By Rosaland Tyler
New Journal and Guide
Attorney Ben Crump will represent the family of Irvo Ortino, a 28-year-old Black man who died allegedly after deputies and hospital workers smothered him to death at Central State Hospital in Petersburg on March 6.
A 12-minute video, recently released, shows 10 sheriff’s deputies and medical employees at Central State Hospital in Virginia holding face down an unarmed, handcuffed and shirtless man on the floor and laying on top of him during the intake process as he was being transferred from a Henrico County jail. According to news reports at press time, the seven deputies and three now former Central State employees have been charged with second-degree murder.
“They smothered him to death,” Virginia Commonwealth Attorney Ann Cabell Baskervill said, in recent news reports. “He died of asphyxia due to being smothered.”
Crump said, “This was a mental health crisis. He wasn’t committing a crime.”
Otieno died while deputies physically restrained him during the intake process. Officers claim he became combative. He spent three days in a local jail in Henrico County, south of Richmond, where his family’s lawyer says he was “brutalized” by officers” – including being pepper sprayed, stripped naked and deprived of his medications — before being transferred to Central State Hospital, a state-run mental facility in Dinwiddie County. He was charged with three counts of assault and battery of a law enforcement officer, disorderly conduct on hospital grounds and destruction of property.
“The family is grief stricken after learning of the brutal nature of Ivor’s death and his inhumane treatment in the hours preceding his death,” Otieno’s mother, Caroline Ouko, said in recent news reports.
Mark Krudys, an attorney who is working with Crump for the family, said in a recent statement, “The public, and experienced mental health professionals alike, will be appalled when the facts of this case are fully disclosed.”
His mother said, “Something went wrong while he was in the government’s custody.”
During the recent court hearing for the seven deputies, Dinwiddie County Commonwealth Attorney Ann Cabell Baskervill said, Otieno was restrained with handcuffs and leg shackles throughout the hospital intake process. He was unarmed when he died.
The seven deputies who were charged are 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 Kaiyell Dajour Sanders, 30.
They were placed on administrative leave, pending the outcome of the case. Henrico County Sheriff Alisa A. Gregoy said, They were arrested – each facing one felony charge of second-degree murder – and turned themselves into state police that same day.
Ortino’s troubling death in Petersburg at a state-run-mental-health facility occurred a few weeks after Attorney Crump attended a Feb. 1 funeral in Memphis for 29-year-old Tyre Nichols, an unarmed Black man who was shot and killed by police officers in Memphis on Jan. 10.
At Nichols’ funeral, the Rev. Al Sharpton and Vice President Kamala Harris both delivered impassioned speeches calling on lawmakers to approve the George Floyd Justice in Policing Act, a broad array of legislative reforms that include a national registry for police officers disciplined for misconduct, a ban on no-knock warrants and other measures.
About a month after Nichols was buried in Memphis, Florida’s St. Thomas University renamed its law school in honor of Crump during a dedication ceremony in Miami.
The school is now named the Benjamin L. Crump College of Law at St. Thomas University – making it the first law school on a predominantly white college campus to be named after a practicing Black attorney.
St. Thomas University is a Catholic school located in Miami that was founded by Catholic friars, in Miami Gardens, Fla., in 1961 as Biscayne College by the order of the Augustinian Friars, according to its website.
The only other law school in the country that’s named for a Black person is the Thurgood Marshall School of Law at Texas Southern University, named for the United States Supreme Court’s first Black Justice and Crump’s personal hero.