Ben Crump, a renowned US civil rights attorney, is now leading a team of lawyers who are seeking justice for the family of a Kenyan man who died in the hands of Sheriff’s deputies in Henrico County, Virginia.
At a press briefing on Thursday, the family of the late Irvo Otieno, a mental health patient who was killed while in sheriff’s custody described in painful and excruciating details how he perished while shackled and handcuffed, and had the life squeezed out of him.
His mother and his brother, flanked by family members, supporters and lawyers, choking back on their emotion, detailed what they saw on surveillance video as Otieno was brutally assaulted at the Henrico jail and then later at Central State Hospital after he was taken into custody on March 3, and then his death about 72 hours later.
“It was torture. My son was tortured,” said Caroline Ouko, Otieno’s mother, at a news conference outside the Dinwiddie County’s prosecutor’s office.
Today, the family of Irvo Otieno viewed video of the 28-yo’s death at the hands of 7 Henrico County (VA) sheriff’s deputies. Irvo posed NO threat to officers, nor was he violent — he didn’t deserve to be fatally restrained with the weight of officers on top of him! pic.twitter.com/qRIkWw77Y8
The family spoke to the media just after the prosecutor’s office announced that three more people have been charged in Otieno’s death. They have been identified as employees of Central State Hospital: Darian M. Blackwell, 23, of Petersburg; Wavie L. Jones, 34, of Chesterfield County; and Sadarius D. Williams, 27, of North Dinwiddle.
We need JUSTICE for the unnecessary death of #IrvoOtieno! His mother Caroline Ouko — who is now a part of a tragic fraternity that NO parent wants to join — should not be having to grieve the loss of her kind and courageous son. Mental illness should not be a death sentence! pic.twitter.com/FdlSO1Shft
“Those three days at the jail were horrific. I’ve seen it in the video. Mental illness should not be your ticket to death. There was a chance to rescue him…..and I don’t understand how all systems failed him. My son was treated like a dog. Worse than a dog. I seen it with my own eyes in the video. He was treated in humanely and it was traumatic. And it was systematic.”
Otieno’s family has criticized the authorities for “treating him as a criminal rather than a mentally ill patient. ”
“Words can’t describe what I just saw today,” said Otieno’s brother, Leon Ochieng. “What I saw was a lifeless human being … with no regard for his human life.”
“I witnessed a homicide,” he added. “I did not think in my lifetime I’d witness my own blood brother being murdered.”
The family and their legal team portrayed a gruesome scene of Otieno being beaten at the jail while naked and then later at the hospital as sheriff deputies piled on top of him — even though Otieno posed no threat and was not combative — while other officers watched on but did nothing.
“What we just viewed on the videos was a commentary on how inhuman law enforcement officials treat people who are having a mental health crisis as criminals — rather than treating them as people who are in need of help. I mean it was inhumane to see how they treated Irvo,” said Ben Crump, the nationally recognized civil rights attorney who joined Otieno’s attorney Mark Krudys on Wednesday.
“In the videos … he was never confrontational with them, he is not posing a threat,” Crump said.
“He needed mental health help, he needed help from physicians – not the brutality of correctional officers,” Krudys said.
In describing was on the video, Krudys described how Otieno was taken from the jail to Central State. “He’s carried out by the arms and legs, almost upside down…they carry him like an animal into the vehicle. He’s almost lifeless. Then he’s transported to eventually Central State Hospital. Lights and sirens. Why? If there really was an important medical event that was occurring….why wasn’t he taken to the hospital, literally one minute away.”
Krudys said the footage of Otieno at the hospital was unsettling.
“I was not really prepared so see this — it was a circumstance where you see seven deputies.. And the force of them, you can see they’re putting their back into it. Every part of [Otieno’s] his body is being pushed down with absolute brutality. You cannot even see his image all the time.”
Krudys said he and Crump looked at each as the video played. “And we kept on saying … why? Why is this occurring? He’s in handcuffs and leg irons at that point. He poses no danger.”