Irvo Otieno: Rapper Who Died by Smothering While in Custody's Case Draws International Attention
Under the name Young Vo, Irvo Otieno, 28, has streamed music titled "Man in the Middle," "Can't Wait," "Trapped Out," and "Frenzy." It took Otieno less than five minutes for him to write a song, and he wanted to start a record label, his mother, Caroline Ouko, said. "He had found his thing. You know that feeling when you find your thing?" Ouko told CNN. "He was happy with what he was doing… He would go in his room and shut the door. And he had it. He was brilliant and creative and bright.
Otieno, whose family emigrated from Kenya at the age of four, was smothered to death at Central State Hospital on March 6, a prosecutor said. In connection with his death, seven sheriff's deputies from Henrico County and three hospital security guards have been charged with second-degree murder. The family of the dead hip-hop artist said he was experiencing a mental health crisis at the time of his passing.
Uncertainty surrounds the circumstances of his death. It is believed that he died while being transported to a hospital by deputies with the Henrico County Sheriff's Department, who said he had become combative and had to be restrained. "Something went wrong," Ouko told the Richmond Times-Dispatch while at her Henrico home, arranging to retrieve Otieno's body from the state medical examiner's office. Otieno's family is now seeking answers to the questions surrounding the tragic death of their son, including why no one intervened to prevent it from taking place. "Being mentally ill shouldn't be a death sentence," his older brother, Leon Ochieng wrote on a GoFundMe page entitled "Justice for Irvo Otieno."
'A big heart'
A native of Kenya, Otieno came to the U.S. as a boy and attended Tuckahoe Elementary School from kindergarten through his high school graduation in 2012. According to the Richmond Times-Dispatch, Otieno played football and basketball at the high school and attended college in California."Irvo is as American as apple pie," his mother told CNN. "This is what he knows. This is home for him. And when you're home you are in a community. We live in a community. We have friends. This young man you see here had a big heart."
Caroline Ouko said her son Irvo Otieno was a deeply loved and well-regarded young man, an aspiring musician who had been a well-known athlete at Freeman High School in Henrico County, Va. pic.twitter.com/vUad8FMxuW— WTVR CBS 6 Richmond (@CBS6) March 16, 2023
He was a listener and leader, bringing his own perspective to the table when his classmates had problems, Ouko said. "If there was discussion, he was not afraid to go the other way when everybody else is following," she said.
"This was my baby. He cared for people. He cared that people were treated right. That was at the core of his upbringing in our home. He cared that people were treated equally."
When Otieno was a middle schooler, he would invite classmates who were eating lunch alone to join him for lunch, according to Ouko. "He was kind."prevnext
Ouko said her son does not have a record of violence.
We will continue to stand alongside #IrvoOtieno’s family as they seek justice for the 28-yo who died in Henrico County Sheriff’s Dept.’s custody. No other family should have to grieve a similar agonizing death of their loved one — join us in calling for accountability! pic.twitter.com/0sIFh1sJmD— Ben Crump (@AttorneyCrump) March 20, 2023
Ouko said that her son had a mental illness that required him to take medication, and there were periods when he wouldn't even have known there was a problem, then there were other times when "he would go into some kind of distress and then you know he needs to see a doctor," she said. During Otieno's late teen years, Ouko said, her son suffered from periodic bouts of mental illness, but he did not have a record of violence. "Even when he's so much in distress, he stays in the house, he's right here within the corners of this home at night," she told Richmond Times-Dispatch.prevnext
Otieno was arrested by Henrico County police officers responding to a report of a possible burglary
“Why is it when Black people have mental health issues, they aren't treated as medical issues? They're treated as criminal issues,” @AttorneyCrump said in response to the death of Irvo Otieno in police custody. https://t.co/x2wbLMyl6O pic.twitter.com/Yif4Bz9s8x— PBS NewsHour (@NewsHour) March 21, 2023
Otieno was arrested by Henrico County police officers responding to a report of a possible burglary on March 3, according to police reports. According to the police, as a result of their interactions with and observations of him, they placed him under an emergency custody order accompanied by crisis intervention team members. Under Virginia law, if there is reason to believe that a person with mental illness may harm themselves or others due to their illness, an emergency custody order may be issued.prevnext
Otieno was held on the ground in handcuffs and leg irons for 12 minutes by seven deputies
Newly released video shows multiple people piling on top of 28-year-old Irvo Otieno, a mentally ill man who suffocated to death while in police custody. A grand jury has indicted the 10 people charged in his death. https://t.co/gKBVw8dJt5 pic.twitter.com/GMHF5uPn0Y— CBS News (@CBSNews) March 21, 2023
After the officers took Otieno to a hospital where authorities said he assaulted three officers, the officers then took him to the county jail where he was booked on charges of assault on a law enforcement officer, disorderly conduct in a hospital and vandalism, according to police. After being admitted to Central State Hospital, a state mental health facility in Dinwiddie County, on March 6, Otieno died during the admission process, according to Ann Cabell Baskervill, Commonwealth's Attorney.
