The family of Irvo Otieno, the Kenyan-born man who died while in police custody in the US state of Virginia early this month has spoken out.
Accompanied by their attorneys, the family on Thursday called for the release of the hospital surveillance footage from that deadly night.
The family and attorneys spoke at a press briefing in Dinwiddie after viewing the surveillance footage, which authorities have yet to release to the public.
Otieno’s mother Caroline Ohkoh said she would not wish what she saw on the video on anyone, adding that her son was “treated worse than a dog.”
“My son was treated like a dog…Worse than a dog,” the distraught mother said.
Otieno’s brother Leon Ohchahn said, “Words can’t describe what I saw today.”
Ben Crump, one of the family’s lawyers, described the video and the acts of violence that were inflicted on Otieno by Henrico County Sheriff’s deputies before he died.
“We kept making notes during the video,” Crump said. “You could see one person take their knee off and another person put their knee back on.”
The family’s second lawyer Mark Krudys alleged that in the video, Otieno is pinned to the ground for 12 minutes.
“When you see that video you will be shocked. The force of them, you can see that they’re putting their back into it. Every single part of his body is being pushed down with absolute brutality. You cannot even see his image many times,” he said.
The family and their lawyers said mental health is at the center of the tragedy. “This is becoming a pattern in America we treat people who have mental health issues like hardened criminals. It’s not right,” Crump said.
Otieno’s mother said her son has had mental health issues since the end of high school and would go a long time with no episodes until two weeks ago when police were called after a neighbor was concerned about his behavior.
“It was a mental health distress moment for Irvo,” Ohkoh said.
Lawyer Krudys claimed during the entire time Otieno was at the jail, there was no medicine provided to him.
“And if you know about mental health issues, he’s decompensating. So they’re creating the very events that would occur there afterward,” he said.
Seven Henrico County Sheriff’s deputies and three Central State Hospital employees have since been charged with second-degree murder in connection to Otieno’s death.
Otieno was being transferred to Central State Hospital in Dinwiddie on March 6th when he became combative during the admission process, state police said.
The 28-year-old was then restrained and later died, state police spokeswoman Corinne Geller said in a statement.
Dinwiddie County paramedics were called to the scene at 4:30 p.m. and tried to revive the patient but he was pronounced dead at the scene.
Otieno had been arrested on March 3rd in Henrico on charges of disorderly conduct at a hospital, destruction of property and three counts of assaulting a law enforcement officer.
He was held at Henrico Jail until he was transferred to Central State, a maximum-security psychiatric facility run by the state.