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Will VA Man's Suffocation Prompt Mental Health Reform?

As hundreds gathered Wednesday to memorialize Irvo Otieno, who was suffocated by sheriff's deputies at a Virginia mental hospital, conviction and a desire for change rang throughout the crowd, USA Today reports. "His name will be heralded all over to stand up for the abused with mental health," said civil rights leader Rev. Al Sharpton in Otieno's eulogy. There will be an Irvo Law. There must be an Irvo Law to protect those that are in mental health facilities that are treated wrong." Those in the crowd cheered in agreement. "The way to handle mental health is not death," Sharpton said. The 28-year-old Black man died on March 6 while in the custody of Henrico County Sheriff's deputies at Central State Hospital, where seven sheriff's deputies and three hospital employees pinned down Otieno for 12 minutes. Dinwiddie Commonwealth’s Attorney Ann Cabell Baskervill said he was smothered to death.


Gregg Townsend, Otieno's high school science teacher, believes that like George Floyd's death 2020, which sparked a national movement, Otieno's death should also invoke national change. "It would be a really great testimony to him. If this became the moment and if this became the thing, and it had his name to it," Townsend said. Otieno's family and their attorneys have alleged that he was having a mental health crisis when he encountered law enforcement. Otieno was first taken into custody on March 3, when police transported him to Henrico Doctors' Hospital for mental health treatment under an emergency custody order. After Otieno became aggressive, according to police, he was arrested and taken to a local jail, a decision that Otieno's family says never should have happened due to his mental state and need for treatment. While he was at the local jail for three days, he did not have access to any medication.

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A daily report co-sponsored by Arizona State University, Criminal Justice Journalists, and the National Criminal Justice Association

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