Tario Anderson, 34 Black, nonspeaking autistic, was walking down his street to visit family on the evening of Christmas day. He was placed in the glare of police spotlights, yelled at, at which point having done nothing wrong, he placed his hands in his pockets and continued walking. When police spotlighted and threatened to tase him, Tario ran. Neighbors tried shouting and warning police that Tario was autistic but they wouldn’t listen. His mother came running and repeatedly asked them to stop, even demanding they arrest her instead, shouting if anyone was at fault, she was. They used a taser on him, multiple officers fell on him while he was face down writhing from the taser shocks. Video shows Tario crying out in pain and calling for his mother. The Greenville police later announced that they now realized Mr. Anderson could not understand the commands given to him by police and all charges (interfering with police investigation and resisting arrest) would be dropped. The family is suing. In 22 years this could be my son, walking in his own neighborhood, unable to respond to police. So this is extremely, nightmarishly, personal. Even the gentle way his mother reached up to soothe the wound on his cheek during a news interview made me so upset at what happened to him. Mr. Anderson is 6 feet 6 inches and 350 lbs of calm, gentle, giant human being. He did not deserve this treatment. He may not recover from the trauma of it.
Despite my maternal horror at what happened to Mr. Anderson, this case is unusual in that the police recognized a wrong had been done, explained that it is not within the scope of law enforcement to diagnose or simply accept that any person has a condition that might impede their ability to understand and respond to police commands. They released Mr. Anderson as soon as this was understood and apologized. The critical thing here was that the police, once they realized their error, acted to make things right.
In essence the case of Reginald Latson and the case of Tario Anderson should have ended the same way. But the presumption that when someone speaks to you they are properly processing what you say, and when they fail to follow commands they are doing so in defiance shows an ignorance of the auditory processing disorders, scripting, echolalia, and other concerns that not visible or understandable to people who have no personal or professional familiarity with neurodivergent people. Invisible aspects of disability tend to lead people who have no knowledge of neurodivergence in general and autism combined with intellectual challenges in particular to draw the false conclusions that have devastated Mr. Latson’s life. The relief I have that Mr. Anderson is free from prosecution is tempered with the heartbreak of knowing that this should be what is happening right now to Neli Latson. Instead, he is going to tried again for something that was clearly a function of his solitary confinement and a mental health crisis of such gravity that he was suicidal. The Stafford county prosecutor pursued a case that is always treated as a minor infraction and managed within the corrections system. Prosecutor Eric Olsen was hell bent on punishing an individual based upon his own personal racial profiling and ableism. Quoting Ms. Marcus' Washington Post article: "Latson’s intellectual disability, Olsen has argued in court, is “an aspect of convenience. When his advocates want him to be (unprintable slur for intellectually disabled), he is.” "
I am asking that the next thing we do for Neli Latson is to appeal to Virginia’s attorney general to drop the charges against him and allow him to be transferred out of the corrections system and into the DD system where he can begin to heal from the harm done him. Mr. Latson only differs from Mr. Anderson in that his ability to speak masks invisible disability. There is only one person in the entire state of Virginia who continually insists Mr. Latson be prosecuted. That man’s prosecutorial bias calls into question the entire case history to date. Mr. Latson should not have to be placed in a position where he pleads guilty to something that was beyond his ability to control and leaves him at the mercy of a prosecutor who has made his enmity, racial bias, and ableism plain in open court.
While I am very upset by the entire Christmas day catastrophic encounter, harm and arrest of Tario Anderson, I have to commend the Greenville, S.C. police department for releasing him and acting to drop charges against him as soon as they had verification of Mr. Anderson's diagnosis. If only Virginia showed the same understanding of Mr. Latson’s disabilities and realized being able to manage verbal speech doesn’t equal understanding what is said by others well or accurately, particularly in situations of high stress.
The Greenville S.C. police department showed the forthrightness to do rapid damage control when this catastrophic encounter with police happened and wrong had been done to an autistic Black man. Time for Virginia to follow suit and make things right for Mr. Latson.