Caroline Yugi Ouko’s voice trembled as she recounted the last days of her son Irvo Otieno on Vybez radio. It was a story of heartbreak, confusion, and injustice that began on March 3, 2023, when Irvo, who was going through mental distress, was met by police officers who didn’t seem to understand the gravity of the situation.
Irvo was 28 and the youngest of Caroline’s three sons. She described him as a kind and gentle soul who loved music and always tried to make people laugh. But in the weeks leading up to his death, he had been struggling with mental health and was periodically hospitalized.
On March 3rd, Irvo was going through mental distress, and Caroline called his private doctor for help. She stepped out to make a call in her car, and that’s when she saw Irvo knocking on a neighbour’s door. Caroline went over to get him but soon a truck arrived in the driveway, and the neighbour’s boyfriend got out.
Caroline went over to explain Irvo’s actions but the man reported the incident to police. Soon, there were a dozen officers outside the house with their tasers held out. Caroline called Irvo from his room where he was listening to music and arranging his stuff to tell him about the police situation.
She wanted to go outside and talk to the police but Irvo wouldn’t allow her because he cared for her and instead, he went outside while his mother hugged him from behind.
Caroline tried to talk to the police, but they seemed unconcerned about Irvo’s mental distress. Irvo was confused and scared, but Caroline was not allowed to go near him. After the police had a conversation among themselves, Caroline says they handcuffed her son and led him to a vehicle they had parked in front of their house. She asked for an ambulance, but it took almost 50 minutes for one to arrive, and when it did, the police took Irvo to a faraway hospital.
Caroline followed them and spoke with a doctor to give her son’s medical history and was assured he would be taken care of. She said she was hopeful, but when she tried to see him, her request was denied three times.
Later that day, Irvo was taken out the back door of the hospital and put in jail, where he spent the weekend.
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When Caroline visited him a few days later, she realized he had not received any medical attention. She was devastated, and she believes that race played a part in the situation.
Otieno’s case marks the latest example of a Black man’s in-custody death that has law enforcement under scrutiny.
Ben Crump, who represented George Floyd’s family and is now working with the Otienos, quickly drew a comparison between the two cases.
“It is truly shocking that nearly three years after the brutal killing of George Floyd by police, another family is grieving a loved one who allegedly died in nearly the exact same manner — being pinned down by police for 12 agonizing minutes,” Crump said in a statement.
A video seen by Standard Entertainment shows officers carrying an "almost lifeless" Otieno out by his arms and legs "like an animal" to a vehicle to be taken to the state hospital, Crump said.
It also shows Otieno being forcefully taken into a room while his hands and feet are bound. He is dragged into an upright seated position on the floor with his back against a chair. Ten minutes later, as three people are holding him, his body jerks, and five more deputies and workers move in to pin him to the floor. Unfortunately, a clear view of Otieno is blocked for most of the video.
Eventually, Otieno is rolled onto his back, and several deputies appear to be restraining him with their knees. Shockingly, one deputy holds Otieno's head still by grabbing his braided hair.
After 12 minutes of being pinned to the ground, one deputy can be seen shaking Otieno's hair and attempting to take a neck pulse. However, Otieno remains unresponsive. It takes three more minutes before CPR is initiated, with Otieno's limbs still shackled.
Medical workers from the hospital are seen rushing to the room as CPR continues for almost an hour. Unfortunately, Otieno is pronounced dead, and he is covered in a white sheet while still lying on the floor. His body is briefly left alone in the room.
This incident has raised questions about the treatment of individuals experiencing mental health crises and the need for proper training of law enforcement officers to handle such situations.