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In emotional testimony, Irvo Otieno's family begs for improvement in mental health: 'Do something'

Posted at 11:22 PM, Mar 21, 2023

RICHMOND, Va. -- Media, community and loved ones filled the sanctuary of First Baptist Church of South Richmond on Tuesday evening in anticipation of remarks from the family and representation of Irvo Otieno.

Otieno's death on March 6 at Central State Hospital in Dinwiddie led to seven Henrico County deputies and three hospital employees being indicted on second-degree murder charges by a grand jury.

On Tuesday morning, a grand jury met at the Dinwiddie County Courthouse to hear the case against those accused in Otieno's death.

Ahead of Tuesday’s hearing, security camera video from the psychiatric facility was released showing what attorney and representative of the Otieno family, Ben Crump, called an “overdose of excessive force” that killed the 28-year-old.

Crump is a civil rights attorney known for representing victims in police brutality cases.

It was Crump’s remarks that began the press conference, standing with co-counsel Mark Krudys, Otieno’s older brother Leon Ochieng and Otieno’s mother, Caroline Ouko, among others.

What started as a rundown of the significant developments of the day, quickly turned into a call and response from the church’s pulpit.

“Justice for Irvo!”

The Richmond church will also serve as the location of Otieno’s "homegoing" according to Crump, though a date has not yet been set.

“I have been a lawyer for 25 years. But I’ve been Black all my life," Crump said, emphasizing the extended duration of the force that led to Otieno’s death. “Not for seven minutes, not for eight minutes, but for 11 minutes. The agony that Irvo was enduring added up until the breath was smothered out of his body.”

Audible cries from Caroline and other loved ones served as a harrowing backdrop for Crump’s opening address.

The family first saw the video last Thursday. Ochieng cited a simple reason for their desire for the release of the video.

“We want you to feel what we feel as a family.”

Otieno was described by family members as loving, caring, and “slow to anger.”

“Irvo was special” his mother recalled. "And he had an infectious smile. Oh, how I miss that smile.”

Otieno’s cousin Esther Thomas spoke about his childhood interests in sports like baseball and basketball before later growing a passion for making music, going by the name Young Vo.

“He was deserving of reverence and respect," his cousin said.

For the family, the tragedy provides an opportunity for justice and to bring awareness to the issue of mental health.

Ochieng said that he is “no longer angry,” but is tasked with the fight of seeing his brother’s death bring political change, even posing a direct charge to Governor Glenn Youngkin.

"Do something. Let your state be an example for the rest of the country and the rest of the world," Ochieng said.

Attorneys say the next steps in the process are unclear past the trial, but the goal is that legislation takes shape to ensure that patients like Otieno will never be treated the way he was. For Krudys, much of the blame falls not on the ten indicted but on the individuals seen in the video who seemed to stand by as Otieno was killed.

“Our goal is that no one stands and watches again," Krudys explained.

Otieno’s family assured the congregation that Tuesday’s indictments are just the beginning of a long road ahead. They want the death of their son, brother and friend to be the last of its kind.

“Through his violent death, his light has not been dimmed,” Otieno’s cousin said. “They tried to dim his light, but he shines even brighter.”

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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