Otieno’s family seeks federal intervention after multiple charges dismissed

George Copeland Jr. | 5/9/2024, 6 p.m.
The family of Irvo Otieno is calling on federal officials to take up the prosecution of those charged with his …
Caroline Ouko (left), the mother of 28-year-old Irvo Otieno, listens as her attorney, Mark Krudys, responds to Commonwealth Attorney Amanda Mann’s decision to dismiss charges against five of the eight criminal defendants charged with Mr. Otieno’s murder. Ms. Ouko also is represented by attorney Ben Crump, who spoke virtually at the press conference. Photo by Regina H. Boone

The family of Irvo Otieno is calling on federal officials to take up the prosecution of those charged with his murder at Central State Hospital last March. The call comes following the dismissal of charges against five people involved in the incident that led to his death.

In a press conference Monday afternoon, Mr. Otieno’s family, alongside lawyers Mark Krudys and Ben Crump via video, criticized the motion filed by Dinwiddie Commonwealth’s Attorney Amanda N. Mann last Friday and approved on Sunday.

They also made an emotional plea for the Department of Justice’s involvement in the case, which focuses on Mr. Otieno’s treatment and death at the age of 28 while in custody at Central State Hospital last year, including seven sheriff’s deputies and three hospital workers pinning him face down on the floor for several minutes.

“It is time to prosecute the murderers of my son,” Caroline Ouko, Mr. Otieno’s mother, said. “And if (Ms. Mann) is not willing to prosecute, the DOJ, where are you?”

The office of U.S. Attorney Jessica Aber, who runs the Department of Justice office for Eastern Virginia, declined to comment on Ms. Ouko’s request.

Ms. Mann requested that charges be dropped against five Henrico County deputies in Mr. Otieno’s death. Of the 10 deputies and Central State Hospital staff initially charged with second degree murder for his death, three defendants remain.

The decision to drop the charges came after Ms. Mann’s efforts to reschedule the order of trials for those charged was refused.

The trial order was first set by interim Commonwealth’s Attorney Jonathan P. Bourlier following the resignation of the previous Commonwealth’s Attorney Ann Cabell Baskervill last year. Ms. Baskervill had previously dropped charges for two Central State Hospital employees.

“The current elected commonwealth’s attorney does not find the order to be sound and competent prosecutorial decision making,” Ms. Mann’s motion reads in part. “The order in which the defendants are tried is of strategic importance to the Commonwealth.”

Based on conversations with Ms. Mann, Mr. Krudys and Ms. Ouko said that the dismissals seemed to be part of a plan to reorder and refile the charges in what Ms. Mann viewed as a more strategic way.

Given the visual evidence available of Mr. Otieno’s treatment up to his death, including at Henrico County Regional Jail West where he was held before being taken to Central State Hospital, Mr. Otieno’s family and their legal representatives were not convinced these actions were necessary.

“We stated vehemently that we disagreed with it,” Mr. Krudys said.

While the case continues to develop, Mr. Otieno’s death and the nationwide attention it garnered due to the videos of his treatment by deputies and hospital staff already has led to changes in how Virginia handles mental health care.

A series of bills known as “Irvo’s Law” will become law on Saturday, June 1, amending state code on emergency custody, evaluations and temporary detention orders, while also allowing family members or legal guardians to provide support and decision making assistance for loved ones experiencing mental health crises.

A separate civil case led to a $8.5 million settlement between Mr. Otieno’s family, the state, Henrico County and the sheriff’s department, whose deputies helped pin him down. But Ms. Ouko was clear that, regardless of the actions taken by Ms. Mann, they were intent on seeing the charges continue.

“If they think they’re going to get away with it, we are not going to stand on the side and watch them do that. We demand justice and nothing less,” she said.