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Family of Irvo Otieno settles suit over his death at Va. mental hospital

The family of Irvo Otieno, a 28-year-old who died of asphyxia at a state mental hospital as sheriff’s deputies and orderlies piled on him, has reached a settlement with Virginia, Henrico County and the county sheriff’s office over his death.

Otieno, whose family said he was experiencing a mental health crisis when he died in early March, was handcuffed and bound at the legs when Henrico County sheriff’s deputies and employees at Central State Hospital held him down for about 11 minutes until he went limp, according to surveillance video and the medical examiner. His death was ruled a homicide.

Prosecutors in Dinwiddie County, where the hospital is located, initially filed second-degree murder charges against seven sheriff’s deputies and three orderlies working at the hospital, but later dropped all charges against two of those hospital workers. The remaining eight defendants are awaiting trial. Defense attorneys for some of them have argued Otieno was combative and had to be restrained.

Otieno’s mother and brother filed a wrongful-death lawsuit in civil court alleging that Virginia, Henrico County and the Henrico County Sheriff’s Office faced liability for his death. The state, county and sheriff’s office did not admit liability in the settlement and denied that their actions caused Otieno’s death, but agreed to pay the family $8.5 million, according to the Associated Press.

Attorneys for Otieno’s family did not respond to requests for comment Wednesday. In a statement posted on X, the social media platform formerly known as Twitter, attorneys Ben Crump and Mark Krudys said only that “the family is pleased that they were able to find a resolution outside of court in a manner that honors Irvo’s life.”

The eight defendants in the ongoing criminal case include a sheriff’s deputy, Kaiyell Sanders, who is seen punching Otieno in a surveillance video from the Henrico County jail, where Otieno was held before being transported to Central State Hospital.

Otieno’s death March 6 sparked nationwide outrage over law enforcement’s treatment of a Black man in custody, with his family likening it to the killing of George Floyd by police in Minneapolis. Experts said it also pointed to failures in the way Virginia’s criminal justice and mental health systems deal with people in apparent crisis, following a string of high-profile tragedies.

Otieno’s mother, Caroline Ouko, said she raced to get medication to him at a hospital after police first encountered him March 3, but was turned away and then became shocked to learn that her son had been booked in the jail. Authorities have said Otieno was taken to the Henrico County jail because he was “assaultive” in the first medical center where he was taken, Parham Doctors’ Hospital, before he was taken from the jail to Central State Hospital three days later, on March 6.

Shannon Taylor, the top prosecutor in Henrico County, declined to comment on the settlement Wednesday but said her office’s investigation into the circumstances of Otieno’s death is still underway. Dinwiddie County Commonwealth’s Attorney Jonathan Bourlier did not respond to a request for comment about the ongoing criminal case.

A spokeswoman for Gov. Glenn Youngkin (R) called Otieno’s death a “profound tragedy” and said Youngkin pushed for the settlement with his family.

“The governor pushed for a settlement with the hope that doing so proactively and fairly might alleviate — in a small way — some of the suffering that Irvo’s mother and brother faced, recognizing that no settlement can take the place of a loved one,” Youngkin spokeswoman Macaulay Porter said. “Governor Youngkin remains committed to transforming the behavioral health system to ensure that those in crisis will receive the care they need and that they will receive it at the right time and in the right place.”

This post appeared first on The Washington Post

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