‘The system failed him’: Lawmakers dismayed by Otieno surveillance video

Virginia Fourth District Congresswoman Jennifer McClellan is speaking out after watching Irvo Otieno surveillance video.
Published: Mar. 21, 2023 at 3:08 PM EDT
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RICHMOND, Va. (WWBT) - Virginia Fourth District Congresswoman Jennifer McClellan is speaking out after watching the surveillance video of Irvo Otieno dying on the floor at Central State Hospital earlier this month as Henrico Sheriff’s deputies piled on top of him.

“It was horrifying and demonstrates why so many people, especially communities of color, are afraid to call the police when a loved one is in a mental health crisis, and the system really failed him,” said McClellan, D-4th District.

That system is already under fire for being inadequate and is now the focus of many elected leaders.

“It is very important that we see that this is happening. It is more important that we do something about it,” said Rep. McClellan.

Gov. Glenn Youngkin is pushing a three-year, $230 million plan to overhaul the state’s mental health system.

Speaking Monday, he said the Right Help, Right Now plan is a game changer.

“We also can see the heart-wrenching nature of the challenges in our behavioral health system and why I think it is so important to press forward with aggressive transformation of that system,” said Youngkin.

Richmond’s mayor is also calling for accountability and more mental health resources. It’s a sentiment McClellan also shares, recalling what Otieno’s mother said last week.

“She’s absolutely right. A mental health crisis should not be a death sentence,” said Rep. McClellan.

Direct changes won’t happen until the investigation is over. Meanwhile, the money to overhaul the mental health system is still part of a budget debate at the Virginia General Assembly.

Please see the below statement from Governor Youngkin:

“After watching the video online, my heart grieves for Mr. Otieno and his family at their loss. This is a gut-wrenching reminder that significant changes are needed in our behavioral health system. As the full investigation continues and we let the judicial process run its course, it is clear that we must press forward with my proposed aggressive transformation of our behavioral health system.”

McClellan issued the following statement on the death of Otieno:

“The death of Irvo Otieno is devastating for our community and our nation. No family should have to endure the heartache of losing their loved one so tragically. My sincerest condolences and prayers are with his family during this traumatic loss.

“The circumstances surrounding Mr. Otieno’s death are deeply disturbing and raise serious concerns about excessive use of force. Mr. Otieno was experiencing a mental health crisis when he was brutally smothered by Henrico County Sheriff’s deputies and Virginia Central State Hospital staff for twelve minutes.

“We have seen too many Americans suffer inhumane treatment at the hands of law enforcement and too many individuals in crisis harmed by the very people who should provide help. A mental health crisis should not be a death sentence, and this video demonstrates why so many communities, particularly communities of color, fear calling the police when a loved one is in crisis. We must continue reforms to the system that failed Mr. Otieno, including investments in the necessary resources, training, and services to ensure individuals with mental health conditions receive the treatment they need and first responders are properly equipped to handle mental health emergencies.

“My staff and I are following this case and the subsequent investigations closely. As we wait for the justice process to unfold, I hope our community can come together in support of the Otieno family during their time of grief.”