Charges are dropped against 2 hospital employees in psychiatric patient’s death

Jun 20, 2023, 3:30 PM

DINWIDDIE, Va. (AP) — Prosecutors on Tuesday dropped criminal charges against two hospital employees in the death of a man who was pinned to the floor while being admitted to a Virginia psychiatric hospital.

Seven Henrico County Sheriff’s deputies and three Central State Hospital employees were charged with second-degree murder in the March 6 death of 28-year-old Irvo Otieno. Hospital video captured them trying to restrain Otieno while he was in handcuffs and leg shackles.

But on Tuesday, Dinwiddie County Commonwealth’s Attorney Ann Cabell Baskervill said dropping the charges against two hospital employees — Darian Blackwell and Sadarius Williams — would “serve justice more than any other course of action would,” the Richmond Times-Dispatch reported.

“The decision to withdraw the charges was heavy, but it was not difficult,” Baskervill said in an email. “I believe this places the prosecution of Irvo Otieno’s homicide in the strongest possible position upon my departure.”

Baskervill previously announced that she is resigning, effective on Tuesday, to attend graduate school in Paris.

Rhonda Quagliana, an attorney for Williams, has argued in court papers that Williams’ role in restraining Otieno “was markedly different and does not support a conviction for second-degree murder.”

Charges remain pending against the seven deputies and a third hospital employee, Wavie Jones. In March, Baskervill said video shows Jones restraining Otieno’s head.

Otieno, a Black man, was arrested by Henrico County police while suffering a mental health episode. Days later, he died at the hospital while deputies and hospital employees restrained him.

An autopsy determined Otieno died of asphyxia.

The Times-Dispatch reports that hospital video shows Blackwell and Williams participating in Otieno’s restraint for nearly four minutes, with Williams stationed near Otieno’s head and Blackwell by Otieno’s feet, before they stepped away. They stepped in to assist again several minutes later, trying to hold Otieno’s feet.

Ben Crump, a prominent civil rights attorney, is representing Otieno’s family. Otieno’s mother, Caroline Ouko, has said her son was “tortured” before he died.

Attorneys for several of the defendants have argued that their clients were only trying to restrain Otieno and had no intention of killing him. They have said their clients did not realize he was having trouble breathing.

A judge ruled in May that the 10 defendants could not be tried all together. However, Dinwiddie Circuit Judge Joseph Teefey Jr. didn’t rule out the possibility of holding joint trials for some of them.

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Charges are dropped against 2 hospital employees in psychiatric patient’s death