Washington, D.C. - January 6, 2015 - The Judge David L. Bazelon Center for Mental Health Law today issued the following statement on the plight of Reginald Latson:
Reginald "Neli" Latson - a young man with autism and an intellectual disability -- has been subjected to a cycle of arrest and incarceration for behaviors that are a result of his disabilities. The unjust treatment of Latson continues this week as he faces new charges by a prosecutor who is pressing for long-term incarceration despite a recommendation by Virginia developmental disabilities system officials for an alternative placement in the developmental disabilities system where Latson can instead get services and treatment.
His odyssey in the criminal justice system began with a 2010 arrest 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. The saga continued with an arrest after the group home called the police - instead of the behavioral health crisis system -when he was experiencing a psychiatric crisis and was suicidal. Although the officer was not injured, Latson was again charged and sentenced to incarceration, and the probation in the first case was revoked.
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.
Latson has decompensated during his incarceration, where he has not received treatment and instead has spent most of his time in solitary confinement. His situation is particularly shameful given the commitments Virginia has made in a settlement agreement with the U.S. Department of Justice to provide community services - including crisis response services and training for law enforcement - to prevent the unnecessary institutionalization of Virginians with intellectual and developmental disabilities, including in jails and prisons.
State Officials from Virginia's developmental disabilities system agree that Latson needs treatment, not punishment, and have identified an alternative placement in the developmental disabilities system. Yet Stafford County Commonwealth's Attorney Eric Olsen -- who has argued in court that Latson's disability is "an aspect of convenience" -- is insisting on bringing this latest charge. If the prosecutor refuses to do the right thing and allow Latson to get treatment instead of more punishment, Virginia Gov. Terry McAuliffe should act in the interest of justice and issue Latson a pardon that allows him to receive appropriate treatment.
"Community services - not law enforcement - are the appropriate response to people who are experiencing behavioral health crises. We know that access to community services significantly lowers the risk of encounters between law enforcement and people with mental disabilities," said Alison Barkoff, Bazelon Center Director of Advocacy. "Virginia has committed to providing these critical community services. It still has work to do to make these promises a reality."
The Bazelon Center joins with the American Civil Liberties Union of Virginia, the Arc of the United States and of Virginia and others in calling on Stafford County Commonwealth's Attorney Eric Olsen and Gov. Terry McAuliffe to give Reginald Latson access to care, not incarceration. We also urge anyone who believes in justice and appropriate treatment of people with disabilities to contact Prosecutor Olsen (Phone: 540-658-8780 or on Twitter at @ericolsenforca) and the governor's office (Phone: 804-786-2211; via email by clicking here; or on Twitter at @GovernorVA) to make your voices heard.
The following links provide more information on Reginald Latson's case:
AP article, January 4, 2015:
Virginian-Pilot editorial, Jan 2, 2015:
Washington Post, Ruth Marcus op-ed columns: