The Horrifying Events that Changed A Young Man’s Life

There’s a young man, his name is Reginald.  Everyone calls him Neli.  He was on the high school wrestling team, wore a key on a chain around his neck, liked to hold three playing cards, loved his hoodie, repeated “television and movie lines ” and carried a “string that he runs through his fingers.” He was described as being shy and he liked going to his local library, which was two miles from his home.  But one day none of that mattered.  One day someone saw Neli sitting on the grass outside the library waiting for it to open.  They called the police, reporting a “suspicious male, wearing a hoodie, possibly in possession of a gun.

Neli is black.

Neli is also Autistic.

All the schools within a few miles of the library “went on lockdown.”  SWAT teams were called in.  That’s at least five schools, though one report said it was eight.  Five schools.  Eight schools.  Lock down.  SWAT team.  All because an anonymous source said they saw someone suspicious sitting outside a library.

Suspicious could mean any number of things.  Maybe it means someone who moves differently, keeps their head down, stares at their feet, doesn’t look you in the eye when you speak to them or doesn’t answer you at all when you ask them a question.  Maybe they rock back and forth as they stand or sit, maybe it means they run a piece of string through their fingers or maybe they twirl it around and around the way my daughter does.

Neli was found, frisked and was unarmed.  This is where the story should have ended.  It is at this point that the situation should have been diffused.  This is where the person who had the ability to calm things down could have, but chose not to.  Maybe a parent, teacher, someone in the community who knew him, who could have vouched for him might have stepped in.  Except the school resource officer who approached Neli and frisked him, did know him or at least had seen him at his high school.  Whatever he knew or didn’t know wasn’t helpful as Neli’s life was about to get much, much worse.  Neli was forced down over the hood of a car and told he was being taken in.

According to one report Neli cried, “I didn’t do anything wrong!” The arresting officer replied, “You don’t have to – Welcome to Stafford County.”  Then he held a gun to Neli’s head and said, “I will blow your head off, nigger.” Neli fought back and in doing so the officer was hurt.

The jury deliberated for three days, found Neli guilty of “assaulting a police officer among other charges” and recommended a sentence of ten and a half years.

Ten and a half years.

The judge disagreed and sentenced Reginald Latson to two years in prison with time served.  Except Reginald had done nothing wrong.  Except that ONE YEAR in prison for seeming “suspicious” to someone is not justice.

“Suspicious” could mean someone who utters lines from a favorite movie or says something that is considered out of context or not relevant to the conversation.  Or maybe suspicious means “not white” and when combined with any of these other things this results in people imagining there’s a weapon as well.  Or maybe not being white is all it takes.  But one thing is certain, being viewed “suspicious” and black and Autistic in today’s world can get you locked up, sentenced by a jury of your peers to ten and a half years, put in solitary confinement for most of your time in prison, and when you’re broken, when you give up the will to live and try to kill yourself, it’s enough reason to put you in a straight jacket, restrain you for hours, hours in a chair, and then slap you with another charge to make sure you never get out of prison.

The Bazelon Center wrote before sentencing last week:

 This counterproductive and inhumane cycle continues with charges Latson is scheduled to face this week stemming from an altercation with a prison guard that occurred when he was being moved to a crisis cell while in psychiatric crisis and suicidal.  There was no serious injury to anyone in this incident other than Latson, who was shot with a Taser and bound for hours in a restraint chair.  Nonetheless, a new felony prosecution was initiated.

As I write this Neli has been sentenced to another six months in prison.  This is beyond unacceptable.  Neli should never have been charged to begin with.  None of this should have happened.  But it did.

A massive number of people have been working hard to gain Neli’s release.  At this moment it could not be easier to do something that could help.  If you only have a moment, sign this petition that my friend Kerima Cevik of the blog Intersected started.

Please.  It literally takes less than 60 seconds to add your signature to this petition.

