Family Agrees to $85M Settlement for Death at Psychiatric Hospital

September 22, 2023 by

RICHMOND, Va. (AP) — The family of a man who died while handcuffed and pinned to the floor for about 11 minutes as he was being admitted to a Virginia psychiatric hospital has reached an $8.5 million settlement with the state and the county and sheriff whose deputies were involved in restraining him.

A judge approved the out-of-court wrongful death settlement Tuesday, according to public records.

Irvo Otieno, a 28-year-old Black man, died in March after being pressed to the floor of Central State Hospital for about 11 minutes by a group of Henrico County sheriff’s deputies and hospital employees. Surveillance video that captured how Otieno was treated at the facility where he was set to receive care sparked outrage across the U.S. and calls for mental health and policing reforms.

His death was ruled a homicide by asphyxiation. Ten defendants were indicted on second-degree murder charges, but charges against two of the hospital employees were later dropped.

Otieno’s family has said he had a long history of mental health problems and was struggling to breathe while he was being held down. Some of the defendants’ lawyers have said that Otieno was combative and they were simply trying to restrain him.

The settlement agreement says the state, county and the sheriff have not admitted any liability and deny that their actions caused Otieno’s death, but have agreed to collectively pay the $8.5 million to Otieno’s family and their attorneys.

Macaulay Porter, a spokeswoman for Gov. Glenn Youngkin, said Wednesday the governor pushed for a settlement “with the hope that doing so proactively and fairly might alleviate — in a small way — some of the suffering that Irvo’s mother and brother faced, recognizing that no settlement can take the place of a loved one.”

Attorneys for Otieno`s family, including prominent civil rights attorney Ben Crump and Virginia attorney Mark Krudys, said in a statement the family “is pleased that they were able to find a resolution outside of court in a manner that honors Irvo’s life.”

While the statement from Crump and Krudys referred to the settlement as “confidential,” its terms were outlined in a signed order on file at the Henrico County Circuit Court.

It includes a payment of about $5 million to Otieno`s mother and siblings, after the payment of funeral and burial expenses and attorneys fees of over $3 million.

Otieno, who emigrated from Kenya as a young child, was experiencing mental distress at the time of his initial encounter with law enforcement in suburban Richmond in early March, days before he was taken to the state hospital, his family has said.

He was first taken into police custody March 3, when he was transported to a local hospital for mental health treatment under an emergency custody order.

Police have said that while at the local hospital, he “became physically assaultive toward officers,” at which point they arrested him and took him to a local jail, a transfer Otieno`s family has said should never have happened. On the afternoon of March 6, he was transferred to the state hospital in Dinwiddie County south of Richmond, which has a unit that provides care for people admitted from jails or by court order.

The hospital video, which had no audio, showed sheriff’s deputies and hospital staff attempting to restrain Otieno. For much of that time, Otieno was on the floor being pinned down by the group. The video also showed unsuccessful resuscitation efforts.

An autopsy conducted by the Virginia Office of the Chief Medical Examiner determined that the cause of death was asphyxia, while the manner of death was ruled a homicide.

Attorneys for many of the defendants have said they will vigorously fight the legal charges against them.

Otieno was remembered at his funeral, where the eulogy was delivered by the Rev. Al Sharpton, as an empathetic, energetic and well-respected friend, teammate and musical artist.

“Henrico County continues to offer its heartfelt condolences to the family and friends of Mr. Otieno,” Ben Sheppard, a spokesman for Henrico County, said in a statement Wednesday.

Late last year, Youngkin launched a wide-ranging initiative aiming to overhaul Virginia`s fractured system for the delivery of mental health care services.

“Governor Youngkin remains committed to transforming the behavioral health system to ensure that those in crisis will receive the care they need and that they will receive it at the right time and in the right place,” Porter said Wednesday.

–Associated Press writer Denise Lavoie reported from Glen Allen, Virginia.