CHESTERFIELD COUNTY, Va. — Friends, family, and national civil rights leaders gathered to say goodbye to Irvo Otieno with a mixture of songs, stories and prayer Wednesday at First Baptist Church in Chesterfield.
The 28-year-old died earlier this month after Henrico County Sheriff's deputies and Central State Hospital workers pinned him to the floor while he was being admitted to the mental hospital in Dinwiddie County, Virginia. Seven deputies and three hospital workers have been charged with second-degree murder in Otieno’s death.
Otieno's casket was surrounded by flowers as people remembered someone who grew from a "gregarious baby" to "athletic teen" to an artistic young man who loved family, the outdoors and his community.
"As we say goodbye to Irvo today, I just pray that Irvo's life and Irvo's spirit may continue living," his aunt, Millicent Yugi, said.
Also known as "Young Vo," his family said he was an aspiring musician. In fact, one of his songs, "God's Grace," played during a memorial video filled with photos and videos from his life.
"He was a brilliant and prolific artist," Allan-Charles Chipman said.
And while how Otieno lived was remembered, so was the way he, as the program stated, was "inhumanely stolen away."
"Mental health should not be stigmatized the way it is and as a legislature, we've got to do more to ensure protections and not just simply share thoughts and prayers," Richmond City Council President Mike Jones said.
Rev. Al Sharpton, the president of the National Action Network, delivered the eulogy and focused on how those with mental health are treated. He called on Virginia to do better.
"To pile on him like there's no human life. You know he couldn't fight back. He was handcuffed and shackled," Sharpton said.
Sharpton praised the prosecutor for bringing the charges so quickly and admonished those who are charged. He called on lawmakers, specifically naming Gov. Glenn Youngkin, to make changes to ensure something like this does not happen again.
"This family needs to be served with justice. They need to be served with accountability. They need to be served with laws that, in the name if Irvo, that this does not happen again," Sharpton said. "Let it go forth in the state of Virginia that they teach the nation that this is inexcusable. He had an illness. He should have been doctored, not treated with brutality."
Ben Crump, the family's attorney and a civil rights lawyer, issued a national call to action and wants the Commonwealth to have mental health courts similar to New York and California.
"Treat mental health issues like medical issues, not like criminal issues," Crump urged. "And that could be a basis of Irvo's law."
Caroline Ouko, Otieno's mother, promised her son she would get to the bottom of what happened to him.
"We will miss you dearly," she said. "You are our soldier. May your spirit lead us in this pursuit of truth and justice."
After the service, Otieno's family followed his casket into Richmond where he was laid to rest. He is survived by his mother, four siblings and many more extended family and friends.
The Death of Irvo Otieno
Video released publicly last week shows sheriff's deputies and hospital employees attempting to restrain a handcuffed and shackled Otieno for about 20 minutes after he’s led into a room at Central State Hospital, where he was going to be admitted on March 6. For much of that time, Otieno is on the floor being held down by a fluctuating group that at one point appeared to reach 10 people.
Otieno's family has said he was brutally mistreated, both at the state hospital and while in a county jail for several days before that.
Dinwiddie Commonwealth's Attorney Ann Cabell Baskervill has said Otieno was smothered to death.
An autopsy is still pending.
Attorneys for the defendants have said their clients were trying to restrain Otieno. During bond hearings and in statements, several defense attorneys have sought to distinguish their clients from the mass of bodies involved in holding Otieno to the floor for more than 10 minutes.
WTVR CBS 6 streamed Irvo Otieno's memorial service on WTVR.com and on the CBS 6 Streaming App. Download the app on Roku, Amazon Fire TV, Apple TV and Android TV. Just search "CBS 6 Richmond" in your app store. Click here to watch a replay of the service.
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