House, Senate panels send 'Irvo's Law' to floor votes

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RICHMOND – Irvo's Law is a step closer to passage, as House and Senate committees have approved similar versions of the legislation.

In both panels – the House Courts of Justice Wednesday afternoon and Senate Education & Health Thursday morning – the vote was unanimous, just as advocates and Gov. Glenn Youngkin had requested. Because of those unanimous votes, those bills will go into uncontested blocs and be voted on in a group.

The measures would permit a family member or caregiver to be present with a mental-health patient undergoing emergency treatment. They have been dubbed “Irvo’s Law” [pronounced EYE-voh] in memory of Irvo Noel Otieno, a 28-year-old man from Henrico County whose death March 6, 2023, at Central State Hospital in Dinwiddie County resulted in seven Henrico deputies being charged with second-degree murder.

Otieno was undergoing a mental crisis March 3, 2023, when Henrico County Police, acting on a claim he might have been involved in a burglary near his residence, took him to Parham Doctors Hospital in northeast Henrico. In her testimony last month before a House subcommittee, his mother and primary caregiver Caroline Ouko said hospital personnel would not allow her to be with her son in the emergency room even though he was calling for her.

Caroline Ouko, mother of Irvo Otieno, testifies before a House Courts of Justice subcommittee Monday, Jan. 29, 2024, at the General Assembly Building in Richmond. She spoke in support of 'Irvo's Law,' legislation that would allow family members access to loved ones amid mental crisis receiving emergency medical treatment. Behind her is her son. Leon Ochieng.

That turned out to be the last time she would see Otieno alive. Authorities took him to the county jail, and three days later transferred him to CSH. He suffocated to death at a CSH intake unit when deputies and CSH personnel pinned him to the floor with their bodies for more than 11 minutes.

The case drew widespread media attention for its similarity to the 2020 death of George Floyd while being restrained by a Minneapolis Police officer.

Youngkin has made Irvo’s Law a cornerstone of his administration’s mental-health system reform legislation.

Otieno family attorney Mark Krudys said in a statement Thursday that the family “greatly appreciates” support from the Youngkin administration as well as the “additional push” from legislation sponsors and Henrico representatives Rodney Willett in the House and Lamont Bagby in the Senate.

Sen. Lashrecse Aird, D-Petersburg, is listed as a co-patron of Bagby’s bill. Central State is in her district.

“Senator Bagby spoke passionately about the bill when he presented it to the subcommittee two days ago,” Krudys said. “This morning, Senator [Barbara] Favola spoke very favorably about the aim of the bill and referenced the moving testimony of the family. Senator [Ghazala] Hashmi referenced the same.”

The Dinwiddie County prosecutor dropped charges against two of the security guards implicated in the attack but let them stand against the seven deputies and one security guard. Trials will begin in June in Dinwiddie Circuit Court.

Bill Atkinson (he/him/his) is an award-winning journalist who covers breaking news, government and politics. Reach him at batkinson@progress-index.com or on X (formerly known as Twitter) at @BAtkinson_PI.

This article originally appeared on The Progress-Index: Mental-health legislation dubbed 'Irvo's Law' headed to floor votes