(CHESTERFIELD, Va.) — Family, friends, and civil rights leaders are expected to gather in Chesterfield, Virginia, for the funeral of Irvo Otieno, a 28-year-old Black man who died in custody after authorities say deputies and hospital staff piled on top of him for more than 10 minutes.
The funeral at the First Baptist Church in Chesterfield will feature calls for justice by civil rights attorney and Otieno’s family legal representative Ben Crump and a eulogy reading from Reverend Al Sharpton, the founder and president of the civil rights group the National Action Network (NAN).
Otieno died in police custody on March 6 after a neighbor called the police on him during what his mother Caroline Ouko said was a mental health crisis.
“To see nine men and a woman, squeeze– literally squeeze the breath out of my child was heartbreaking. I could not believe that human beings can be desensitized to do that to another human being,” Ouko said in an interview with ABC News about surveillance footage that captured the moments surrounding Otieno’s death.
After the initial call to police, Otieno was taken to a hospital on March 3, where he was arrested later that day and taken to Henrico County Jail. Three days later, Otieno died at Virginia’s Central State Hospital.
In footage obtained by ABC News, Otieno can be seen being pulled from his jail cell partially naked and pushed into the back of a police vehicle to transport him to the psychiatric hospital. At the hospital, footage shows Henrico deputies and medical staff holding Otieno down for nearly 11 minutes until he stops moving, according to the video.
Seven Henrico County Sheriff’s deputies and three Central State Hospital employees have been arrested and charged with second-degree murder in connection with Otieno’s death, according to Dinwiddie County Commonwealth’s Attorney Ann Cabell Baskervill. They have all been indicted by a grand jury. Currently, no pleas have been entered.
In a court appearance, Cary Bowen, a lawyer representing deputy Jermaine Lavar Branch, stated that the officer “did not administer any blows to the deceased, or violence towards him, other than simply trying to restrain him.”
Bowen told ABC News by phone that Cabell Baskervill is trying to fashion the case as something that is “malicious.”
“There was no weapon used. There was no pummeling or anything like that. I think everybody agrees,” Bowen said. “And the way she was casting it was that they ended up suffocating. He couldn’t breathe. And she’s acting like the guy didn’t resist and he wasn’t manic or bipolar or whatever. Just a nice guy who they’re picking on.”
The Henrico County Sheriff’s Office is conducting an independent review of the incident alongside an investigation by Virginia State Police.
“What they did to my son was awful,” Ouko told ABC News. “This heinous murder of my son was not necessary. And I want them to know that justice will be served. And if there is anyone out there who played a part along the line in my son’s murder, let them not think that this indictment absolves them.”
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