He was "smothered to death" by seven law enforcement officers, along with three hospital security guards who were also employed by the hospital, while they restrained him, said the prosecutor.
Otieno was held on the ground in handcuffs and leg irons for 12 minutes by seven deputies, Baskervill told CNN. She characterized his behavior during that time as "being distressed, rather than assaultive, combative." During the 12-minute period during which Otieno was being held in handcuffs and leg irons by seven deputies, Baskervill described the behavior of Otieno during that period as "being distressed rather than assaultive, combative."
Baskervill stated that the security guards passively watched the alleged smothering, but eventually, they joined in and piled on top of the victim along with the deputies as well.prevnext
The seven deputies from Henrico County who turned themselves in to state police Tuesday have been placed on administrative leave
BREAKING: A Dinwiddie County grand jury has indicted 7 Henrico County deputies and 3 Virginia hospital employees with 2nd-degree murder for their involvement in the smothering death of Irvo Otieno. pic.twitter.com/RICA2qRErU— Ben Crump (@AttorneyCrump) March 21, 2023
The Henrico Fraternal Order of Police Lodge 4, the local law enforcement officers' union, released a statement Tuesday stating that they "stand behind" the deputies in this case. Several of the deputies' attorneys have claimed that Otieno resisted arrest, that the officers acted in accordance with their training, and they are looking forward to trying the case in court.
Asphyxiation was identified as a cause of death in a preliminary report by the Richmond Office of Chief Medical Examiner, according to a statement by the commonwealth attorney's office. The seven deputies from Henrico County who turned themselves in to state police Tuesday have been placed on administrative leave as their agency, and state police investigate the matter, according to county Sheriff Alisa Gregory in a statement.
"The events of March 6, at their core, represent a tragedy because Mr. Otieno's life was lost," Gregory said. "This loss is felt by not only those close to him but our entire community." The Central State Hospital has said that the three employees who have been charged with murder in connection with the death of Otieno have been placed on administrative leave "pending the results of the legal proceedings. "The Department of Behavioral Health and Developmental Services and Central State Hospital are fully cooperating with the Virginia State Police in this investigation and are working to ensure that Mr. Otieno's family receives information about the tragic events at the hospital," CNN reported in a statement from the department and hospital.prevnext
'We have to do better.'
This is Irvo Otieno. A 28-yo aspiring musician deeply loved by his parents, who emigrated from Kenya when he was 4. On March 6, he was handcuffed and brutally smothered to death for 12 mins. by 7 Henrico County (VA) Sheriff's deputies at a state mental health facility.
Nearly 3… pic.twitter.com/OT3rH9oUvJ— IG: RahiemShabazz (@rahiemshabazz) March 16, 2023
A video recording of the death of Otieno has been released to the public. It has been reported that Otieno's family viewed the video provided by prosecutors on Thursday. According to Ochieng, Otieno was tortured, and people should feel confident calling for help when their loved ones are in need. He said he didn't think the people he saw on video cared about preserving his life."What I saw was a lifeless human being without any representation," Ochieng said, mentioning that his family is broken, and he demands that more awareness is brought to the treatment of those living with mental illness.
"Irvo loved sports, music and the beach," Ochieng wrote on the GoFundMe page. "He often said he wanted to be great one day and help his young relatives back in Kenya with their needs."
In her remarks, Ouko urged people to take some time to listen to the music that her son created.
"He calls it like it is, but there is goodness in his music. And that's all I'm left with now. He's gone," she said.
"I cannot be at his wedding. I'll never see a grandchild ... because someone refused to help him. No one stood up to stop what was going on. We have to do better."