Play Live Radio
Next Up:
Available On Air Stations

Irvo Otieno’s family questions his jail transfer amid mental health crisis

Krudys, Ochieng and Ouko wearing a button with Irvo's face, and Lawrence West carrying a BLM sign and wearing a BLM RVA jacket
Whittney Evans
VPM News
Attorney Mark Krudys, left, gives remarks as Irvo Otieno’s brother Leon Ochieng, mother Caroline Ouko, and Lawrence West of BLM RVA stand with him during a press conference on Friday, May 5, 2023 at Dinwiddie Circuit Court.

By state law, they assert, the 28-year-old should’ve stayed at Parham Doctors’ Hospital.

The family of Irvo Otieno has more questions about why law enforcement took the 28-year-old to jail when he was experiencing a mental health crisis. They’re also questioning why officers prevented Otieno’s mother from seeing him at the hospital, as she has alleged.

Ten individuals, so far, have been charged with his March 6 death, including seven Henrico sheriff’s deputies and three Central State Hospital employees. But the family and their attorney say Henrico’s prosecutor needs to take a closer look at the actions of Henrico County’s Police Division.

Otieno’s family told reporters this week, after a scheduled pretrial hearing for three of the defendants, those officers should not have charged him with a crime and taken him to jail. Instead, by state law, they say he should have remained at Parham Doctors’ Hospital under a Temporary Detention Order when the officers brought him there on March 3.

One of the family’s attorneys, Mark Krudys, said Otieno would have been treated much differently had he remained at the hospital.

“When he was taking over to the Henrico jail, he was placed into a 5-point restraint chair and held in that manner till at least the morning of the fourth and potentially thereafter,” he said.

Henrico Police requested and were granted a TDO from a Henrico magistrate judge, according to Krudys.

“That means under the law that Irvo would've been required to stay in a medical facility,” he said. “The law specifically states that a TDO cannot be accomplished at a jail. “It states that in black and white.”

Krudys said documents show the order was issued, but not served.

“So, somebody went before a magistrate and said, ‘Irvo is in a medical crisis, and he can't effectively act for himself. He needs clinicians to take care of him for 72 hours,’” he said.

Otieno had been taken to a hospital for similar mental health issues in the past. His mother, Carolyn Ouko, said medical providers were able to stabilize her son.

Henrico Police did not comment on the TDO for VPM News by publication time.

However, the department issued a press release on March 10 that said Otieno was arrested at Parham and charged with assaulting an officer, disorderly conduct in a hospital and vandalism. Officers had, hours before, taken Otieno into custody after a neighbor reported a potential burglary.

Sen. Creigh Deeds (D–Charlottesville), chair of Virginia’s Behavioral Health Commission, told VPM News that he doesn't think the law prevents someone who has been issued a TDO from being arrested. In fact, he says law enforcement often responds to calls and makes arrests at psychiatric hospitals across the state.

He said he's waiting, like the rest of the public, for more details about the case, before recommending any changes to the law.

Deeds said he was “haunted” by the case, particularly what he perceived as complacency on the faces of Central State Hospital staff as Otieno suffocated.

The family is also questioning why officers prevented Otieno’s mother from seeing him at Parham Hospital, as she has alleged.

Dinwiddie Commonwealth’s Attorney Ann Cabell Baskervill is prosecuting the 10 people charged because Otieno’s death occurred at Central State Hospital. But Krudys says the story begins much earlier than that.

“When Irvo was taken pursuant to an ECO, an emergency custody order, to Parham Hospital — that was an opportunity for clinicians, for medical people to be involved,” he said.

Otieno died of asphyxiation after being transferred three days later from the Henrico Jail to Central State Hospital. Video shows deputies and hospital workers piling onto him in an apparent attempt to restrain him while he was being admitted. The footage does not show Otieno fighting back against the group.

Henrico Commonwealth’s Attorney Shannon Taylor previously said she is investigating what happened at both Parham Hospital and the jail.

“I am working with the Virginia State Police as they continue to collect and review evidence of what happened in Henrico County, and we will continue to work with the team of agents to review such evidence,” she said in an emailed statement.

“As I have said in other matters, this investigation is on-going, and the rules of ethics that are applicable to criminal prosecutions prohibit me from making comments on the evidence, trial strategy or likely outcomes of the case, so I am not permitted to speak as to the specifics of this matter.”

In Dinwiddie County, at least three of the defendants’ pretrial hearings have been continued to August, while prosecutors and the defense continue to gather and sort through evidence. Baskerville has asked the court to allow all 10 defendants to be tried at once, rather than conducting separate trials.

Updated: May 5, 2023 at 2:01 PM EDT
May 5, 2 p.m.: This article has been updated to include quotes from state Sen. Creigh Deeds.
Whittney Evans is VPM News’ features editor.
Related Stories