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After outcry, 10 people charged with murder in death of Black man at US hospital

Caroline Ouko, the mother of Irvo Otieno, holds a portrait of her son with attorney Ben Crump, left, her older son, Leon Ochieng and attorney Mark Krudys at the Dinwiddie Courthouse in Dinwiddie, Virginia, on Thursday, March 16, 2023. (Photo by AP)

After a massive outcry, seven US police officers and three hospital employees have been charged with second-degree murder in the death of a 28-year-old Black inmate at a state psychiatric hospital last week in Virginia.

Irvo Otieno, 28, died on March 6 while at Central State Hospital in Petersburg after being transferred from a local prison because of his mental condition.

According to preliminary autopsy results, the Black man died of asphyxiation while being “physically restrained,” Dinwiddie County District Attorney Ann Cabell Baskervill said in a statement, as reported by media.

On Thursday, video footage of Otieno’s death obtained from the hospital was shown to his family, which has emerged as a central piece of evidence in the case that has seen arrests of 10 people so far.

The footage, according to reports, clearly shows the Black man being handcuffed and shackled, and then pinned to the ground by police officers.

Otieno’s mother Caroline Ouko spoke about her son’s inhumane torture after viewing the video of the incident.

"My son was treated like a dog, worse than a dog. I saw it with my own eyes... they smothered my baby," Ouko told a press conference.

Though Otieno “was going through mental illness, what I saw today was heartbreaking,” she said, adding that the footage showed “seven officers on one man,” and that it “goes on and on.”

Ben Crump, a high-profile lawyer known for representing the families of victims in incidents of violence carried out by police against African-Americans, told media that Otieno was handcuffed and had his ankles shackled, and the seven police officers pinned him down for 12 minutes.

“It is truly shocking that nearly three years after the brutal killing of George Floyd by police, another family is grieving a loved one who allegedly died in nearly the exact same manner being pinned down by police for 12 agonizing minutes,” Crump said in a statement.

Both Otieno's mother and Crump said he was experiencing a mental health crisis and had been on medication he was not able to take during his time in jail.

Aged between 30 and 57, the seven Henrico County sheriff’s employees were taken into custody and charged with second-degree murder Tuesday.

Three hospital employees, ages 23 to 34, were arrested and arraigned on the same charge Thursday.

According to the police, Otieno became "combative" during his admission process into the hospital. He never made it ahead of the intake process of the hospital as he was subdued by ten people, according to Baskervill.

Before being transferred to the hospital, Otieno had spent three days in a local jail in Henrico County, south of Richmond, where his family's lawyer said he was "brutalized" by officers, including being pepper sprayed, stripped naked and being left deprived of his medications.

Otieno and his family immigrated to the United States when he was four years old and was working to become a hip-hop artist

"He often said he wanted to be great one day and help our village in Kenya with their needs," his brother, Leon, said on a GoFundMe page.

Police violence has assumed alarming proportions in the US in recent years, with people of color being the main targets.

According to the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) report, the frequency of hate crimes across the United States has seen a record increase tin recent years, especially those motivated by bias against Black people.

A 2021 study in the medical journal The Lancet recorded 30,800 deaths from police violence across the country between 1980 and 2018, far higher than estimates offered by the US National Vital Statistics System. 

It said more than 55 deaths of deaths from police violence in the US from 1980 to 2018 were misclassified or unreported in official vital statistics reports.

According to new data released in December, US police killed at least 1,176 people in 2022, making it the deadliest year on record for police violence in the country since experts first started tracking the killings.

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