The family of Irvo Otieno, a black man who died in police custody in Virginia earlier this month, says video from a state mental hospital shows a large group of deputies choking the 28-year-old to death.
“My son was treated like a dog, worse than a dog,” Caroline Ouko said at a news conference on Thursday. “He was murdered. They suffocated my baby’s breath. They killed my baby.”
According to the family and their lawyers, who saw the video, officers detained Otieno for at least minutes, a death reminiscent of the Minneapolis police murder of George Floyd.
“It’s really shocking that almost three years after the brutal police killing of George Floyd, another family is mourning a loved one who allegedly died in almost the exact same way, stranded by police for 12 excruciating minutes,” said the civil rights attorney. Ben Crump, who is working with Otieno’s family, said in a statement.
Seven Henrico County sheriff’s deputies were charged with second-degree murder Tuesday in the deaths, and three hospital workers were also charged with deaths on Thursday.
Prosecutors said in court on Wednesday that officers can be seen on video “choking him to death” and that Otieno appeared non-combative and sitting in a chair before police dragged him to the floor. They added that another video obtained by state police, which is investigating the death, shows officers confronting and beating Otieno while he was naked in a jail cell.
Police, meanwhile, say Otieno became “physically aggressive” with officers when he was taken to hospital on March 3 for evaluation, following a meeting with police during a call about a potential theft in progress. Otieno’s family says he was in the midst of a mental health crisis during the meeting.
He was later transferred to prison and then to a state mental hospital for evaluation.
The independent contacted the Henrico County Sheriff’s Office for comment.
“Public safety is what we stand for as a sheriff’s office,” the agency said in a statement earlier this week. “We will continue to uphold the highest professional standards in how we serve and protect those in our care, the wider community and our staff.”
The police union representing the accused officers says it supports the seven deputies.
“We support our brothers and sisters and look forward to a speedy resolution that clears their names,” wrote the Henrico Fraternal Order of Police Lodge 4 in a social media statement.
The sheriff’s office is also investigating the death.
The deputies charged in the case are Jermaine Branch, Bradley Disse, Randy Boyer, Dwayne Bramble, Tabitha Levere, Brandon Rogers and Kaiyell Sanders. The hospital employees are Darian Blackwell, Wavie L Jones and Sadarius D Williams.