Saturday, January 10, 2015

An Inconvenient Truth

“There is no greater tyranny than that which is perpetrated under the shield of the law and in the name of justice.” 
― Montesquieu, The Spirit of the Laws

Reginald Cornelius Latson
During the entire tragic ordeal of Reginald Cornelius "Neli" Latson the quote above often revisited my mind. It has taken up permanent residence in my heart. Only when I heard the grand jury verdict for the Eric Garner case did I feel as shocked and defeated as I did when I heard that Mr. Latson had no choice but to plead guilty to felony assault for an incident that should not have occurred  because he had no business in the corrections system in the first place. This despite the stellar efforts of the outstanding attorney championing him. The miscarriage of justice here is breathtaking. How much more harm will be done to this young man before he gets the help he needs?

It is time to appeal to Governor McAuliffe to do the right thing and grant Reginald Latson a pardon.

I am  humbly asking everyone to please sign this petition:

On Thursday, Neli Latson pleaded guilty to felony assault for a scuffle that took place while he was being transferred to a "suicide watch" cell in prison. He was in psychiatric crisis and suicidal.  It is the latest in a long series of wrongs done to him by a system that is criminalizing behavior beyond individual control. Just to be clear: Mr. Latson was suicidal, decompensated, and in severe psychiatric crisis. He was being forcibly moved to a cell when a scuffle occurred. Only Mr. Latson was seriously hurt. He was shot with a Taser and bound in a restraint chair for hours. After which he was charged with felony assault by prosecutor Eric Olsen. He charged Mr. Latson for something that occurred during the throes of a major mental health crisis.

Matthew Ajibade photo credit
A heartbreaking side note about restraint chairs in the criminal justice system: 22-year-old Matthew Ajibade of Savannah, Georgia, died in police custody bound in a restraint chair on New Year's day. Mr. Ajibade was bipolar and the police were tasked with escorting him to the hospital. They were given his medication and per the police report informed regarding the dosage. How he ended up dying in bound restraint in solitary confinement at the Chatham County Detention Center is another day's horror story. Current reports do not have sufficient detailed information to tell us why he was not taken to the hospital. Mr. Ajibade's death is the latest example of why neurodivergent people in general and mental health consumers in particular who intersect with the criminal justice system while in crisis need to be promptly released to health crisis centers rather than having public servants whose job is not to manage mental health crises place people in bound restraint chairs and into solitary cells. Matthew's story can be read here.

Back to the incredible tragedy of Neli Latson, who, as Ruth Marcus alluded,  prosecutor Eric Olsen pursued as zealously as Les Misérables Inspector Javert pursued Jean Valjean.

Quoting Ms. Marcus's Washington Post article:

"That charge is being brought by the second, deliberate obstacle to transferring Latson from prison to treatment: Stafford County prosecutor Eric Olsen, Virginia’s answer to Inspector Javert. Latson’s intellectual disability, Olsen has argued in court, is “an aspect of convenience. When his advocates want him to be ( ableist slur redacted), he is.”

Here is some inconvenient truth. Intellectual disability is not "an aspect of convenience". The degree of anyone's individual disability constellation may not be apparent, but the cost being paid by those individuals with diverse neurologies during crises is too high.

I am quite certain Tario Anderson wanted to understand why a painfully bright light was being shined on him and why he was shot with a Taser and arrested. Like my young son, he is a nonverbal autistic, and was therefore unable to respond by speaking to any police demands. There is no "aspect of convenience" here.  Mr. Anderson, Mr. Ajibade, and Mr. Latson wanted to be understood. Who would want to be shot with a Taser, or arrested and placed in bound restraint?

Prosecutor Olsen denying that Mr. Latson's disabilities are impacting his ability to respond appropriately make it painfully clear that criminal justice autism training in Virginia needs to happen quickly. Authorities lack any understanding of communication differences like echolalia, scripting, auditory processing disorders, and sensory issues that directly impact an autistic adult under high stress regardless of how they communicate. That is scary because the next Mr. Latson, Mr. Ajibade, or Mr. Anderson  could happen at any future date.

Mr. Olsen used an ablest slur for intellectual disability in open court. I cannot wrap my head around the idea of someone who is a member of the Virginia bar and a prosecuting attorney of his standing being ignorant of Rosa's Law, since the law has been in effect since October 5, 2010.  So I can only conclude that again, Mr. Olsen has a great deal of inconvenient truth to learn about disability. This language in open court also implies a bias that is disturbing and bodes ill for any disabled person who crosses Mr. Olsen's path.

The statement " He is a person with autism that also has this hate, this racial hate and this hate for law enforcement" is belied by the testimony and letters of people who were part of  Neli's life before that awful day he went to the library and found it closed. So the preponderance of the evidence belies his statement that Mr. Latson has either racial hate or hate for law enforcement. What each incident involving Mr. Latson does show is authorities are not understanding the needs of disabled people. How can someone conflate mental health crises with racial hate? When you spend all your time hammering prosecutions, I guess every accused looks like the same nail.

I do not believe Mr. Latson can take much more of this. Please help appeal to Governor McAuliffe to pardon Neli and allow him to receive the urgent treatment and supports he needs.


The Autistic Self Advocacy Network Calls for Pardon for Neli Latson:

Updated  Bazelon statement about the plight of Reginald "Neli" Latson:

Information on Neli:

The death of Matthew Ojibade:

 Marcus, Ruth. "Why Is Reginald Latson Being Denied the Help He Needs?" The Washington Post 29 Nov. 2014. Web. 8 Jan. 2015. <>.


  1. It is easier to blame those that we as a society fail, than to acknowledge that we collectively have chosen to fail this person. In my state of residence, the budget for DDS has been cut on an annual basis. The Autism services program is largely a secrete and the only service it provides is adding names to a waiting list, with 0 dollars allocated to provide services.

    1. This sounds very much like my state! Exactly like it in fact. Yes, I am afraid this is the case.

  2. This is indeed a serious issue, and a fate that many people suffer on a regular basis. We are written off as inhuman and as a society, there is no further thought given...

    1. Well when there is a united group of people determined to change things, sometimes those changes happen:


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