Police continue to kill mentally ill Black men they’re sent to help

Kevin Desir

The family of a Black man beaten and killed by his jailers while in the midst of a mental health episode is suing the officers involved in the incident.

Kevin Desir, 43, was arrested in January 2021 for marijuana possession, following too closely in a vehicle, and a probation violation. According to his family, Desir was previously diagnosed with bipolar disorder and was distraught over the recent death of his father. He was incarcerated at North Broward Bureau, near Fort Lauderdale—a facility meant for people with disabilities and mental health issues.

Four days later, officers were called to Desir’s cell to prevent him from harming himself. They handcuffed, beat, tased, and pepper-sprayed him. Then, placing him in a restraint chair, deputies choked Desir until he became unresponsive. Desir never regained consciousness and died 10 days later.

The deputies used a taser, pepper spray, and other forms of excessive force, including one deputy who repeatedly beat Mr. Desir’s face with closed fists. After pinning him to the ground and dragging him across his cell, deputies forced Mr. Desir into a restraint chair, as one deputy held him in a prolonged chokehold. It was only after Mr. Desir went limp and became unresponsive that deputies checked his pulse for the first time. Mr. Desir was brought to the hospital, where he remained on a ventilator until he died ten days later from asphyxiation caused by the chokehold.

Jail officials have refused to publicly release video of the incident, claiming it would compromise the security of the prison.

Almost two years later, the video evidence has not been publicly released by officials at Broward sheriff’s office, which controversially cited an exemption for security systems within Florida’s public record laws for keeping the footage restricted.

“The video doesn’t show how to get in and out of the jail and I think that them using that as an excuse for why we shouldn’t have the video is completely bogus,” said Jeremy McLymont, an attorney working with the Desir family to get the video released.

Meanwhile, the Broward County Sheriff’s office has cleared the deputies of any crime and the Broward Medical Examiner’s Office determined that Desir’s autopsy did not show signs that Desir died due to the deputies’ actions during the altercation.

The family disputes the official narrative, pointing to an independent autopsy that definitively found that Desir died of manual strangulation and declared his death a homicide.

At 10:09pm, according to the internal affairs reports and the state attorney’s memo, [Deputy] Howard interlocked both hands around Desir’s neck from behind and held him thus for over three minutes, according to the internal affairs report. A state attorney’s office memo described Howard “using his body weight to leverage Desir back into the chair”.

As Howard was pressing Desir’s neck, another deputy, Angela McNeal, pepper-sprayed him directly in the face…Desir appeared to go limp in the chair, records state, and Howard only removed his hands from Desir’s neck when another deputy appeared to signal he was unresponsive, according to the state attorney’s investigation.

Almost five minutes later, one of the six deputies began attempts to resuscitate Desir via CPR. But it took almost 15 minutes from when Desir became unresponsive for local Emergency Medical Services paramedics to arrive, according to the surveillance video timeline in the internal affairs report…

…the private autopsy, shared with the Guardian, concluded that Desir had died from manual strangulation when officers, particularly Howard, compressed his neck. That autopsy, conducted by Dr Daniel Schultz of Hillsborough county, Florida, whom the Desir family hired, lists the manner of death as homicide.

Shultz’s autopsy work, conducted on 31 January 2021, included a review of video, medical records and collected specimens, and cites the surveillance footage as “compelling”, noting: “The video documentation of neck restraint over three minutes does not require any other stressor” to lead to death, referring to the additional Tasering and pepper spray that Desir was subjected to.

“A completely healthy individual under no prerequisite stress could succumb to that,” the report concludes.

Irvo Otieno

Seven Virginia police officers were charged with second-degree murder after killing a Black mental health patient at a hospital.

Irvo Otieno, 28, was in the midst of a mental health crisis when he was placed under an emergency custody order in Richmond, Virginia, on March 3. The officers took him to Henrico Doctors’ Hospital, where they say he became violent. Otieno was arrested, charged with vandalism, disorderly conduct, and assaulting an officer, and booked in Henrico County Jail. According to his family, the jail did not provide him with his medication for three days.

