The mother of a Virginia man prosecutors say was 'smothered' to death by sheriff's deputies at a psychiatric hospital says he was treated 'worse than a dog'
The mom of a Virginia man who died in police custody says deputies treated her son "worse than a dog."
The local prosecutor accused a group of officers of smothering Irvo Otieno to death at a hospital.
Seven officers and three hospital employees have been charged with second-degree murder.
The mother of a Virginia man who died in police custody at a psychiatric hospital says a video of her son's death shows officers treating him "worse than a dog."
"My son was treated like a dog, worse than a dog. I saw it with my own eyes on the video," Irvo Otieno's mother, Caroline Ouko, said at a press conference alongside her lawyers on Thursday. "He was murdered. They smothered the breath out of my baby."
Ben Crump, an attorney for the family, described what he saw in the video of Otieno's death as an "inhumane" and "unjustifiable" example of police brutality.
Crump said the video shows seven deputies smothering Otieno — who was wearing handcuffs and leg shackles — to death with the weight of their bodies. He said they took turns pushing their knees into his neck in an encounter that lasted more than 11 minutes.
Otieno's mother said at Thursday's press conference that he had a history of mental illness and had been experiencing "mental distress" in the days leading up to his arrest.
"My son was tortured, to put it right. I saw the torture," Ouko added of what she saw in the video. "Mental illness should not be your ticket to death. There was a chance to rescue him. There was a chance to stop what was going on. And I don't understand how all systems failed him."
Seven Henrico County, Virginia, sheriff's deputies and three former hospital employees have been charged with second-degree murder in connection with 28-year-old Otieno's death on March 6 at a psychiatric hospital in Dinwiddie County, according to prosecuting attorney Ann Baskervill.
Edward Nickel, an attorney representing Deputy Bradley Thomas Disse, told Insider that, "that there has been a rush to judgment before any evidence has fully developed and heard in a court of law."
Nickel added that Disse "looks forward to being vindicated."
Cary Bowen, a lawyer for another one of the deputies, told Insider that none of the officers' attorneys have seen the video of Otieno's death at the hospital, but that Otieno "was certainly aggressive and a threat both to himself and to the deputies at the Henrico jail."
Bowen said that his client, Deputy Jermaine Lavar Branch, says he did not see anyone "viciously kneeling on [Otieno's] neck" in the moments leading up to Otieno's death.
Bowen added that the officers are "devastated" that somebody died on their watch.
Attorneys for four of the remaining five deputies did not immediately return Insider's request for comment. Attorney information for the fifth deputy wasn't available through online court records.
The three hospital employees are being held in Meherrin Regional Jail, according to jail records. No attorneys were listed for them as of Thursday afternoon.
Spokespeople for the Henrico County Sheriff's Office said an investigation into the deputies' actions is ongoing and declined to comment further. Virginia State Police declined to comment on the charges and Ouko's comments.
Baskervill has said the group "smothered" Otieno, local station WRIC reported.
"Twelve minutes of him being splayed out on the ground," Baskervill said in court, according to WRIC. "You see at least a knee inflicted on the body. There are blows, punches to at least his side, his torso. Very aggressive movements. He was pepper sprayed while he was in the cell alone … It's just cruel and a demonstration of power that is unlawful — I mean, it killed him."
Baskervill said she filed second-degree murder charges against the officers because she says the video shows them exhibiting deliberate and cruel treatment, WTVR reported.
Deputies first took Otieno into custody on March 3 while investigating a suspected burglary, according to local outlet WTVR.
A spokesperson for the Virginia State Police, which is investigating Otieno's death, told WTVR that deputies accused Otieno of attacking them while in custody and charged him. But when deputies took him from jail to a local psychiatric hospital, he was "restrained and later died," the spokesperson told WTVR.
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