Image is a photo of Neli Latson before his arrest – credit Washington Post

He had committed no crime before he encountered the deputy that fateful day.

He was waiting for the library to open, sitting alone on the grass.

An autistic teenager in a hoodie sitting alone on the grass .. waiting for the library to open.

In the call to the police he was a “suspicious black male, possibly with a gun.”

No one had seen a gun because there was no gun. There was never a reason to think there was. But the call was enough to lock down a nearby elementary school and send the school resource officer, deputy Thomas Calverley, over to check him out.

According to the report, “Calverley said he asked the teenager his name several times and, after the teen refused to give it, he grabbed him, told him that he was under arrest, and bent him over the hood of a car.”

That’s when the two started wrestling and fell to the ground.

If a stranger asked my autistic daughter her name, I don’t know whether or not she’d give it. If the stranger became agitated, she would too. If they became angry, she would be terrified. If they repeated a question, any question, several times, she would shriek. And if anyone, under any circumstances, bent her over the hood of a car, she would, I have no doubt, fight for her life.

A 2011 article in the Washington post describes the events that followed the deputy holding the youth face first against the car.

At one point during the struggle, Calverley said, Latson flipped him hard onto his back, causing his head to hit the pavement. The teenager then hit him dozens of times and, at one point, took his pepper spray from him.

When it was over, Calverley had a one-inch cut on his head, numerous abrasions and a shattered ankle that required two plates and a dozen screws to repair.

Ultimately, a jury would find Latson  guilty of four charges, including assault of a law enforcement officer and wounding in the commission of a felony.

Neli Latson is now 22. According to an article this week in the Washington Post, “He has spent most of the last year in solitary confinement and has lost almost 50 pounds from an already trim frame.”

The article goes on to describe Neli’s current situation as follows.

Because of Latson’s intellectual and emotional disabilities, he cannot safely go into the general jail population. But he also does not have the coping skills to deal with solitary confinement.

Held in solitary after his initial arrest, Latson responded by urinating on the floor and then licking it up. Moved last spring, after threatening suicide, from regular solitary to a “crisis cell” consisting of an empty concrete room with no bed and a hole in the floor for a toilet, he was Tasered after hitting a guard, leading to another assault charge.

Again, I think of my girl. My sweet, beautiful girl who could not, for the life of her, understand why we had to wait the other night when we got pulled over in a routine traffic stop. My girl who shrieked when I had to reach across her lap to get into the glove box to find the car’s registration for the officer, my girl who screamed, “Go car go!” as I tried to explain that when the police ask us to do something, we need to do it.

I think of my girl and the panic rises and it’s all I can do to stay upright.

To add insult to this already unimaginable injury, Florida mental health officials not only arranged but secured funding for Neli to be transferred to a locked treatment facility in Florida but because he hit a guard while being held in a concrete room with no bed and a hole in the floor for a toilet, he remains not only in prison, but in solitary confinement.

I think of Neli.

I think of my girl.

I want to cry.

Click HERE to find out how add your voice to the growing chorus of support for Neli.

Thank you.

28 thoughts on “neli

  1. Reblogged this on is me is really me and commented:
    my son is now 12-years old. he is high functioning and at the same time a pre-teen with the social challenges of every day kids with the additional complexity of the inability to cope or respond in a neurotypical way. Reading this post and the subsequent articles makes my heart hurt and squeeze in fear.

  2. Jess – I’m going to go on a bit of a soapbox here.

    This is a punch in the gut to read. This is why Dr. Ross Greene’s model MUST be considered for law enforcement agents assigned to schools. If I could, I would ensure that everyone knew about his site:

    I’ll repeat the quote from Dr. Greene’s “manifesto” for dealing with behaviorally challenging kids (but really, all kids): “To have adults understand that blind obedience to authority is dangerous, and that life in the real world requires expressing one’s concerns, listening to the concerns of others, and working toward mutually satisfactory solutions.”

