$8.5M Settlement Reached in Virginia Man’s Custody Death Case

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The relatives of a Black man who tragically lost his life after enduring a 12-minute ordeal of being restrained by handcuffs and leg irons at a Virginia mental health facility have concluded an $8.5 million settlement as part of their lawsuit against the state, county, and sheriff. The settlement, approved by the judge last Tuesday, was filed in the Henrico County Circuit Court.

The lawsuit stems from the tragic loss of 28-year-old Irvo Otieno in March. The family initiated the lawsuit against Virginia’s commonwealth, Henrico County, and the county’s sheriff after Otieno’s untimely death, deemed to be a homicide by asphyxiation by the Office of the Chief Medical Examiner of Virginia. It was reported that Otieno was grappling with a mental health crisis when he was admitted to the hospital.

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For their part in the ordeal, seven sheriff’s deputies and a hospital worker are yet to face their trials where they have been charged with second-degree murder. It should be stated that as of now, none of them have entered their pleas.

Earlier in March, on its third day, Otieno was apprehended by Henrico County police officers as they were investigating a potential burglary incident. He was then placed under an emergency custody order, which under Virginia law, allows a person to be detained if there are concerns about their potential to cause harm to themselves or others due to mental illness.

Following an alleged physical altercation with the officers at the hospital, Otieno was taken to Henrico County Jail to be booked. Subsequently, he was moved to a mental health facility in Dinwiddie County on March 14 where he later died. The incident occurred during the intake process when Otieno reportedly became combative, leading to the tragic incident, as reported by the state’s attorney.

Surveillance footage reveals at least several security officers restraining Otieno on the ground for 12 minutes. Another portion of the footage shows he was previously held in a cell at the Henrico County Jail, nude and subjected to pepper spray by deputies. These details were made public by the prosecuting team.

In terms of the concluded settlement, the accused parties will not be admitting any fault and outright deny their actions led to Otieno’s death, but they’ve agreed to the payout of $8.5 million. The cadre of defendants in the lawsuit extends their sincere condolences to Mr. Otieno’s family and friends, according to a statement by a spokesperson for Henrico County.

The county’s spokesperson opted to refrain from offering further comments, attributing the restraint to a confidentiality agreement tied to the settlement.

In an official statement, the legal team representing Otieno’s family expressed satisfaction with the resolution, stating it honors his life. They further noted the settlement was arrived at outside of the court which they viewed as preferable.

Deeming the incident a profound tragedy, Virginia Governor Glenn Youngkin’s spokesperson shared the governor advocated for a settlement with the hope that it could, to some extent, alleviate the immense suffering that has been imposed on Otieno’s mother and brother. However, the spokesperson stressed that no settlement could ever replace the presence of a loved one.