A little under four years ago, a story was posted on the Washington Post “local” page. Yes, even with a nationwide circulation – The Post has a local news section for us.
A young man, sitting outside a public building waiting for it to open, was approached by a school resource officer. This happened in Stafford, VA – an hour south of where we live. There was a citizen call about a “suspicious male, possibly in possession of a gun.” Allegedly, this young man matched the description.
A scuffle ensued and the young man was arrested. (Link to 2010 article). Well, I wouldn’t say it was a scuffle per se – the man was charged with “malicious wounding of a law enforcement officer, assault and battery, and disarming an officer.” Sounds pretty damn serious.
According to the article:
“Asked for identification, the teenager began “to attack and assault the deputy for no apparent reason.” Latson struck the deputy several times. The officer unloaded pepper spray on the teen, who wrestled the container away and sprayed the officer. Latson then ran. Other officers found Latson in the nearby woods and the deputy on the ground with a head laceration, cuts and a broken ankle that would require surgery.”
Though it sounds cut and dry, nothing is ever what it first appears to be.
I’m talking about, of course, Reginald Latson, or “Neli”. He is the young man accused of the crime above. He is autistic, and as more information comes out, an IQ of 69. He is also African-American, adding another layer into this beyond maddening case.
By the way, there was no gun found on him.
While I haven’t posted about it here, I have followed this case closely from when it happened in 2010. The process from then to now has been a circus. He has been held in solitary confinement. When feeling cornered, he has lashed out, resulting in more charges/punishment.
See, it’s not like hasn’t been swept under the rug. It’s not like the Neli’s mom hasn’t been out there advocating for his release.
Neli exhibits many characteristics that we see in our children. Literal thinking. Fight or flight. Not like being touched. Feeling cornered when you know you have not done anything “wrong”.
Adding insult to injury, even in trial he is persecuted. Cue the entry of Stafford County prosecutor Eric Olsen.
“Latson’s intellectual disability, Olsen has argued in court, is “an aspect of convenience. When his advocates want him to be retarded, he is.”
Even worse, Olsen admits Neli is autistic, “He is a person with autism that also has this hate, this racial hate and this hate for law enforcement.”
Like, for reals.
In 2011, a jury “of his peers” convicted him. Here is that article.
He is still in prison. He struggles with routine unfamiliar to him. He has lost a great amount of weight and does not comprehend what has happened. I cannot begin to imagine the pain, frustration, and confusion that faces him, his family, and his lawyers.
Ruth Marcus has now written a powerful piece that goes into so much more. Please read all the hyperlinks in this article to get a broader picture at the injustice at hand.
So with that, I write:
To law enforcement:
Please learn more about autism and other complex disabilities that may impact your judgment in dealing with tense situations. Because while Neli is in jail, Ethan Saylor is not. For goodness sake, the International Association of Chiefs of Police targeted improving police response to people with mental illness and such conditions as autism. That was 2010, FIVE years ago.
To Mr. Olsen:
Please become truly educated on autism and how your words truly hurt people. Please drop the charges. Please put aside your personal mission to destroy a young man’s life because of whatever vendetta you have. And for goodness sake, please stop using the R word.
To Governor McAuliffe:
Please stop saying your hands are tied. If the our Commonwealth’s Constitution needs to be tweaked, do something about it. Please listen to your constituents – the ones who VOTED you into office. Please listen to parents who read this story and become concerned when their child may be in a situation similar to this. Because as a resident of the Commonwealth, I’m very worried about this for my son.
To Attorney General Herring:
Please advocate his release. Please rethink how the criminal justice system view those with mental, intellectual, neurological, or developmental disabilities. Again, I voted you into office. I hold a deep concern that not everyone gets the same treatment in situations such as Neli’s.
There are a variety of resources to utilize to advocate for Neli.
For efficiency sake, I’m linking to John Elder Robison’s post – Have you heard about Neli Latson? This post has all the information needed to reach out to those I wrote to above.
Statements from supporting organizations: