Video of Otieno in Henrico Jail West raises questions about mental health procedures

HENRICO COUNTY, VA. (WRIC) — Newly released surveillance footage from Henrico Jail West showing Irvo Otieno’s transport from Central State Hospital on the night of his death is raising questions about officer crisis training that has been in place in Henrico for over a decade.

The video from Henrico Jail West is nearly an hour in length. It shows the moments Irvo Otieno was taken from a cell to a deputy’s vehicle before being transported to Central State Hospital, where he later died. In the video, Otieno is dragged naked from his cell and cuffed around his wrists and ankles.

Otieno’s mother Caroline Ouko says what happened to her son was torture.

“They are monsters, they are animals,” Ouko said. “What they did to my son was awful.”

How Otieno wound up in that jail cell in the first place can be traced back to the morning of March 3, when Henrico Jail responded to a Three Chopt neighborhood for a reported breaking and entering. Officers on scene identified Otieno, determined he was in a mental health crisis and placed him under an emergency custody order with the county’s Crisis Intervention Team.

Henrico’s Crisis Intervention Team (CIT) was established in 2008, and is described as “a community partnership between first responders, mental health and substance abuse systems, mental health advocacy groups and consumers of mental health services.” The Team consists of members of the Henrico Police and Fire, Henrico County Sheriff’s Office and Henrico Area Mental Health and Development Services. CIT members go through specialized training in a program that involves site visits and role play exercises.

According to the Henrico Police website, the CIT is responsible for providing immediate response and connecting people with community resources to avoid “unnecessary incarcerations or hospitalizations,” as well as physical confrontation and use of force.

However, when the CIT took Otieno to a hospital on March 3, police say he became physically assaultive towards officers, who then took him to the Henrico Jail.

Monica Hutchinson, Henrico NAACP Vice President, says he never should have been taken to jail in the first place.

“Jail has never been nor is it the place for a person with a mental health crisis,” Hutchinson said.

The National Alliance on Mental Illness of Virginia (NAMI Virginia) also called for action this week, issuing a statement saying in part:

Virginia’s mental health system has been in need of revamping for years! Virginia’s criminal justice system is not equipped to respond to mental health medical emergencies. Mental illness is a medical issue, not a criminal issue. Consideration and care of the patient must always come first. NAMI Virginia is deeply saddened that far too often in Virginia, individuals with a mental illness, a treatable medical condition, are criminalized and treated inhumanely as opposed to being provided with medical care. Mr. Otieno was experiencing a mental health crisis. He required medical intervention but instead was met with force…The purpose of CIT is to change the nature and perception of crisis calls to allow for effective field intervention. But, as we have seen through the senseless deaths of Irvo Otieno, Marcus David Peters, George Floyd, and too many others, more needs to be done. Police officers and emergency responders must be mandated to respond to mental health crises as medical emergencies – not criminal ones.

NAMI Virginia

With all that in mind, the Otieno family is left wondering where things went wrong.

“Why was he treated so differently?” Ouko said. “Is it because he is a black young man?

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