Her son died in custody. Now this Virginia mom doesn't like what happened to those charged with his murder.

Posted at 5:03 PM, May 06, 2024
and last updated 2024-05-06 17:03:50-04

DINWIDDIE COUNTY, Va. -- A Virginia judge has signed off on a prosecutor's request to withdraw charges against five more people in connection with the 2023 death of Irvo Otieno, a young man who was pinned to the floor for about 11 minutes while being admitted to a state psychiatric hospital.

Judge Joseph Teefy of Dinwiddie Circuit Court on Sunday approved the prosecutor's motion to nolle prosequi — or effectively drop for now — the case against five sheriff's deputies, according to court records. The prosecutor could still seek to renew the charges, attorneys involved with the matter said.

Caroline Ouko said she was upset when she learned about the legal maneuvering.

The move means prosecutions are now actively pending for just three of the 10 Henrico County deputies and Central State Hospital workers initially charged with second-degree murder in Otieno's death, which was captured on video that sparked outrage and calls for mental health and law enforcement reforms.

Otieno, 28, died while in custody at Central State Hospital after he was transported there from the Henrico County jail while experiencing a mental health crisis.

"She has explained to the family, that her intention is to go forward with what she considers to be the strategically strongest cases," Otieno family attorney Mark Krudy said about new Dinwiddie County Commonwealth's Attorney Amanda Mann's legal plan. "This would go before a Grand Jury again, re-indict the remaining five individuals that are being dismissed for now."

It's a legal maneuver Caroline Ouko adamantly opposes.

She and her attorneys, who spoke at a news conference Monday, said they disagreed strongly with the prosecutor's action. But they also said the prosecutor had assured them the decision had been made for strategic reasons and that she planned to renew pursuit of the charges.

"That’s a radical, reckless decision with great ramifications for justice for Ivo Otieno," she said. "They piled on, they started on my son.”

Ouko referred to a video that showed sheriff's deputies and hospital staff on top of a handcuffed Otieno in an effort to subdue him at Central State Hospital.

Video shows Irvo Otieno pinned to floor before his death

Video evidence also showed Otieno being struck while in a Henrico County jail cell, according to prosecutors.

While the family said Mann told them the charges would be brought back against the five, their trials would be delayed by several months.

"We should not have to wait for justice," Ouko said. "I’m very disappointed with the direction Dinwiddie Commonwealth’s Attorney Mann has taken."

Ouko asked for the U.S. Justice Department to intervene.

"Where are you?" she asked. "It is time for you to [come] to Richmond and stand for Ivo, to get justice for my son."

The prosecutor, Dinwiddie County Commonwealth's Attorney Amanda Mann, did not respond to questions from The Associated Press.

She said in a news release that her motions to nolle prosequi the charges speak for themselves and she would have no further comment.

In those motions, Mann wrote that her predecessor, an interim commonwealth's attorney, had scheduled the order of the defendants' trials.

The timing of the trials is strategically important, Mann wrote in each individual's motion, adding that she did not "find the order to be sound and competent prosecutorial decision making.”

Russ Stone, a defense attorney for one of the five deputies, Dwayne Bramble, said Mann could elect to pursue the charges again. But he said such a development would be “extremely rare."

“It's been our position all along that it was prosecutorial overreach" by the first commonwealth's attorney on the case, who “charged innocent people without an adequate basis," Stone said.

"And we appreciate the fact that the current commonwealth's attorney has corrected that,” he said.

Defense attorneys for the other individuals — Jermaine Branch, Randy Boyer, Bradley Disse, and Tabitha Levere — did not respond to phone messages seeking comment.

The prosecutor who initially handled the case — and has since left the job — dropped criminal charges against two hospital employees last June.

The two deputies and one hospital worker with active cases have jury trials scheduled for October and December, according to online court records.

In a separate civil case, Otieno's family reached an $8.5 million settlement with the state, county and sheriff's department whose deputies helped restrain him.

Otieno's family, its legal team, and other advocates have raised concerns that Otieno’s race played a role in the way he was treated. The group of individuals who have faced charges in connection with his death was multiracial, according to court records.

Nationally known civil rights attorney Ben Crump, who is part of the family's legal team, has drawn comparisons between Otieno's death and the killing of George Floyd, whose family he also represented.

At Monday's news conference, he said the case against the individuals who had been charged was not complicated, given that their interactions with Otieno were captured on camera. They should be “zealously” prosecuted, he said.

"The troubling issue for many of us in the Black community is ... we are quick to be prosecuted when we are accused of a crime. However, when we're the victims of crime by the authorities, there seems to be delay, delay, delay," he said.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.

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