3 former psychiatric hospital employees charged with murder of patient

Three former employees of Central State Hospital in Petersburg, Va., have been charged with second-degree murder in a patient's death, along with seven law enforcement deputies. 

On March 3, Henrico County, Va., police officers and members of a crisis intervention team responded to a possible burglary, according to a news release from the Henrico Police. Irvo Noel Otieno, 28, was placed under an emergency custody order and taken to an area hospital for further evaluation. Mr. Otieno became "physically assaultive" toward officers, who transported him to a county jail. 

On March 6, Mr. Otieno was admitted to Central State Hospital, a state-run mental health facility, CNN reported. Unreleased surveillance footage shows all seven deputies restraining Mr. Otieno during the intake process for 12 minutes. Mr. Otieno died of asphyxiation, according to a preliminary report from the office of the chief medical examiner in Richmond, Va. 

"You see in the video he is restrained with handcuffs, he has leg irons on, and you see in the majority of the video that he seems to be in between lifelessness and unconsciousness, but yet you see him being restrained so brutally with a knee on his neck," Ben Crump, the Otieno family's lawyer, said during a news conference. 

Mr. Otieno was a Black man, and Mr. Crump compared the footage to George Floyd's death in May 2020, according to CNN

"They smothered him to death," said Ann Cabell Baskervill, Dinwiddie County Commonwealth's Attorney, according to NPR. "He died of asphyxia due to being smothered."

All three hospital employees — Darian Blackwell, 23; Wavie Jones, 34; and Sadarius Williams, 27 — were special management technicians, a spokesperson for the hospital told Becker's. According to the hospital's job descriptions, special management assistants are "to assist with maintaining a safe, secure and therapeutic environment for patients housed in the Maximum Security Building" and "to provide therapeutic and physical interventions when needed while also assisting with monitoring and engagement activities with patients." 

"The Department of Behavioral Health and Developmental Services and Central State Hospital are fully cooperating with the Virginia State Police in this investigation and are working to ensure that Mr. Otieno's family receives information about the tragic events at the hospital," the hospital spokesperson told Becker's. "The three hospital staff members who have been charged will be on administrative leave pending the results of the legal proceedings. We will respect the legal process while we and our staff continue to provide important care to the patients at Central State Hospital."

The case will appear before a grand jury next week, NPR reported. 

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