DINWIDDIE, Va. (WRIC) — In the first court appearance of seven Henrico sheriff’s deputies accused of murdering a prisoner last week, the Dinwiddie County Commonwealth’s Attorney alleged that video evidence shows that seven deputies held Irvo Otieno down for 12 minutes as he lay, handcuffed, on the floor of Central State Hospital.
Randy Joseph Boyer, 57; Dwayne Alan Bramble, 37; Jermaine Lavar Branch, 45; Bradley Thomas Disse, 43; Tabitha Renee Levere, 50; Brandon Edwards Rodgers, 48; and Kaiyell Dajour Sanders, 30; appeared in Dinwiddie County Circuit Court via video chat Wednesday morning. The defendants are all deputies with the Henrico County Sheriff’s Office and were charged Tuesday with second-degree murder after Otieno died in their custody.
“In the video at Central State you see at least a knee inflicted on the body, which is — we’ve seen this before as a country,” Commonwealth’s Attorney Ann Baskervill said. “There is also video from the Henrico jail, which is where our defendants worked, before the transport to Central State, and there, there are blows, there are blows — punches to at least his side, torso, very aggressive movements. He was pepper-sprayed while he was in the cell alone not posing a danger to anyone.”
8News requested access to the video from Central State Hospital through a Freedom of Information Act request and was denied. The Virginia Department of Behavioral Health and Developmental Services declined the request saying, “The requested records constitute both criminal investigative files relating to an ongoing criminal investigation and health records and thus, are being withheld from mandatory disclosure.”
Baskervill motioned to delay a bond hearing for several of the defendants. Many were assigned court-appointed counsel at Wednesday’s hearing, but even in the case of Jermaine Branch, who was represented by counsel at the hearing, the prosecutor asked to delay the bond determination because the accelerated nature of the charging decision had not allowed her office time to properly contact the victim’s family.
Among the bombshell allegations the prosecution made during the hearing was the claim that deputies washed the handcuffs used to restrain Otieno, returned them to their police cruiser and did not call Virginia State Police — now the lead investigators in the case — until 3 and a half hours after Otieno’s death.
“No one made truthful statements to the state police either that night or yesterday upon arrest,” Baskervill said.
Despite the strenuous arguments of the Commonwealth’s Attorney, the judge ultimately granted Branch a $15,000 bond, while setting a bond hearing for those still awaiting representation for March 21.
Branch’s defense attorney Cary Bowen argued that the officers struggled to contain Otieno, thereby justifying the seven deputies’ use of force, which allegedly included kneeling on Otieno’s chest.
“It sounds like the victim in this matter had a history of severe mental problems and was physically very robust and had been a problem,” Bowen said.
Baskervill countered that the timeline of the deputies’ actions — which allegedly included waiting for 14 minutes in the hospital parking lot before taking Otieno in — demonstrated their deliberate cruelty towards him.
“There is video footage of exactly what happened and he was not agitated and combative. He was held down on the ground, pinned on the ground for 12 minutes by all 7 of our defendants charged here,” she said.
Baskervill told 8News that the medical examiner has made a preliminary determination that the cause of Otieno’s death was asphyxiation, and the manner was homicide. 8News Legal Analyst Russ Stone noted Tuesday that charges against jail staff for the death of an inmate are highly unusual.
“At some point he’s pulled down to the ground or slumps and then what follows is 12 minutes of him being splayed out on the ground with all 7 and then ultimately some Central State people as well on top of him,” Baskervill said. “No one assisting, no one blocking the others from having their hands on the victim who then died of asphyxiation by smothering.”
Video obtained by the Commonwealth’s Attorney from Central State Hospital and the Henrico jail — but not yet shown in court — will play a key role in the case.