Virginia’s disAbility Law Center Digging Into Death Of Irvo Otieno. 7 Deputies, 3 Hospital Workers Criminally Charged

(4-28-23) I am delighted that Colleen Miller, director of the disAbility Law Center of Virginia, is pushing forward with an investigation into the death of Irvo Otieno in Henrico County.

As reported in The Washington Post, Otieno, a 28 year-old Black man, was in handcuffs and leg restraints when Henrico County sheriff’s deputies and workers at Virginia’s Central State Hospital piled on him for 11 minutes, leading to his death by suffocation on March 6, according to surveillance video and the medical examiner. His death was ruled a homicide, and seven deputies and three hospital workers are facing second-degree murder changes.

The disAbility Law Center is the state’s P & A – Protection and Advocacy for Individuals with Mental Illness- watchdog established by Congress to investigate incidents of abuse and neglect in the mental health care system, and is charged to seek legal or administrative remedies if a health-care provider is not complying with the law.

I was critical of the law center when it chose not to investigate an equally horrific death in 2015. Jamycheal Mitchell, a 24 year-old Black man with a serious mental illness, died in the Hampton Roads Jail about four months after he was arrested for stealing about $5 worth of snacks from a Portsmouth Va., convenience store. His cause of death was a  heart condition  prompted by “wasting syndrome of unknown etiology (starvation).” Jail staff had allegedly denied him many meals, cut off the water to his cell and left him naked with no bedding or shoes as he smeared feces on the window of his urine-covered cell.  Mitchell lost about 40 pounds during his time in jail waiting for a hospital bed.

The Irvo Otieno Case

Police said they were responding to a report of a burglary in the Richmond suburbs when they first encountered Otieno, according to reporter Salador Rizzo writing in the Washington Post. Officers placed him on an emergency mental health hold and took him to Parham Doctor’s Hospital for evaluation. He was charged with three felony counts of assault on a police officer while supposedly being helped at the hospital and sent to the Henrico County jail where deputies then transported him to a state hospital where he was knocked to the floor by deputies and hospital workers. One was a Crisis Intervention Team trained instructor.

HCA Health Services of Virginia, which operates Parham Doctors’ Hospital, initially refused to turn over its records about why Otieno was charged with assaulting officers. But relented after Miller and her legal staff filed a lawsuit in federal court demanding the records. Miller has promised that her organization is conducting a “comprehensive investigation” of Otieno’s death and the events leading up to it. Attorneys for the defendants in the Otieno case have denied their clients acted inappropriately.

Miller told reporters: “In Virginia, we do not adequately fund mental health services. We do not adequately fund them until someone is in a crisis. Somebody who needs assistance prior to being in crisis – Virginia just looks the other way.”


About the author:

Pete Earley is the bestselling author of such books as The Hot House and Crazy. When he is not spending time with his family, he tours the globe advocating for mental health reform.

Learn more about Pete.