deputies, Branch and Disse, were released on bond while the five others are being held without bond.
Lawyers for Disse said that the officer was asked by a supervisor to drive to Central State Hospital because of issues they were having with the inmate and because they were told he could not be controlled with just three officers.
In court, a lawyer for Branch alleged the officer “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.”
The seven deputies have been placed on administrative leave, pending the outcome of the cases filed against them.
The Henrico County Sheriff’s Office is also conducting an independent review of the incident and said it is fully cooperating another investigation by Virginia State Police.
“Public safety is what we stand for as a Sheriff’s Office. We will continue to maintain the highest professional standards in how we serve and protect those in our custody, the community at-large and our staff,” Henrico County Sheriff Alisa Gregory said in a statement.
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