DINWIDDIE COUNTY, Va. (WRIC) – Dinwiddie’s top prosecutor hopes to get federal assistance with the Irvo Otieno case, telling 8News the Virginia Attorney General’s inability to help her office underscores the need for the Justice Department to step in.
The death of Otieno, a 28-year-old Black man who died March 6 while in the custody of Henrico County Sheriff’s deputies during the intake process at Central State Hospital in Dinwiddie County, has gained national attention.
The state medical examiner’s office ruled Otieno’s death as a homicide caused by “positional and mechanical asphyxia with restraints.” Seven Henrico County Sheriff’s deputies and three Central State Hospital personnel have been charged with second-degree murder in his death.
“The AG’s office will not get involved because they represent Central State Hospital – so AG resources are going toward CSH rather than the prosecution,” Dinwiddie County Commonwealth’s Attorney Ann Cabell Baskervill told 8News in an email Monday.
Under state law, the office of Attorney General Jason Miyares (R) represents all state agencies, and the hospital falls under the Virginia Department of Behavioral Health and Developmental Services, according to Miyares spokeswoman Victoria LaCivita.
“We are not currently involved in any actions taken by local law enforcement,” LaCivita added in her email to 8News.
“As to the feds, I’m hoping to get their help, but there’s not really a mechanism in place to make that simple,” Baskervill told 8News, adding the need for federal help, “may be particularly striking given the inability of the AG’s office to provide any resources to the prosecution.”
The Eastern District of Virginia, which could bring forward separate charges stemming from Otieno’s death, did not respond to a request for comment.
Federal government involvement in the case would help Baskervill’s understaffed office, which she said is supposed to include two assistant commonwealth’s attorneys.
Baskervill told 8News the two other full-time prosecutors in her office left for higher-paying jobs and she’s been unable to fill the vacancies “due to the lack of competitive salary in a competitive job market” since January.
Baskervill doesn’t plan on running for re-election, she told 8News, a decision she said she made before, “and entirely apart from” the Otieno case.
Surveillance video shows a restrained Otieno being dragged into Central State Hospital and eventually 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, a review of the video revealed. The footage then shows unsuccessful attempts to resuscitate him after his body goes limp.
Otieno was placed under an emergency custody order by law enforcement on March 3, a decision Henrico Police said was based on how he was acting and interacting with officers who responded to his neighborhood for a report of a possible burglary.
According to family attorney Mark Krudys, Otieno was experiencing mental distress at the time and was sent to a hospital in Henrico County for treatment. “Irvo was then whisked away from there, taken to a jail and the charges are among other things, a disturbance at a hospital,” Krudys told reporters after Otieno’s funeral.
Otieno was then taken from the Henrico jail to be admitted to Virginia’s Central State Hospital in Dinwiddie. Krudys has claimed that unseen video shows Otieno naked in his cell, being hit by deputies at the jail and calling out for help without being provided any by staff.