Grant a pardon to Reginald Cornelius “Neli” Latson

If you have more time, please contact the Governor’s office directly Phone: 804-786-2211; via email by clicking here or on Twitter @GovernorVA and add your voice to thousands of others.

Neli Latson before his arrest

Neli Latson before his arrest

45 responses to “The Horrifying Events that Changed A Young Man’s Life

  1. Thanks for sharing this info – I just called the Governor’s office and signed the petition and will share your blog on my Facebook page now. This is my worst nightmare for my son.

  2. Horrible. I can’t believe how inhumanely people act. I have signed the petition.

    Love you, love Emma, Mom

  3. I have signed the petition and shared this link on my Facebook page – I hope this helps.

  4. Reblogged this on george agak and commented:
    All Credits to whoever wrote this. not me but sign the petition

  5. I will sign this petition in a minute and then share it on facebook and twitter and googleplus and pinetrest. I urge everyone to do the same.

    Could it be the officer who held a gun to Neli’s head that should be behind bars? I think so.

    Everyone has the right to defend themselves. Neli didn’t realize the cop was just trying to scare him and thought he really was going to die, so he fought back, as I would’ve. Neli shouldn’t have been in jail EVEN FOR ONE DAY!

    The restraining chair sounds like torture. I’d rather take a beating than be forced to sit still for hours, not knowing how long it’ll take. I’d also want to kill myself if I was stuck in prison for years. Neli is innocent, and this should never have happened in this day and age. This isn’t the Spanish inqusition, where you were suspicious as a witch for looking different, and then your life would be snatched away from you. The treatment of Neli is cruel and inhuman.

    I live across the sea, so can’t start a demonstration, but I think there really should be one, no, not one, many. If you all scream your head off long enough and loud enough, as you should, put pressure on the authorities, they will have no choice.

  6. Arianne, are only American based signatures of value?

  7. Absolutely disgraceful, should never have gone so far.Whats wrong with the people in that town they should have done something about it,shame on them glad I don’t live there.

  8. Just signed, can’t believe this is happening in this day and age

  9. The truly horrifying thing is that this all started back in 2010. Also, his poor mother was convicted in 2012 on a misdemeanor charges by the same district attorney who had convicted her son. (info from Krip Hop Nation, via StBayView http://sfbayview.com/tag/krip-hop-nation/)

  10. Just got sick to my stomach reading this as this could happen to anyone of our children who are so often misunderstood. Thank you for posting this and I will post on my FB page as well.

  11. Supan Allah, I am appalled of this injustice!!! So sorry this young man has endured this abuse, embarrassment, and interruption in his life by the American authorities!!!! What does that say about the government and the justice system???? Allah Akbar how disgusting!!!! And unfair!!!!!! I will sign your petition inshallah!!! May Allah help and have mercy on him. Yarb.

  12. Shannon Littlefield

    Horrible injustice!

  13. I hope he gets out safe and sound this breaks my heart into a million pieces I have a cousin who has autism and I would hate to see him go through this those dam pigs deserve hell

  14. This just breaks my heart! I have signed and will now share on my blog and Facebook to get more Danes involved.

  15. I have a hard time believing that this article is built on 100% honest, considering that the only links are to news articles, one of the websites being blatantly anti-police. This is a tragedy if it actually happened the way it’s described in this article, but without any references to the police report or any other primary source I’m really skeptical.

    • Here you go Robbie.
      http://www.bazelon.org/News-Publications/Statement-on-the-Plight-of-Reginald-Latson.aspx
      http://www.thearcofva.org/wp-content/uploads/2014/11/Conditional-Pardon-for-Reginald-Latson-1-12-15.pdf
      http://www.thearcofva.org/wp-content/uploads/2014/11/Conditional-Pardon-for-Reginald-Latson-1-12-15.pdf
      “In court, Superintendent Whitley, who testified that in 30 years in corrections he had never before testified on behalf of an inmate in his custody, expanded:
      Q: Mr. Whitley, you had testified you had been in corrections for thirty years, so you’ve seen a lot of criminals I assume over the years?
      A: Yes.
      Q: Is there something about Mr. Latson that is different than many of the other people who are in your facility?
      A: With most criminals, let’s say, you know, you see a certain conniving nature about them, a certain, you know, there’s – they don’t always appear to be – they try to appear to be something different than they really are, and I don’t – we haven’t witnessed that with him. Like I say, we see him more as a child in a man’s body. We don’t see any guile per se.”

