‘This was a mental health crisis’: Family seeks answers in death of Irvo Otieno

Published: Mar. 16, 2023 at 7:16 PM EDT
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HENRICO, Va. (WWBT) - Family members of Irvo Otieno are searching for answers after Otieno died during his intake process at Central State Hospital in Dinwiddie.

Civil rights attorney Benjamin Crump and attorney Mark Krudys, representing the Otieno family, held a press conference with Irvo’s family on Thursday and described the final moments captured on surveillance footage of Otieno while in the custody of Henrico Sheriff’s Deputies.

“My son was treated like a dog, less than a dog,” said Caroline Ouko, Irvo Otieno’s mother. “I saw it with my own eyes on the video.”

Ivor Otieno Press Conference
Ivor Otieno Press Conference(Source;WWBT | WWBT)

On March 3, Henrico Police were called to Fordson Road for a reported breaking and entering call. Officers spoke to the complainant, who believed her home was being burglarized.

On the scene, officers identified Irvo Otieno as the suspect. Based on their interaction, Henrico officers placed him under an emergency custody order. The department also said members of the county’s Crisis Intervention Team were on the scene.

Henrico Police said Otieno was taken to Parham Doctors’ Hospital, where the “Crisis Receiving Center” is located, which is where police said Otieno became physically assaultive towards officers.

During this time, Crump said family members told authorities Otieno was going through a mental health crisis.

“His mother, even when they came on that Friday, she told them about his mental health and that she believes he was having a crisis in how she hugged him to try to keep him safe,” said Crump.

After this, authorities said Otieno was transported to Henrico Jail. Three days later, Otieno was transported to Central State Hospital by Henrico deputies.

In a press release by Virginia State Police, investigators said Otieno “became combative during the intake process” and was restrained. After watching the surveillance footage, Crump and Otieno’s family said Irvo was “not violent or aggressive with them.”

Irvo Otieno
Irvo Otieno(Source;Facebook | Facebook)

“You see in the video, he is restrained with handcuffs. He has leg irons on, and you see in the majority of the video that he seems to be in between lifeless lives and unconsciousness,” said Attorney Crump.

In addition, Crump said you could see Oteino “being restrained so brutally with a knee on his neck.”

“The weight of seven individuals on his body while he’s face down, handcuffed with leg irons. And you say, my God, why?” said Crump.

Seven Henrico deputies and three former employees of Central State Hospital have been charged with second-degree murder in connection to Otieno’s death.

NBC12 Safety Expert Mike Jones, who has an extensive background in law enforcement, said Otieno’s case poses a thread of questions regarding the response to Otieno.

“I cannot imagine a reason for transporting a person with mental ill crisis, who is required to be properly restrained, by having seven people,” Jones told NBC12.

Senator Creigh Deeds also has questions regarding Otieno’s death and the response.

“Whenever something like this happens, you just want to find out as much as you can,” said Deeds.

Deeds has been an advocate for mental health resources in Virginia. Back in 2013, his son died by suicide.

For Deeds, Otieno’s case highlights the need to expand training for first responders.

“I don’t know what their training was, I don’t know whether any of them had crisis intervention training, but it certainly shores up for me, confirms for me that more officers get that training,” said Sen. Deeds.

NBC12 contacted the Henrico Sheriff’s Office for more information regarding the deputies’ training but did not receive a response.