CPE Statement on the Killing of Irvo Otieno at a Hospital in Virginia

March 21 2023

Surveillance video was released today that shows several law enforcement officers killing 28-year-old Irvo Otieno at a Virginia state hospital, days after he experienced a mental health crisis near his home in Henrico County, Virginia and was taken into custody under an emergency custody order

On March 3, the Henrico Police Department (HPD) responded to a call for service from neighbors concerned about Otieno's behavior; HPD arrived with members of a local crisis intervention team and took Otieno into custody, transporting him to a local hospital. There, HPD alleges that Otieno "became physically assaultive toward officers," who then arrested, charged, and transported him to jail. 

Otieno's family has reported that HPD video footage shows police beating and pepper spraying their loved one, later leaving him naked with feces on the floor. On March 6, officers shackled Otieno's hands and feet and transported him to a hospital where, for no apparent reason, seven deputies further brutalized the semi-conscious Otieno, beating and ultimately smothering him to death on the hospital floor. The seven officers who killed him and three hospital personnel who were present at the time are now facing 2nd-degree murder charges.

CPE is horrified by the final events in Otieno's life, the brutality with which he was killed, and the transparent efforts to blame him for his own death. We acknowledge the critical importance of such videos to holding law enforcement accountable, but are mindful that the public airing of such images of ruthless violence also re-traumatizes those closest to the person whose life was taken, along their broader community. As Otieno's mother, Caroline Ouko, told reporters: "My son was treated like a dog — worse than a dog — I saw it with my own eyes on the video. He was treated inhumanely, and it was traumatic, and it was systematic."

CPE acknowledges the speed and resolve with which local prosecutors, led by Dinwiddie County Commonwealth's Attorney Ann Cabell Baskervill, removed the ten defendants from positions in which they were expected to protect, serve, and care for individuals in their charge. In the words of family lawyer Mark Krudys, Otieno's mental illness was "an episodic thing that [came] from time to time, it happens in a lot of folks and it requires love, not the application of force."

What happened to Irvo Otieno is part of a long history of criminalization, violence, and cruelty by law enforcement and in the medical fields against Black people and people living with mental illness. People with mental health conditions are no more likely than anyone else to act violently, yet they are far more likely to be injured or killed by police; Black and Brown people are particularly at risk of these harms when living with mental illness. 

We stand in solidarity with Otieno's family and call on the U.S. Department of Justice to investigate his senseless killing; only with due diligence, thoroughness, and true transparency will those responsible be held to account. We support the swift charging of the officers who killed Otieno and hospital staff who failed to intervene, and will continue to shine a light on the racist systems, structures, and culture that led to these terrible events. 

As Otieno's mother has said, "mental illness should not be your ticket to death." Irvo Otieno deserved to be treated with dignity, basic human compassion, and respect, not torture. He should be here today.

We send our heartfelt condolences to all who now mourn Irvo Otieno and our wishes for peace and healing. CPE remains wholly committed to advancing the work of racial liberation toward a future in which such losses will no longer have to be endured.