Take Action! Urge VA Governor to #FreeNeli

Members of TASH,

We write to apprise you of the plight of Reginald “Neli” Latson, a 23-year-old man with autism, who has been unjustly treated and subjected to a cycle of arrest and incarceration for behaviors that are a result of his disabilities.

Background:
In 2010, Latson was arrested for an altercation with a police officer who approached  and then attempted to physically detain him based on a report that Latson, then an 18-year-old, African-American special education student dressed in a hooded sweatshirt, looked “suspicious” as he waited outside a public library for it to open.  Though Latson was indisputably unarmed and had done nothing wrong prior to the officer’s approach, the officer was seriously injured, and Latson served two years of a 10-year sentence before being released on probation to a group home.  At a later date, Latson was again arrested when the group home called the police, rather than the behavioral crisis system, when Latson was experiencing a psychiatric crisis and was suicidal.  Although the police officer during this second arrest was not injured, Latson was charged and sentence to incarceration and revocation of his probation from the first case.

Latson has significantly decompensated during his incarceration.  He has not received treatment and has been held for the most part in solitary confinement.  State officials from Virginia’s developmental disabilities system agree that Latson needs treatment, not punishment, and have identified placement in the developmental disabilities system.  However, he has not been released.

On January 9, 2015, Latson pleaded guilty to assaulting a correctional officer in exchange for a six-month sentence.  The altercation with the correctional officer occurred when Latson 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. This assault and the charges that led to Latson’s previous incarceration were filed due to behavior resulting from his disability. When asked to end the unjust treatment of Latson, Virginia Gov. Terry McAuliffe said he could not intervene until the criminal case was resolved. Now the governor can and should act.  TASH – along with the Bazelton Center for Mental Health Law, ASAN, the American Civil Liberties Union of Virginia, and the Arc of the United States and Virginia – urges Gov. McAuliffe to grant Latson the pardon that will allow him to receive appropriate care.

Request for Action:
There is power in our collective action.

We urge you to take action on behalf of Neli Latson. Call on Stafford County Commonwealth’s Attorney Eric Olsen and Gov. Terry McAuliffe to pardon Reginald Latson and provide him access to care, not incarceration.  Contact Prosecutor Olsen (Phone: 540-658-8780 or on Twitter at @ericolsenforca) and the governor’s office (Phone: 804-786-2211; via email at: https://governor.virginia.gov/constituent-services/Communicating-with-the-governors-office or on Twitter at @GovernorVA) to make your voices heard.

For more information about Neli Latson’s case, visit:
http://www.washingtonpost.com/opinions/ruth-marcus-reginald-latsons-case-points-to-a-scandal-in-us-prisons/2014/12/23/ac64c6c2-8ae0-11e4-8ff4-fb93129c9c8b_story.html