COVID Omicron Delay: Man Suffering from Mental Illness Remains in Jail Instead of Psychiatric Hospital

By Alex Jimenez

OAKLAND, CA – Marquise Okoronkwo has been held in Santa Rita Jail despite being issued a commitment order to the Napa State Hospital, but the psychiatric hospital has halted admissions after the recent Omicron COVID-19 variant.

Okoronkwo’s attorneys said last week that, considering mental health conditions at the jail, they had major concerns.


Okoronkwo faces charges for first degree burglary, vandalism and gassing of a peace officer.

Assistant Public Defender Tiffany Danao acknowledged the challenges to transporting Okoronkwo to the Napa State Hospital as the facility is halting admissions because of Omicron, but strongly advocated for her client who has been in Santa Rita Jail for more than 106 days since the commitment order was placed.

With no expectations of transfer to any state hospital in the near future, Danao suggested that the courts release Okoronkwo, arguing that “the harm done to someone with severe mental illness in jail is significant.”

Danao specifically cited a report conducted by the Department of Justice that people with mental illness in jail are often isolated and “deprived of meaningful mental health services and can cause unnecessary suffering,” and this will make it harder to treat and less likely to be restored every day that he is in jail and not receiving mental health services.

And, with Omicron and the implications it had on public health, Danao suggested that Okoronkwo be released from Santa Rita Jail immediately.

Deputy District Attorney Mark Edward Jackson opposed the release request made by Danao, arguing that the penal code “does not expressly authorize the release of the defendant in this scenario,” further elaborating the challenges presented to state hospitals as it relates to the pandemic and admitting new patients.

Danao pleaded to the court to release Okoronkwo because it appears that there are little to no options to expedite the transfer order and a release seems to be the only remedy in Danao’s view.

Judge Andrew Steckler opted to delay a decision on the transfer order until after Feb. 3, in light of the state hospital’s suspension on receiving new patients and omicron.

PD Danao will have the opportunity to make the same request for release on Feb. 4, if Okoronkwo has not already been transported.

About The Author

Alex Jimenez is a 4th year politcal science major at the University of Calfornia, Berkeley. He has future aspirations to attend law school and is from Pleasanton, Ca.

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