Otieno then spent three days in jail, where his attorneys say he was pepper sprayed (and unable to rinse his eyes because he was handcuffed) and deprived of his medications, which his mother had repeatedly but unsuccessfully tried to get him at the hospital.

They say the video shows deputies aggressively entering Otieno’s small cell — where he was sitting naked, with feces on the floor — and carrying him out by the arms and legs.

On March 6, Otieno was transferred to Central State Hospital for mental health treatment. Video from the hospital shows Otieno in leg shackles and handcuffs, seated on the ground in the admissions area. After a few minutes, Otieno makes a sudden movement and at least eight deputies pile on top of him, some holding down his legs while others bear down on his upper body. For 11 minutes, 8-10 officers and hospital staff restrain Otieno facedown on the ground. By the time they let up, Otieno is dead.

Deputies and staff ease their hold on Otieno and roll him onto his side moments before 4:40 p.m. Otieno is shirtless and appears not to be moving. One minute later, a medical worker lowers the top of Otieno’s pants and administers an injection. He is still immobile. Resuscitation efforts, including chest compressions and defibrillator charges, take up less than one hour on the video.

“They smothered him to death,” Dinwiddie County Commonwealth’s Attorney Ann Cabell Baskervill said while announcing charges against seven of the deputies.

The seven deputies who were charged were identified in Baskervill’s release as Randy Joseph Boyer, 57, of Henrico; Dwayne Alan Bramble, 37, of Sandston; Jermaine Lavar Branch, 45, of Henrico; Bradley Thomas Disse, 43, of Henrico; Tabitha Renee Levere, 50, of Henrico; Brandon Edwards Rodgers, 48, of Henrico; and Kaiyell Dajour Sanders, 30, of North Chesterfield.

Dinwiddie County Court records show that the deputies were scheduled to appear in court Wednesday morning for an appointed counsel hearing. At least two have bonded out, according to state court records.

Herman Whitfield III

Indianapolis police officers killed an accomplished musician, suffering from a mental health crisis, after his parents called 911 for an ambulance. Now, his family is suing.

Gladys Whitfield and Herman Whitfield II called 911 in April 2022 seeking an ambulance for their son, Herman Whitfield III, 39, who was “having a psychosis.” Instead of medical professionals, six Indianapolis Metropolitan Police Department officers entered their home.

Officers entered the home and spoke to Whitfield. However, he was “undergoing a mental health crisis” and “could not cogently” respond to any questions, the lawsuit said. Whitfield was sitting naked on his bed at one point and didn’t respond to officers after they asked him to put on some clothes.

Whitfield “didn’t appear to understand” the instructions because he was in the midst of a mental health crisis, the lawsuit said.

Not understanding the situation, Whitfield began quickly and manically moving around the house, naked and unarmed. As he entered the dining room, Officer Steven Sanchez deployed his taser. Video of the incident shows Whitfield falling to the floor, flailing and screaming.

Officers piled on top of Whitfield, who screamed “I’m dying” three times. Officers yelled commands to roll over and stop fighting. They continued to taser him as he cried, “Cannot breathe! Can’t breathe!”

Once they got handcuffs on Whitfield, the officers left him lying face down prone on the floor for at least three minutes.

[Officer] Matthew asked his fellow officers if they wanted to leave him on his stomach or roll on his side.

“No, I don’t want him to get up again,” [Officer] Ahmad responds.

At 18 minutes into the video, Whitfield is not moving or making sounds. Paramedics arrive about three minutes after Herman Whitfield Iast made a sound, the video notes. The medics engage Whitfield, asking him questions. They get no response.

“Herman! Hey, Herman!” the paramedic says, before telling the officers they will get a bed. “If you guys can get him to roll over that’s great, just so he isn’t face down,” she said.

When the officers finally turn Whitfield to his side, he is unresponsive. He’s uncuffed, flipped onto his back, and paramedics begins chest compressions.

Forty minutes later, Herman Whitfield III was pronounced dead. The Marion County Coroner’s Office ruled his death a homicide caused by “cardiopulmonary arrest in the setting of law enforcement subdual, prone restraint, and conducted electrical weapon use.”