Funeral of Irvo Otieno: calls for reform of the treatment of people with mental illness


Irvo Otieno had a million dollar smile, respected others and stood up for what he believed was right, his family and friends said on Wednesday at the funeral of the man who died after being pinned to the ground by officers security at a mental health hospital in Virginia. .

Now is the time for society to stand up for what is right – by implementing law enforcement and mental health care reforms, speakers told mourners during Otieno’s service at the First Baptist Church of South Richmond.

Seven sheriff’s deputies and three hospital workers are charged with second-degree murder in the March 6 death of the 28-year-old aspiring musician, who prosecutors say was strangled while the family called it a mental health crisis.

“What kind of disease would cause men to go after a man who is already handcuffed and shackled?” said Reverend Al Sharpton during the eulogy.

“He had an illness. He should have been cared for, not brutally treated,” Sharpton said.

Minister and family lawyer Ben Crump said the police needed to be better equipped to deal with people with mental illness.

They also encouraged Virginia officials to make reforms.

“We can develop mental health courts where they will be treated as if they are sick and not as if they are criminals and degenerates unworthy of dignity and respect,” Crump told mourners. “Irvo deserved dignity and respect.”

On March 3, Henrico police responded to a report of a possible burglary and met with Otieno. Officers — along with the county’s Crisis Response Team — placed Otieno under an emergency custody order based on their interactions with him and their observations, police said.

According to Virginia law, a person can be subject to an emergency custody order when there is reason to believe they could harm themselves or others due to mental illness. .

Officers transported Otieno to a hospital where authorities say he assaulted three officers. The police took him to the county jail and he was booked. At around 4 p.m. on March 6, Otieno was taken to Central State Hospital, a state-run mental health facility south of Richmond, by the Henrico County Sheriff’s Office, according to the Commonwealth Attorney’s Office. It is unclear why the deputies transferred Otieno.

State Police investigators were later told that Otieno had become “combative” and had been “physically restrained” during the admissions process, the Commonwealth Attorney’s Office said March 14.

Surveillance video recently released by a prosecutor shows Otieno pinned to the ground.

The office of Dinwiddie Commonwealth County Attorney Ann Cabell Baskervill released 911 calls regarding the incident in which a caller described Otieno as “very aggressive” and repeatedly requested an ambulance, saying that he wasn’t breathing.

The video begins as Otieno, bound by his hands and feet, is forcibly taken into a room and dragged to a sitting upright position on the floor with his back against a chair. Ten minutes later, after Otieno rolled onto his side with three people holding him, his body began to shake and five more deputies and workers moved in to pin Otieno to the ground.

A clear view of Otieno is blocked for much of the video, but a deputy appears to be lying on top of Otieno for most of the incident as he is forced onto his stomach. Eventually, Otieno is rolled onto his back, where several deputies seem to hold him down with their knees. A deputy holds Otieno’s head still, grabbing his braided hair.

After 12 minutes of Otieno being pinned to the ground, a deputy can be seen shaking Otieno’s hair and attempting to take a pulse on his neck, but Otieno is unresponsive. Three more minutes pass before CPR begins, with Otieno’s limbs still chained up.

Medical workers from the hospital are seen converging on the room as CPR continues for almost an hour. After being pronounced dead, Otieno is covered with a white sheet, still lying on the ground, his body briefly left alone in the room.

A lawyer for one of the deputies charged in the case told CNN he was “disappointed” the prosecutor released the video because he believes it could sway the jury.

Seven Henrico County deputies, who turned themselves in to state police earlier this month, are on administrative leave as investigations by their agency and state police continue, the county sheriff said. d’Henrico, Alisa Gregory, in a press release.

CNN has sought comments from MPs. Caleb Kershner, assistant attorney for Randy Joseph Boyer, recently told CNN they had yet to see any video, but said ‘nothing was out of the ordinary’ prior to Otieno’s death. .

“They delivered him as fast as they could because he was obviously a man in dire need of medical attention,” Kershner said. He added that his client said he had dealt with Otieno “for a long time and had a significant amount of violent non-compliance.”

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Prosecutor describes VA’s death in custody

Three Central State Hospital employees who were arrested have been placed on leave “pending the results of the legal process”, the Department of Behavioral Health and Developmental Services and Central State Hospital said. State in a press release. Officials said they would ensure the family received information about “the tragic events at the hospital”.

The Henrico Fraternal Order of Police Lodge 4, the local law enforcement officers’ union, “supports” the deputies, he said in a statement on Facebook.

CNN has reached out to attorneys, the hospital and the prison for additional comment.

Crump said Otieno was neither aggressive nor resistant during the incident. “He was trying to breathe,” he told reporters. “If you were out there restrained and all those people on top of you, you would be trying to breathe. You would also try to move to let your lungs expand.

Reverend Al Sharpton speaks at the funeral of Irvo Otieno at a Richmond-area church on March 29.

The lawyer told those present at Wednesday’s funeral that the situation should have been handled differently.

“When black people in America have mental health issues, we can’t treat them like criminal issues,” Crump said.

Sharpton said Otieno was a talented man whose life was needlessly cut short.

“Had he been taken care of, rather than reckless law enforcement, he could have been a shining example of how people, despite their challenges, can be productive anyway.”

The musician’s mother spoke towards the end of the service, saying her son had character and will be missed.

“May your spirit lead us in this pursuit of truth and justice. I will miss your contagious smile and your big hugs,” said Caroline Ouko. “We’ll get to the bottom of what happened to you.”


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