A tragic situation we previously reported on involving a police encounter with a teen on the autism spectrum deserves immediate attention. On the morning of May 24, 2010, 19 year-old Reginald “Neli” Latson sat in the grass outside the local library in Stafford, Virginia waiting for it to open. Unbeknownst to him, a nearby school crossing guard had reported him to police as “a suspicious black male who may have a gun." A deputy then approached Latson and searched him. No gun was found. The deputy asked Latson for his name and Latson refused and tried to walk away as he had committed no crime. The deputy then grabbed Latson and attempted to arrest him without calling for backup. Latson became agitated and resisted arrest, resulting in the injury of the officer.
Arrested for assaulting a police officer, Neli was next held without bail in isolation for 11 days at the regional jail during which, his mother was allowed only one visit. He became catatonic and a judge ordered that he be transferred to a state mental hospital for 30 days of treatment and evaluation. He was later returned to jail for one year and spent eight months of that time in isolation again. After a 3-day trial, Latson was found guilty of assaulting a law enforcement officer, among other charges. His defense pleaded that the young man has Asperger’s Syndrome and presented a comprehensive, fully funded treatment plan for Neli to follow immediately upon release. The judge opted for Neli to spend another full year in jail before he could access treatment.
Yet even if Latson wasn’t an individual with autism, this conviction should not stand. Racially profiled, he had committed no crime when he was accosted, searched and detained by the deputy. He should’ve been free to go to the library once it was established that he possessed no weapon.
Concerned disability advocates have launched a campaign to have Neli pardoned and freed from prison, where his condition continues to rapidly decline. To voice your concern call or fax Gov. Bob McDonnell:
• Phone: (804) 786-2211
• Fax: (804) 371-6351
Here are some things to re-inforce to the individuals you will be speaking to:
1. Reginald “Neli” Latson, No. 1441792, Greensville Correctional Center, Jarratt, Virginia, should be pardoned and released into a treatment facility appropriate for his condition after which he will return to his special education program at school.
2. Neli Latson is NOT a criminal and his continued incarceration is reversing the gains made through his education and sports program. Each day in the penitentiary is causing irreparable harm to his ability to lead as normal a life as possible upon release.
3. Neli Latson has a plan for release that was presented during his May 31, 2011, hearing that was agreed upon by the court, but postponed for nine months. This postponement is cruel and unusual given his housing in solitary confinement and confusing and terror-filled days and nights in a prison cell. Neli MUST be released ASAP to begin to heal from the traumatic damage he has suffered since his wrongful arrest in May 2010.
Please tell them the state and/or country you are calling from so that they are aware that this is a nationwide and worldwide issue.
Sign the petition: http://www.change.org/petitions/pardon-wrongfully-convicted-autistic-youth-neli-latson or visit the website: http://avoiceforneli.com .