Young man with Asperger’s Syndrome receives 2 year sentence

In late April, we covered Reginald “Neli” Latson’s story. Essentially, 19-year-old Neli was misidentified as a suspicious person with a gun. Officer Calverly approached him, patted him down and found nothing. Regardless, Calverly demanded a name, identification, and attempted arrest. Neli resisted wrongful arrest and a struggle ensued. Calverly initiated the scuffle and sustained some injuries. Calverly also pepper-sprayed Neli.

Neli managed to escape, but in a second encounter with other officers dispatched to find the actual suspect, Neli was thrown to the ground and kicked repeatedly. Neli yelled “I didn’t do anything wrong!” To which an officer responded, “You don’t have to – Welcome to Stafford County.” Neli reported a gun was held to his head, and the officer stated, “I will blow your head off, nigger.”

Neli was charged with various crimes and subsequently prosecuted.

The incident has garnered the interest of Asperger’s Syndrome and Autism advocates, as Neli has Asperger’s Syndrome. His defense at trial contended in part that the incident arose out of Neli’s condition, which led to a misunderstanding. Advocates further propose that in the future, Stafford police be better educated on how to handle and interact with people with Asperger’s Syndrome or Autism.

The Virginia Supreme Court has ruled in the past that there is a right to resist illegal or wrongful arrest. At trial, Neli’s defense submitted a motion arguing that the arrest was unlawful, and that Neli was not required to identify himself. The judge denied the motion, stating the arrest was lawful.

On Tuesday, June 7, Neli was sentenced. Many supporters attended his sentencing, and it took about 4 hours to present evidence at the hearing. The hearing included testimony by several professionals who evaluated Neli. His middle school wrestling coach testified Neli never had problems, and even in light of recent events, he would not hesitate to have Neli on his wrestling team.  A doctor who testified recommended several facilities for treatment as a productive and rehabilitative alternative to incarceration.

Neli’s mother, Lisa Alexander explained the defense was able to find facilities willing and able to treat Neli. Her insurance had approved a particular facility, and Neli was also accepted at a residential program which provided Autism support. However, the prosecution argued Neli’s actions that day were not the product of Autism, but were because Neli was an inherently violent young man. The judge sentenced Neli to 2 years. This leaves one year remaining as he received credit for time already served. In addition, Neli will be forced to participate in certain programs until age 22, and would be on probation for 20 years.

Ms. Alexander recalled the prosecutor, Jim Peterson, stated that Officer Calverly did everything correctly in this case, and that Stafford police did not require any additional training or education of any kind with regard to dealing with people with disabilities. The world has truly been turned upside down. When a fully-armed, lowlife ogre with a gun approaches and harasses an innocent man, and the victim fights back, somehow it is the victim that is immediately perceived as violent and dangerous to society.

Why is that the default?

As discussed in the previous article, Mr. Latson clearly turned out to be unarmed, and was not the suspect the police were looking for. He was guilty only of sitting on the grass, waiting for the library to open. Unless police are believed to be a higher order of human beings, incapable of ill-will, ulterior motives, or mistakes, there should be no default assumption that a police officer has a right to do anything to an innocent person. A violent attack, or attempt at unlawful arrest by a police officer should be treated like the assault and battery it is. If an ordinary peon had no right to grab Neli and attempt to handcuff him and drag him to a cold cell, then neither would a cop.

At the sentencing, Vicki McCarthy, a licensed psychologist who had known Neli for many years stated, “I think he needs a lot more support than the prison system can offer him…I was horrified at what happened to Deputy Calverly…Our community lost on both ends. I would like to see [Latson] get the help he needs.” (More on sentencing testimony here).

Her intentions may be admirable, but why is it that everyone thinks a man who fights against a violent attacker has some kind of mental deficiency? Why was Ms. McCarthy so “horrified” at what happened to Deputy Calverly? Would she have been horrified if Neli defended himself against a random cruel man who tried to drag him away in handcuffs? Certainly, if Neli in fact initiated an attack, Calverly, and indeed anyone else, would have been justified in responding in defense. But Neli did nothing wrong. Thus, Calverly had no right to arrest him to begin with, which makes him no better than a random violent attacker – and he should be judged like the brute he is. Neli should not have been arrested at all, much less be doing 2 years in prison.

Ms. Alexander was crushed. She explained that Neli had been severely traumatized by his jail experience. Further, while there currently are facilities that are willing and able to help him, this may not be the case after he has served another year. Space may be limited, insurance may not cover such treatment, and  programs may not be available once Neli has finished serving his sentence. “He’s a lovable, very shy kid. He has some issues. Our life wasn’t perfect, but it wasn’t this,” said Ms. Alexander.

Ms. Alexander has also learned, much to her surprise, that Neli was transferred to the state penitentiary. She believes this is unusual, as shorter sentences are normally served in the local jail. No one notified her of this development; she learned when she called the jail to make sure Neli had filled out his commissary sheet properly.

Ms. Alexander points to blatant inconsistencies in recent decisions in the area. One woman shot at her boyfriend, and was convicted of attempted murder. All 5 years of her prison sentence were suspended. Another woman killed a motorist while drinking and driving, and had all 9 years of her sentenced suspended, with the exception of 8 months. Ms. Alexander points to racism, as these women were white and received light sentences. On the other hand, her son, who is black will serve 2 years and be on probation for 20 years after being wrongfully arrested, and another Hispanic woman died in jail after a case of possible mistaken identity and denial of medical care.

It could be racism, or it could be irrational love of the police (or both). When normal people die – no big deal. But injure a policeman, even if he was the one in the wrong – well, we can’t stand for that.

Needless to say, Ms. Alexander is furious with the results. “Neli is loved, and this has destroyed my life,” she said. She described the proceedings as a Kangaroo court. “They just make things up,” she said.

Ms. Alexander is petitioning the governor of Virginia, along with other officials, for her son’s pardon. Visit here to sign the petition. Also visit here for more information.


Georgia Sand

Georgia (George) Sand is an attorney located in sunny California. She enjoys beer, jogging, the beach, music, and chatting with her cats in her spare time.