Irvo Otieno’s family raises new concerns after his in-custody death

Posted at 7:20 PM, May 03, 2023

DINWIDDIE COUNTY, Va. -- Family of Irvo Otieno called for charges to be brought in Henrico County and indicated they may formally request a federal investigation into his case Wednesday, following court hearings in Dinwiddie County where a clearer picture was given of when the next big step forward will happen in the second-degree murder case against ten Henrico County Sheriff's deputies and three Central State Hospital workers.

Brief hearings were held Wednesday for three of the defendants charged in the 28-year-old Henrico man's death.

Otieno's family also said they are considering formally asking federal investigators to get involved in the case.

Henrico County Sheriff's Deputies Dwayne Bramble and Brandon Rodgers and Central State worker Wavie Jones had pre-trial hearings set for Wednesday, but their attorneys requested they be continued.

Their attorneys argued they had received a large amount of evidence from the Dinwiddie County Commonwealth's Attorney's Office in the past week and needed time to review it.

The cases were moved to Aug. 2, 2023, at 9 a.m.

Defense counsels and the Otieno family attorney told reporters after the hearing it is their belief that at the Aug. 2 hearing a judge will hear arguments related to the prosecution's motion to try all 10 defendants at once.

Family and friends of Otieno and Civil Rights groups also attended Wednesday's hearing and spoke afterward about new concerns, which come after they learned how his case was handled in Henrico County before Otieno was transferred to Central State in Dinwiddie County.

The group called on Henrico County Commonwealth's Attorney Shannon Taylor to bring charges.

"She certainly knows what occurred in the jail in her jurisdiction, and it's her obligation to address it. She also has to address what occurred at the hospital across the street," said Mark Krudys, an attorney for the Otieno family.

In response to the family's call, Taylor released the following statement:

“I am working with the Virginia State Police as they continue to collect and review evidence of what happened in Henrico County, and we will continue to work with the team of agents to review such evidence. As I have said in other matters, this investigation is on-going, and the rules of ethics that are applicable to criminal prosecutions prohibit me from making comments on the evidence, trial strategy or likely outcomes of the case, so I am not permitted to speak as to the specifics of this matter."

CBS 6 legal expert Todd Stone offered the following analysis on the possibility of charges in Henrico, as well as Dinwiddie.

"In this case, there is the possibility of one or more additional criminal charges in Henrico County, depending on the strength of the evidence to support a criminal offense. Prosecutors routinely take into account the existence of related charges in other jurisdictions when determining when and how to charge a case. The charges in Dinwiddie County are an important factor here and would likely impact the decision making process regarding charges and timing. Surveillance video in conjunction with witness testimony would be considered to determine whether and how charges could be filed in Henrico County," said Stone.

Meanwhile, Krudys said the family is also gathering information necessary to determine whether to make a formal request to the Department of Justice to take over the case, adding his co-counsel, Civil Rights attorney Ben Crump, has already been in touch with their Civil Rights Division.

"The appropriate person to address this is the Department of Justice. They are proficient with regard to the Civil Rights laws, laws that are meant to address the treatment of minorities, that have been so harshly treated by the criminal justice system in the past," said Krudys. "They need to step forward. They have the resources to not only bring to bear on what occurred at Central State, what occurred at Henrico, but also what occurred collectively across the board."

Krudys said the family has learned while Otieno was taken to Parham Doctors' Hospital under an Emergency Custody Order (ECO) that would last for eight hours, a Henrico Police officer obtained a Temporary Detention Order (TDO) from a magistrate which would have required Otieno remain at the hospital for another 72 hours.

"So, the question then becomes, if that's the case and the law states that you cannot serve a TDO at a jail, how then did Ivo get to the jail?" said Krudys. "The explanation that we received from the documents is that the police are saying that it was not actually served upon him. It was issued, they're saying, but not served. I note for you that the magistrate's office on Parham is less than one minute away from the hospital; it's in very close proximity. Also, when you look at the laws, there has been some relaxation with regard to allowing electronic transmission."

Krudys said because it was not served when Otieno allegedly assaulted a police officer in the hospital, he was taken to jail.

"A determination had been made that a TDO was necessary, that a medical response was necessary, and then the police just pushed that out of the way and arrested him and took him over to the jail. That should not have occurred. If he was not at the jail, if he continued to be at the hospital, we question whether or not we would be here today," he added.

When asked for a response to the family's claims, a spokesperson for the Henrico Police Department said they could not make further comments because of the ongoing investigation and referred back to their statements on March 10 and March 14.

Krudys said the family has also learned that while Otieno was at the Henrico Jail, he was placed in a five-point restraint for several hours: stretching from the night of the 3rd into the morning of the 4th. He added such a restraint should have required documentation every 10 minutes in a log, and the family is still in the process of trying to obtain copies of that.

They added that the jail staff, once realizing Otieno needed a TDO, phoned hospitals to secure a bed for him instead of getting the TDO, which they said would have mandated a hospital to make space.

In a response to the family's claims, a spokesperson for Henrico County, on behalf of the Henrico County Sheriff Alisa Gregory, said they could not comment further because of the ongoing investigation and referred back to Gregory's statement on March 14.

The family added they also learned that Otieno may have needed medical care while en route to Central State, but did not receive it.

And while the family said they were focused on getting justice for their loved one, they continued a call made at Otieno's funeral for systemic change to how mental health cases are handled.

"We respect due process. We also understand that we not only need due process, but we need a new process: a process that would have saved the life of Brother 'Vo," said a friend of Allan-Charles Chipman, who is also Executive Director of Initiatives of Change. "We know that there are some officers and some employees on trial. But the system also needs to be on trial for the areas where people with mental health crises are not getting the proper care that they deserve. . . Being in a mental health crisis is not a crime, should not be treated that way, and it certainly is not, should not, be a death sentence."

"We need an 'Ivo's Law' for people that are in custody. It's just happening too often that people are dying while in custody, and it has to stop now," said Lawrence West with BLM RVA.

"My charge is that our state agencies and organizations and departments, you must be held accountable. When these individuals are in your custody you must -- it is your obligation to -- follow protocol," added Denisha Potts with the Chesterfield NAACP.

Several more defendants are set for pre-trial hearings next week, but the family expects those to get moved to the Aug. 2 date as well.

They added that next week, Otieno's brother will be made administrator of his brother's estate, which they said will give them greater ability to request and access documents related to his case.

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