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Otieno family criticizes move to withdraw murder charges for now against 5 deputies

Irvo Otieno pictured in an undated photo. His family moved to the U.S. from Kenya when he was 4 years old, and remembers him for his big heart and passion for music.
Ben Crump Law
Irvo Otieno pictured in an undated photo. His family moved to the U.S. from Kenya when he was 4 years old, and remembers him for his big heart and passion for music.

A Virginia judge has signed off on a prosecutor's request to withdraw charges against five more people in connection with the 2023 death of Irvo Otieno, a young man who was pinned to the floor for about 11 minutes while being admitted to a state psychiatric hospital.

Judge Joseph Teefy of Dinwiddie Circuit Court on Sunday approved the prosecutor's motion to nolle prosequi — or effectively drop for now — the case against five sheriff's deputies, according to court records. The prosecutor could still seek to renew the charges, attorneys involved with the matter said.

The move means prosecutions are now actively pending for just three of the 10 Henrico County deputies and Central State Hospital workers initially charged with second-degree murder in Otieno's death, which was captured on video that sparked outrage and calls for mental health and law enforcement reforms.

Otieno, a 28-year-old Black man, had been taken into custody in suburban Richmond amid a mental health crisis. He was initially transported to a private hospital but later jailed after law enforcement officials said he became combative. Later, he was transferred to the state mental health hospital south of Richmond, where he died in March 2023 of what a medical examiner found was “positional and mechanical asphyxia with restraints."

Hospital video captured a scrum of deputies and hospital workers restraining Otieno while he was in handcuffs and leg shackles.

Otieno's mother and her attorneys, who spoke at a news conference Monday, said they disagreed strongly with the prosecutor's action. But they also said the prosecutor had assured them the decision had been made for strategic reasons and that she planned to renew pursuit of the charges.

Caroline Ouko, Otieno’s mother, called the move a “radical, reckless decision with great ramifications."

“We demand justice and nothing less,” she said, renewing her long-running call for the U.S. Department of Justice to get involved in the case.

The prosecutor, Dinwiddie County Commonwealth's Attorney Amanda Mann, did not respond to questions from The Associated Press. She said in a news release that her motions to nolle prosequi the charges speak for themselves and she would have no further comment.

In those motions, Mann wrote that her predecessor, an interim commonwealth's attorney, had scheduled the order of the defendants' trials. The timing of the trials is of strategic importance, Mann wrote in each individual's motion, adding that she did not "find the order to be sound and competent prosecutorial decision making.”

Russ Stone, a defense attorney for one of the five deputies, Dwayne Bramble, said Mann could elect to pursue the charges again. But he said such a development would be “extremely rare."

“It's been our position all along that it was prosecutorial overreach" by the first commonwealth's attorney on the case, who “charged innocent people without an adequate basis," Stone said.

"And we appreciate the fact that the current commonwealth's attorney has corrected that,” he said.

Defense attorneys for the other individuals — Jermaine Branch, Randy Boyer, Bradley Disse and Tabitha Levere — did not respond to phone messages seeking comment.

The prosecutor who initially handled the case — and has since left the job — dropped criminal charges against two hospital employees last June.

The two deputies and one hospital worker with active cases have jury trials scheduled for October and December, according to online court records.

In a separate civil case, Otieno's family reached an $8.5 million settlement with the state, county and sheriff's department whose deputies helped restrain him.

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