7 Virginia sheriff’s deputies arrested in connection with inmate’s death

Seven Virginia lawmakers have been arrested and charged with second-degree murder in connection with the death of Irvo Otieno while he was in custody, court filings say.

Henrico County Sheriff’s Deputy turned themselves in to the Virginia State Police Bureau of Criminal Investigations on Tuesday morning, March 14, Dinwiddie County Commonwealth Prosecutor Ann Cabell Baskervill said in a statement.

All seven deputies have been placed on administrative leave while the murder investigation is ongoing, Henrico County Sheriff Alisa Gregory said in a statement. They were being held without bail at Meherrin River Regional Jail in Alberta, Virginia, according to prison records.

The MPs were identified as Randy Joseph Boyer, 57; Dwayne Alan Bramble, 37; Jermaine Lavar Branch, 45; Bradley Thomas Disse, 43; Tabitha Renee Levere, 50; Brandon Edwards Rodgers, 48; and Kaivell Dajour Sanders, 30.

Otieno, 28, was taken to Central State Hospital in Dinwiddie County, Virginia, for treatment on March 6 when he became combative, a Virginia State Police spokesman told CBS News. Central State is a state-run maximum-security psychiatric facility. Prison records indicate that Otieno was placed under supervision and assigned to a medical or hospital treatment center.

The circumstances of Otieno’s transport to hospital and death are not clear as the investigation is ongoing. Otieno was arrested on March 3, according to CBS affiliate WTVR. Henrico’s police spokesman, Lt. Matt Pecka said officers took Otieno to a “regional hospital” for further evaluation, where Otieno “was physically assaulted against officers,” WTVR reported.

Otieno was then arrested on charges of assaulting law enforcement, disorderly conduct and vandalism and taken to Henrico Prison West, Pecka said.

Otieno’s mother told the Richmond Times-Dispatch last week that her son had suffered from periodic bouts of mental illness since his late teens, but said he had no record of any violent acts. She also said that although her son was taken to prison over the weekend, he would not be given medication to control his mental health issues until he saw a prison doctor on Monday.

When Otieno was scheduled to see the prison doctor this Monday, he was taken to Central State Hospital, where Virginia state police said he was being held and later died.

The state coroner is working to determine the cause and manner of Otieno’s death.

Prisons struggle to manage inmates with mental health problems. Deaths in prison – often related to untreated mental health problems – have skyrocketed in recent years. In Virginia the problem is particularly acute.

According to a report by the Virginia Board of Local and Regional Jails, 77 incarceration deaths were reported in the state in 2021, almost doubling the previous year. Seven of those deaths occurred because prisons did not meet minimum standards, and six of them were in prisons that did not have the 24-hour medical care required by state regulations, the report said.

“It’s a really chaotic environment,” said Daniel Mistak, the director of Health Care Initiatives for Justice-Involved Populations for Community Oriented Correctional Health Services, a nonprofit organization based in Oakland, California that provides statewide oversight and oversight of correctional facilities systems.

Prisons don’t have the resources or training to handle mental health crises for many people who go through the booking system, Mistak said. Over the weekend, prisons that already face acute shortages of medical staff will be limited in their ability to manage and treat inmates with unmet mental health needs, he said.

“When someone is at the beginning of a mental health crisis, incarceration is the perfect way to speed up the crisis,” Mistak said.

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