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Black Lives Matter activists call for accountability in Irvo Otieno’s death

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(DINWIDDIE, Va.) — Ahead of pretrial hearings for five defendants charged with second-degree murder in the death of Irvo Otieno, Black Lives Matter RVA announced plans to protest outside the Dinwiddie Courthouse, calling for accountability in his death.

Otieno, a Richmond resident, died in police custody in March after he was held down by seven Henrico County, Virginia, sheriff’s deputies and three hospital employees for about 12 minutes, according to Ann Cabell Baskervill, the Commonwealth’s attorney for Dinwiddie County.

Before his death, Otieno was allegedly punched by officers in his side and torso at Henrico County Jail. Baskervill alleged that Otieno was pepper sprayed while he sat in his cell alone.

Ten people have been charged with second-degree murder in Dinwiddie County, where Otieno was killed; however, there have been no charges in the case from Henrico County where Otieno was initially arrested and hospitalized. Seven of the 10 defendants in the case worked as deputies in Henrico; none have entered pleas.

Baskervill said Otieno’s preliminary cause of death was positional and mechanical asphyxia with restraints.

Lawrence West, CEO of BLM RVA, told ABC News that his group is protesting to ensure that the judicial process remains fair and Otieno is served justice through the Virginia court system.

“Irvo deserved a fair shot. Irvo didn’t deserve to be put in five-point restraints. He didn’t deserve to be piled on top of until he couldn’t breathe anymore,” West said. “He was having a mental health crisis. We’re looking for actual justice because Irvo cannot get his life back. There is no getting his life back.”

BLM Richmond VA was organized after the death of George Floyd. Group members have vowed to protest for change in the Otieno case.

BLM RVA members have previously protested outside of Central State Hospital, a state-run psychiatric hospital, where Otieno died.

West and BLM RVA are calling on the Henrico County Commonwealth’s attorney and the Department of Justice “to investigate and to look at who and what needs to be done and who is accountable.”

Activists and the family have also proposed a bill that aims to prevent deaths similar to Otieno’s.

“We need to make sure that people are still treated humanely while in custody,” West said.

Baskervill agrees that “legislative and policy changes are necessary at the state and federal levels.”

The government “must prioritize transparency whenever there is a death in government custody. Otherwise, governments themselves cannot fairly be held accountable,” she said.

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