RICHMOND, Va. (WRIC) — Governor Glenn Youngkin weighed in today on the death of Irvo Otieno, a Henrico man who died in custody at Central State Hospital in what a Dinwiddie County prosecutor now says was murder.
In comments given during a tour of Richmond’s new Mormon temple Monday, Youngkin connected Otieno’s death to the need for expanded mental health services, a key priority of the Youngkin administration.
But Youngkin cautioned that it was too soon to draw conclusions about what might have contributed to Otieno’s death, “That won’t be clear until the investigation is complete.”
Otieno was in the midst of a mental health crisis when he was taken into custody by Henrico Police on March 3. Initially, they placed him under an Emergency Commitment Order (ECO) with the consent of his family, taking him to nearby Parham Doctors Hospital.
But there, police claim he became “physically assaultive towards officers,” and they made the decision to charge him and take him to Henrico Jail.
It was only three days later, on March 6, that sheriff’s deputies transported Otieno from the jail to Central State Hospital in Dinwiddie County.
Now, after a review of surveillance footage from Central State and the Henrico Jail, the Dinwiddie Commonwealth’s Attorney has charged seven Henrico deputies and three hospital workers with second-degree murder.
Henrico’s lead prosecutor has launched a separate investigation into the local jail, where officials say footage shows deputies pepper-spraying Otieno in his cell. His family also claims the jail denied him much-needed medication.
“Mr. Otieno’s death is heart-wrenching. I can’t put it any other way,” Youngkin said. “First of all, I just ask everybody to lift up his family in their prayers. I can’t even imagine what they’re going through. There is a judicial process going on and we have to fully respect that.”
He added that the case nevertheless highlighted the urgent need for expanded mental health services.
“We are investing significantly in providing mobile services so that we can go meet people where they are and to decriminalize the process, so that the hospitals are there and are equipped to deal with those patients and Virginians who need to be in the hospital,” Youngkin said.
In fact, late last year Youngkin announced plans to do just that at Parham Doctors Hospital, where Otieno would be taken just months later.
Those proposals included the establishment of mobile crisis intervention teams that would respond to calls to 9-8-8, Virginia’s mental health crisis line.
Henrico has had its own “Crisis Intervention Team” since 2008, but it’s not clear whether they were involved either in Otieno’s initial arrest or his eventual incarceration at Henrico jail.