by Brendan O’Brien
(MAINNEWS) – Three former employees of a mental hospital in Virginia were arrested and charged with second-degree murder on Thursday, a prosecutor said, over the death of a Black man who was transported to the facility from jail earlier this month.
Irvo Otieno, 28, died on March 6 as he was being admitted to Central State Hospital in the city of Petersburg, according to Dinwiddie County Commonwealth Attorney Ann Cabell Baskervill. Petersburg is in central Virginia, roughly 25 miles (40 km) south of Richmond
The new slate of accusations brings the number of people charged over the death of Otieno to 10, including sheriff’s deputies. It is the latest instance of a Black person dying during an encounter with law enforcement to capture national attention.
Darian Blackwell, 23, Wavie Jones, 34, and Sadarius Williams, 27, were taken into custody on Thursday, one day after murder charges were filed. The suspects are being held without bond at a jail in neighboring Brunswick County, prosecutors said.
Their cases will go before a grand jury in Dinwiddie next week. Attorneys were not yet listed for the suspects in court documents.
The family viewed surveillance video on Thursday that was recorded at the mental health facility and captured Otieno’s death. In describing the incident, civil rights attorney Ben Crump, representing the family, said Otieno was handcuffed and smothered to death for 12 minutes by seven sheriff’s deputies at the mental health facility.
“What I saw today was heartbreaking, America. It was disturbing, it was traumatic,” Otieno’s mother, Caroline Ouko, said at a press conference with Crump. “I saw the torture.”
A preliminary report by medical examiners said Otieno, who immigrated to the United States from Kenya when he was four, died of asphyxiation. Prosecutors say they have collected evidence and that they were told he was physically restrained during the intake process because he was “combative.”
Officials have not ruled out making more charges or arrests.
Seven sheriffs deputies of Henrico County, Virginia, were also arrested and charged with second-degree murder over Otieno’s death.
Authorities have not said why Otieno was taken into custody or why he was being transferred to a mental health facility.
The deputies were placed on administrative leave and the sheriff’s office is conducting an independent investigation into the incident.