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$8.5 Million Settlement After Pretrial Detainee Suffocated by Guards and Medical Staff at Virginia Psychiatric Hospital

by David M. Reutter

On September 19, 2023, the Commonwealth of Virginia, the County of Henrico and its Sheriff Alisa A. Gregory agreed to pay $8.5 million to settle claims arising from the death of Ivo Otieno, 28, at Central State Hospital (CSH) in Petersburg.

As PLN previously reported, Otieno was arrested for stealing solar lights from a neighbor’s yard just three days before his death on March 6, 2023. He was taken to the Henrico County Jail, where surveillance footage showed him naked in his cell with his hands shackled when he was pepper sprayed in the face by guards, who also beat him, the family lawyer said.

Otieno, who had been brought to the U.S. from Kenya at age four, was an aspiring musician and former high school football star who founded a Bible study group with friends after developing mental health issues that ended his football scholarship in California. At HCJ, he was allegedly denied medications before guards found him in the cell, surrounded by his own feces. They carried him out by his limbs, claiming he was “unruly,” and sent him to CSH.

Video surveillance from CSH shows county Sheriff’s Deputies enter Otieno’s cell, dragging him and forcing him to the floor before a group of 10 Deputies and medical staffers piled onto him and held him to the floor for 11 minutes. As a result, Otieno died of asphyxiation.

In March 2023, Dinwiddie County prosecutor Ann Cabell Baskervill charged seven deputies and three CSH employees with second degree murder. Charges were dropped against two of the medical staffers in June 2023, when Baskervill also resigned to study in Paris. She said Otieno “was not agitated and combative.” A grand jury indicted the remaining eight defendants, whose trials are scheduled later in 2024.

The settlement accepted by Otieno’s family provided for a $2.5 million payment each to Otieno’s mother, Caroline Akiniyi Ouko, and his brother, Leon Dennis Ochieng. A $21,500 payment went to each of four other siblings. Attorney fees of $1,691,000 and $1,665,000, respectively, were provided to attorneys representing Plaintiffs from the Crump Law Firm in Washington, D.C. and the Krudys Law Firm in Richmond. See: Ochieng v. Commonwealth, Va. 14th Jud. Cir. (Cty. of Henrico), Case No. CL23-­6331.  

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Related legal case

Ochieng v. Commonwealth