RICHMOND, Va. (WRIC) – The attorneys for the family of Irvo Otieno, a 28-year-old Black man who died in March while in the custody of Henrico sheriff’s deputies, have asked the U.S. Department of Justice to open a criminal investigation into his death.
“I am writing to request that the U.S. Department of Justice open a criminal investigation into the circumstances surrounding the death of Mr. Otieno,” they wrote in a June 26 letter to the assistant attorney general in the DOJ’s civil rights division, the U.S. Attorney for the Eastern District of Virginia and the special agent in charge of the FBIs Richmond Field Office.
The attorneys for Otieno’s brother and mother — the prominent civil rights attorney Ben Crump and Mark Krudys — pointed to the DOJ’s robust resources compared to those of the Dinwiddie County commonwealth’s attorney, writing that the federal resources “are necessary to ably and properly prosecute the defendants” charged in the case.
They also cited the lack of experience Dinwiddie’s new interim commonwealth’s attorney has prosecuting cases — which 8News first reported — and the limited number of prosecutors and resources in the office.
“In our opinion, the newly appointed CA and his similarly new, small staff – with an ample caseload apart from the indictment of Mr. Otieno’s killers – are not adequately prepared to prosecute the eight defendants, all of whom have separate, experienced counsel,” the attorneys wrote in the letter.
“He stated that this would be his first criminal trial. And that caused great concern to the family,” Krudys told 8News. “It’s a murder case, and it involves these, these issues that are so horrific. We really think that that’s a lot to ask of him initially. That’s why we think DOJ should get involved.”
Krudys added that there is already precedent for the DOJ to get involved in similar cases, particularly in cases that Crump has worked on.
“They got involved with the Floyd case and other cases that Ben has been involved with,” Krudys said. “They should be they should get involved with this case. They have an army of experienced attorneys and investigators. This is what they do for a living. They should do it here.”
Krudys said that going forward, his office and the Otieno family will still do what they can to help Bourlier in the case going forward.
When 8News spoke with Bourlier last week, he said he felt he had the necessary experience to succeed as the Commonwealth Attorney for Dinwiddie County.
“The court has at least indirectly shown that it has confidence in me to perform the duties of the office by appointing me. And so I would say let’s see how it goes,” Bourlier said.
Otieno died after he was pinned down by Henrico sheriff’s deputies and others while being admitted to Central State Hospital in Dinwiddie, which came after he had been placed under an emergency custody order by law enforcement on March 3.
The state medical examiner’s office concluded Otieno died of “positional and mechanical asphyxia with restraints” and ruled his death a homicide. Ten people were initially charged with second-degree murder in Otieno’s death.
The attorneys wrote that before Otieno was transported to Central State Hospital, he was taken from Parham Doctors’ Hospital to Henrico Jail West, claiming he was restrained for more than 11 hours in a chair, not given medication and was “severely beaten by Henrico County deputies.”
“Some of the same deputies who piled on and smothered Mr. Otieno at Central State Hospital can be seen aggressively slamming him into a concrete wall and floor at Henrico Jail West,” they wrote. “One delivers approximately 15 aggressive punches to Mr. Otieno’s head and/or neck all while Mr. Otieno is restrained by a cadre of other deputies.”
Surveillance video at Central State Hospital shows Otieno being dragged into the hospital on March 6, then restrained and pressed to the floor in a hospital admissions room by many as 10 sheriff’s deputies and hospital personnel.
A handcuffed and shackled Otieno was held to the ground for over 11 minutes until he was motionless, the video revealed. The footage then shows unsuccessful attempts to resuscitate him after his body goes limp.
Audio recordings reviewed by 8News also revealed that multiple Central State Hospital staff members called 911, telling the operator that Otieno was “no longer breathing” and that he didn’t have a pulse at the time.
Seven Henrico County sheriff’s deputies and three Central State Hospital personnel were initially charged with second-degree murder in his death.
Dinwiddie’s former commonwealth’s attorney, who resigned last week, dropped charges against two of the hospital workers, saying in a statement that it ensured “that the strongest possible case goes to trial.”
“Unless the Department of Justice prosecutes this matter in federal court, the four-day cycle of violence brought to bear upon a young man in mental health crisis will not be fully and ably addressed,” the family attorneys wrote.
While in court on Thursday, June 28, Bourlier made the decision to individually try each of the remaining defendants in the Otieno case. Krudys said this is a move that the family supports.