      Next time, instead of spending the time commenting about your skepticism, you might spend that time doing a little investigating of your own.

    • Dear Robbie,
      Because the case is closed, the police reports are a matter of public record, as were the reports of the initial incident at the library. Anyone, including you, are able to request these records and read the incident reports for yourself. Attorneys for the ALCU’s Virginia chapter, several reputable disability advocacy nonprofits and human rights organizations have championed Mr. Latson’s case because the treatment he received from the initial arrest, disturbing decisions on the part of the prosecuting attorneys, and his sustained solitary confinement are in noncompliance with the settlement agreement that ended United States of America v. Commonwealth
      of Virginia, CA No. 3:12cv59-JAG (2012). The DOJ has therefore reopened their investigation of this and several other cases involving individuals with disabilities. Virginia is choosing to incarcerate individuals with divergent neurology rather than comply with their own laws and despite having the facilities and staff to care for them in proper settings. This is not just happening to one person. It is happening to autistic and other disabled men all over the country. Facts sustain the blog post. And the truth is horrible. As for the racial side of catastrophic encounters with police there are cases I’m not sure if you follow, such as the case of Darrin Manning: http://politicalblindspot.com/stop-and-frisk-of-african-american-teen/
      and the case of2-year-old Matthew Ojibade, who died on New Year’s day, having been placed in bound restraint and solitary confinement in the same way Mr. Latson was. http://www.alternet.org/news-amp-politics/savannah-man-dies-restraining-chair-while-police-custody#.VK9fMV9UjZc.twitter
      I do know that Ariane Zurcher is a well established blogger with a background in writing such that she is careful to cite her sources and reads all information she can find on anything she posts. Those of us who parent autistic children must suspend our disbelief and change the way our children are treated by society before incarceration becomes the standard method of management. We now live in a country that is increasingly privatizing prisons and running them as cheap labor manufacturing sites. We really need to start drawing a line about cases like these.

  16. Thank you for posting this. I posted it myself a few weeks ago, but I don’t have the readership that you do. Let’s go people!! We have to be the change we want to see in the world.

  17. I reblogged here:
    http://worldwecreate.blogspot.ca/2015/01/autistic-innocent-and-put-in-jail-you.html

    I feel sick… absolutely sick…that could happen to me or my kids if we are ever at the wrong place in the wrong time and prison to innocent autistics is way worse than death because of sensory needs, the different ways our brain works, our lack of verbal skills or communication to get fair treatment, our lack of executive functioning and self advocacy and many other numerous factors…this is just absolutely my worst nightmare coming true. Society needs to start changing…

  18. I am speechless. I have signed, even though I am not in the USA. Reblogging this and also posting on Facebook.

  19. Reblogged this on bunnyhopscotch and commented:
    This could be me. Or you. Your child. Friend. Brother. Sister. Parent.
    The pain. I cannot verbalise it. I have signed. Even though I am not in the USA. It affects us all. Please read and sign if you are moved to do so. Thank you.

  20. Reblogged this on ischemgeek and commented:
    Please sign this. Neli Latson needs support, not incarceration.

  21. Thank you to all who reblogged, shared, signed the petition and urged others to do so as well. On January 20th it was announced that Governor Terry McAuliffe has granted Neli Latson a conditional pardon. http://www.newsobserver.com/2015/01/20/4490858/autistic-va-inmate-granted-conditional.html

    This is a first step toward getting Neli out of the cycle of mistreatment and horror he has been subjected to since 2010.

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