‘Massive series of errors’: Top prosecutor in Otieno case sits down with NBC12
DINWIDDIE, Va. (WWBT) - Dinwiddie’s top prosecutor sat down one-on-one with NBC12 to discuss the Irvo Otieno case.
Dinwiddie Commonwealth’s Attorney Ann C. Baskervill couldn’t share specifics in this case, but she describes Otieno’s death as a series of vast mistakes.
The 28-year-old Henrico man died while in the custody of seven Henrico deputies and three Central State Hospital workers on March 6.
Surveillance video of his death at the hands of deputies and hospital workers made national headlines.
“Having a case of this scale, in that way, I’m so grateful because I’ve always wanted an opportunity to make a difference, and hopefully this will, and hopefully in some ways, it already has,” Baskervill said.
All ten suspects have been indicted on second-degree murder charges.
“I have been a prosecutor for almost 17 years and in this role for almost nine, and I have never previously found a use of force unjustified,” Baskervill said.
“What do you have to say to people who say those deputies were just doing their job?” NBC12′s Macy Moors asked Baskervill.
“I would say, I’m doing my job. I, too, am law enforcement. In Dinwiddie, I’m the Chief Law Enforcement Officer, and so, in that capacity, I enforce the laws, and you can’t kill people without justification,” Baskervill said.
Baskervill says proper mental health resources must be provided for people suffering from mental health crises.
“We’re asking too much of law enforcement officers to deal with medical issues,” Baskervill said. “It is important to educate law enforcement about medical issues as it is important to educate all of society, but we can’t treat law enforcement officers as medical personnel. That’s not fair. That’s not what they’re trained for.”
Baskervill says the need for compassion and transparency in public safety is essential.
“We need to recognize the value of empathy and compassion. Those are not negative things,” Baskervill said. “Those are assets and shared values we share as a community. There is an important and necessary role of empathy in law enforcement. We don’t have public safety without empathy, and we see that here. It’s also important for the public to see that law enforcement and public officials have empathy because otherwise it’s an us versus them, and there’s a wall.”
Baskervill also says as a community and society, we need to work together to remove the stigma around mental health.
“If we can remove the stigma and see medical issues as medical issues and not moral issues. There is a difference between being and doing. We want to address, in the criminal justice system, the doing, the action verbs. Not being the medical issues. That’s where the destigmatization has a role.”
“We’ve been receiving a lot of concerns about the care at Central State Hospital. Do you think this case could open up a deeper review?” Moors asked.
“I really hope that it does. I’ve been in office here for almost nine years,” Baskervill said. “We have patient-on-patient assaults regularly, patient-on-staff assaults. We’ve had people escape just by walking off and being gone. Those things are troubling and really require government action and societal action at a level that’s much bigger than I am.”
Baskervill says a broken system failed Otieno, who had a history of mental health issues.
“At every stage. It’s not a comedy of errors, but it’s just this massive series of errors,” Baskervill said.
“What do you want to say to Otieno’s family when they see this?” Moors asked.
“I’m so sorry that Irvo did not have an advocated position such that it could help him while he was alive. I would have liked to meet him. I would like to get to know him. I wish that I weren’t talking about him in the past tense,” Baskervill said. “I would much prefer to meet him, give him a hug, get to learn about his life and his future goals.”
Baskervill says despite Otieno’s tragic death, she hopes this devastating loss will be honored in the future.
“I really hope that if, or when, we make changes that can improve the system, that they can be done in Irvo’s honor, in his memory. Like an Amber Alert, we could have an Irvo alert,” Baskervill said.
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