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Former sheriff says deputies' face-down restraints of Irvo Otieno were 'worst thing you can do'

Posted at 5:46 PM, Mar 22, 2023

RICHMOND, Va. -- Former Richmond City Sheriff C.T. Woody sat down with CBS 6 reporter Tyler Layne on Wednesday to watch the video of Irvo Otieno's final moments leading up to his death at Central State Hospital.

Woody wanted to emphasize he was not criticizing anyone specifically involved, but rather offering his opinion as a former sheriff. He served in the role from 2006 to 2017 and had years of prior experience handling transports to psychiatric facilities.

Upon Otieno's arrival at the hospital, Woody said the first thing he noticed was that deputies had to wait in the car for nearly twenty minutes before taking Otieno inside. He also pointed out that it appeared hospital staff at Central State did not immediately take control of Otieno's intake.

"Once the law enforcement officer gets to a facility such as Central State, they're supposed to have people waiting to take him from them," Woody said. "They should have been prepared to take him and release the deputies."

Woody said he would expect to see medical professionals immediately take Otieno to a treatment room and provide medical attention. Video from inside the hospital shows deputies bringing Otieno into an admissions room. Though medical staff are also in the room, staff stand to the side as deputies restrain Otieno.

“Why are the deputies treating him? They are not medical people," Woody said.

“So that’s unusual?” Layne asked.

“That is very unusual," Woody responded.

Woody said deputies are not typically involved at that level as the patient is supposed to be in the care of the hospital. However, the video shows deputies continuing to hold Otieno down on the ground for more than 11 minutes.

“He shouldn't be on that floor. He should be on the emergency room table," Woody said. "That is not proper medical care. That is awful."

The video appears to show deputies pushing down on Otieno's back as he lay on his stomach. Woody said restraining someone in a face-down position is a dangerous practice that many sheriff's departments did away with decades ago.

“The worst thing you can do is have anyone on their face and press down on them," Woody said. “You need to be on your back because you want him to get air. There might be too many people around him.”

Deputies and hospital staff eventually flipped Otieno over to where he was laying on his back. They continued to press down on him, and it appeared some deputies placed a knee on his body.

“You never put your knee on someone to hold them down unless you’re trying to save your own life, and that's impossible right there," Woody said, noting that Otieno appeared to not show signs of aggression.

Minutes later, Otieno would appear lifeless and pronounced dead, a death that Woody said was preventable.

“My real opinion is blood on the hands of all our leaders," Woody said.

The former sheriff said he blames elected officials at the local, state, and federal levels for creating what he considers a broken system. Without sufficient funding and support for a reformed mental health system, he said jails and deputies are carrying an unfair burden that they aren't equipped or trained to handle.

“Jails are still the dumping ground for those who are mentally ill," Woody said. "Law enforcement is called upon to do everything. We are doctors, we are lawyers, we are social services. I'm not making any excuses for them... but we are doing too many things that we are not supposed to do."

He said sheriffs have been complaining about jails being the "dumping ground" for far too long and taking in individuals with nowhere else to go. Oftentimes, he said those inmates are experiencing a mental health crisis, homelessness, or addiction, and they're in need of services that jails cannot offer.

Woody said Henrico Police should've never removed Otieno from the crisis receiving center at Henrico Doctors' Hospital. Police originally took Otieno to the crisis receiving center on March 3 after they determined he was suffering a mental health emergency.

However, police removed him from the hospital and took him to the Henrico Jail instead, where Otieno stayed for three days before being transported to Central State. Police said that decision came after Otieno assaulted officers.

“It’s more important to treat the one that is mentally ill than it is to put charges on him," Woody said. “They should not be in jail. They are not criminals. They are sick people. It hurts.”

Woody said charges could have been placed at a later time.

"I wouldn't have ever let him go back into the jail because they knew his condition. They knew that he had been a mental subject and he should have went directly to Central State," Woody said.

He said he's calling on elected officials to help build more mental health facilities, increase capacity for psychiatric patients and establish transportation teams at hospitals staffed by medical teams who can pick up and transport individuals who have been identified as mental health subjects.

"Our leaders need to be held accountable. Stop talking about it. Do something about it." Woody said. "After 50 years, I still see the same things happen over and over. It's a shame. It's heartbreaking."

CBS 6 sent questions to the agency that oversees Central State Hospital, the Department of Behavioral Health and Developmental Services. A spokesperson declined to comment due to the ongoing investigation.

Henrico Police has not responded to CBS 6's questions about why police took Otieno to jail. Henrico Sheriff Alisa Gregory has also declined to comment on CBS 6's questions.

This is a developing story, so anyone with more information can email newstips@wtvr.com to send a tip.

Depend on CBS 6 News and WTVR.com for in-depth coverage of this important local story. Anyone with more information can email newstips@wtvr.com to send a tip.

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