The U.S. government has been contacted by the family of a Virginia man who passed away due to asphyxiation after being held to the ground for roughly 11 minutes while being admitted to a mental hospital. Justice Department to launch a criminal probe into the circumstances of his demise.

Caroline Ouko, the mother of Irvo Otieno, holds a portrait of her son at the Dinwiddie Courthouse in Dinwiddie, Va., March 16, 2023. In a letter dated Monday, June 26, 2023, but was released publicly on Wednesday, June 28, lawyers for the family of Otieno, a Virginia man who died of asphyxiation after he was pinned to the floor for about 11 minutes while being admitted to a psychiatric hospital, asked the U.S. Department of Justice to open a criminal investigation into the circumstances surrounding his death. (Source: AP News)

Murder Charges Against Sheriff’s Deputies and Hospital Employees

Ben Crump, a well-known civil rights lawyer, and Mark Krudys, an attorney in Virginia, claimed in a letter to federal officials dated June 26 and made public on Wednesday that the state prosecutor’s office that filed second-degree murder charges against sheriff’s deputies and hospital employees lacks the staff and resources necessary to properly prosecute the case.

The 28-year-old Irvo Otieno passed away on March 6 because of murder, while being taken to Central State Hospital. Otieno was in handcuffs and leg shackles when Henrico County sheriff’s deputies and medical staff attempted to detain him for nearly 20 minutes, based on hospital video. Otieno spent the majority of that time on the ground being restrained by a group that at one point seemed to number ten people.

As Otieno passed away, seven deputies and three hospital employees were accused of second-degree murder. Prior to her resignation last week, the former Commonwealth’s Attorney for Dinwiddie, Ann Cabell Baskervill, withdrew all charges against two of the employees. The resigning Baskervill leaves just two recently hired prosecutors to handle the case as well as all other state prosecutions in the county, according to the attorneys for Otieno’s family in their letter.

With an extensive caseload aside from the indictment of Mr. Otieno’s suspect as he passed away, Crump and Krudys wrote that the newly appointed (Commonwealth’s Attorney) and his similarly new, small staff are not sufficiently equipped to bring charges against the eight defendants, each of whom has a separate, knowledgeable attorney.

A representative for the U.S. The Eastern District of Virginia’s attorney’s office declined to comment. Requests for comment from the Justice Department and the Commonwealth Attorney’s Office in Dinwiddie County were not promptly fulfilled.

READ ALSO: A Pro-Trump Lawyer Deemed As Mentally Incompetent To Stand Trial

Consideration of the Defendant’s Behavior during the Incident

The use of excessive force by law enforcement officials is prohibited by federal civil rights statutes, which results in Otieno passing away, according to Crump and Krudys, who also claimed that these laws “are the appropriate vehicle” to address the defendants’ behavior. According to the attorney, the case, which raises fundamental questions about how people with mental illnesses are treated, has drawn much community attention, and the attorney claims that it requires the diligence and expertise that can only be provided by DOJ agents, AUSAs, and other DOJ personnel.

In a phone interview, Krudys stated that they are not requesting that the state prosecutors withdraw entirely from the case. According to him, they want the Justice Department to file an excessive force claim and the Dinwiddie Commonwealth Attorney’s Office to prosecute the state murder charges.

According to an autopsy performed by the Virginia Office of the Chief Medical Examiner, asphyxia was the cause of Otieno’s passing away, and homicide was judged to be the manner of death. Attorneys for some of the defendants have stated throughout court proceedings and in interviews that Otieno was aggressive and the officers were attempting to subdue him.

READ ALSO: Medicare Telehealth Services Creates a Bill for Permanent Expansion in Washington