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Vocal Virginia’s Statement on the Death of Irvo Otieno

Updated: Mar 24, 2023

The recent death of Irvo Otieno at Central State Hospital is tragic and unacceptable. The death of another young black man in a mental health crisis demonstrates the urgent need for reform to both the mental health and criminal justice systems in Virginia.

Mr. Otieno experienced a mental health crisis on March 3, 2023. Officers initially drew their tasers and called for the county’s crisis intervention team. Mr. Otieno was then taken to a Crisis Receiving Center at Henrico Doctors Hospital. It is alleged that Mr. Otieno became physically aggressive at the hospital and was charged with assault and battery of a law enforcement officer and was taken to jail. While in jail, Mr. Otieno was denied his medications. At his court date, Mr. Otieno was ordered to receive treatment at Central State Hospital, where he died while being admitted. Ten people have been indicted in relation to Mr. Otieno’s death.

Vocal Virginia strongly believes that Irvo Otieno should have continued to receive treatment at the Crisis Receiving Center he was first brought to and should not have been taken to jail for his action while experiencing a mental health crisis. Actions undertaken while in a mental health crisis should not be considered a crime since the person usually lacks sound decision-making capabilities. Delegate Watts’ HB1561 in the 2023 session and Del. Bourne’s HB613 in 2022 would have addressed this issue, but these bills did not make it through the General Assembly. Further, Mr. Otieno should not have been denied his medications. Mr. Otieno should not have had to wait days to see a jail physician to get his medicine. Further, continuing psychiatric medications should be made available in the emergency room for those experiencing a mental health crisis.

Like the death of Marcus-David Peters, this case exemplifies why system-wide changes and an overhaul of the mental health and criminal justice systems in Virginia are necessary. People living with mental health challenges, especially Black, Indigenous, and People of Color (BIPOC), should not have to fear excessive violence or restraints because they are in crisis. Law enforcement must also have additional training that will help them better understand the nature of mental health crises and the importance of de-escalation and empathy.

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