The death of a mentally ill Black man who was smothered while being admitted to a state-run psychiatric hospital in Virginia last month was labeled “medieval” by prosecutors in a new filing in the case on Wednesday.
Seven sheriff’s deputies and three hospital staffers were charged with second-degree murder after they dogpiled on Irvo Otieno when he was moved from the Henrico County Jail to a medical center for treatment. The 28-year-old, who was handcuffed and shackled, eventually stopped moving, and later stopped breathing.
His death was ruled a homicide by asphyxiation earlier this month.
In the new motion, Dinwiddie Commonwealth’s Attorney Ann Cabell Baskervill said Otieno’s death was comparable to an ancient form of execution known as pressing.
“The significant external pressure… prevents adequate expansion of the rib cage during breathing, even though the airways may be clear,” she wrote, according to The Washington Post.
She also compared the incident to the experience of a football tackle, but noted that in a game such a maneuver would be far briefer than the 11 minutes that Otieno was held down.
The filing also revealed for the first time that investigators with Virginia State Police had found that Otieno’s handcuffs and leg-irons had been “cleaned and placed back in Henrico transport vehicles” prior to their arrival on the scene. It was unclear if prosecutors believe this was a deliberate attempt to tamper with evidence.
The motion sought to allow Baskervill to prosecute all 10 defendants in a single trial.
“It is not irrelevant that if one person here had acted differently, then Otieno may very well have been able to survive,” she wrote. “Nor is it irrelevant that if one person had encouraged the others to act differently and urged others to stop applying lethal pressure to Otieno, Otieno might well still be with us today.”
“The fact that nobody did this is part of the problem and part of the crime charged, because the collective pressure was the cause of his death.”
Stephen Mutnick, a lawyer for one of the defendants, Deputy Sheriff Randy Boyer, said in a statement to the Associated Press that Baskervill’s references to medieval torture and football “appear to be metaphors solely meant to manipulate the passions of the public.”
“As Mr. Boyer has maintained from the beginning, the death of Irvo Otieno is a tragedy,” Mutnick continued. “However, he denies that there was an illegal or wrongful act on his part.”
Otieno’s mother, Caroline Ouko, has repeatedly spoken out in the wake of his March 6 death. In a Wednesday interview with the Richmond Times-Dispatch, Ouako remembered her son as gracious, kind, and a big dreamer who wanted a large family.
“All those good things that will never be, because someone did not speak up,” she said. “Someone did not step up. My hope is that if we can’t save Irvo, let’s save the next young man.”