    Here’s the link to the complete “Bill of Rights”:

    If anyone wants any more info, I would love to share as I strongly believe in this approach to communication.

    Stella Hastings

    • There’s a giant chasm between teaching a kid with SN to comply with whatever a stranger tells them to do (scary dangerous) and failing to attempt to teach them that when police officers ask questions, they’re obliged to answer and/or that beating anyone to a pulp, well, is a really bad idea – doubly so if that person is a cop.

      What is some ransom person tried to chat with him outside the library? Or a little girl asked him got directions to a nearby corner store? Would this young man have beaten them bloody too??

      • there’s also a giant chasm between teaching children to answer an officer’s questions (if they can) and teaching them that they are likely to be perceived as a gun-toting criminal while waiting for the library to open.

        no one is arguing that neli’s actions were okay that day, or even that the officer’s weren’t. the argument is that the punishment (solitary confinement) does not remotely fit the crime, especially given the circumstances.

  3. I did write to the ACLU in Richmond, Virginia and ask them to read your blog and FB page on this story. Maybe a petition? This story haunts me. I have 2 young adult children on the spectrum and I am terrified for them….that something like this could happen to them.

  4. Reminds me of the Ashley Smith case here in Canada.

    If I recall correctly, Ashley did not have a clear diagnosis but she was clearly in need of help and services. Instead, at 19 years old, she died in a women’s prison. Prison. She had been held mostly in solitary confinement, and shuffled from facility to facility for 4 years.

    Her original crime was to throw crabapples at a mailman. After a history of repeated self – harm, she died by “self-inflicted strangulation” while on suicide watch while the guards refused to intervene.

    It’s terrifying. My son has ASD and he is what is often described as being highly functioning. He is 11 and when he has a meltdown, he lashes out bc he feels – intensely – that he is FIGHTING FOR HIS LIFE.

    He also would have fought back if a stranger handled him in ANY way, let alone THIS way.

    It’s is terrifying.

  5. Reblogged this on ShatteredMindscapes and commented:
    This is just gut wrenching. And sick. And it is stories like this that make me glad I’m studying criminal justice–the hope that I can educate, and in doing so, help prevent things like this happening to someone else. Maybe, just maybe, an officer who had been informed would have spoken gently, calmly to this boy. And maybe today he’d be home where he belongs.

  6. As a parent of an boy, 5, on the spectrum and as a son of a Chicago Police Department officer, this is an article and topic I thought I would have a few years to wait to discuss with him how to talk and answer a police officer but now I see I am wrong in that observation. I need to do it now so that it in his foundation for social skills.

    I know how hard it is for an officer to approach an individual and question them. Since the officer was informed of a possible gun, they must approach with caution for not only his/her individual life but for any innocent people in the area as well. Failure to answer an officer’s questions will only increase the officer’s suspicions and thus lead to the officer to hold the suspect in custody for questioning.

    From my years of talking with my mom, I know police receive training on mental health disorders but when in the field it is can be difficult to spot evaluate an individual-does this person have a mental handicap and cannot understand or does this person just want to ignore me. Hard decision to make in seconds when lives are on the line.

    Neli, I feel horrible for his treatment since Florida mental health has determined he needs other services and he is been ignored by the Florida Department of Corrections. Someone in that group does not care and it shows. I have hope that Neli will get the transfer and start to receive the help he needs. It goes to show how much farther we need to move ourselves forward as a society to educate everyone around the table.

    • Thank you for sharing that perspective. From all accounts it appears that the officer did everything by the book. The case is so tragic and the travesty of Neli’s journey through the penal system is heartbreaking.

    • Bab, this came up yesterday and my answer is that I believe that it’s the wrong question to be asking. When a teenager goes to hang out at the library, of all places, one can not possibly foresee that someone will call the police reporting that he may have a gun. I think it’s absurd to lay blame on his parents for not accompanying him to the library down the street because the remote possibility exists that he will be suspected of being armed and police will be called to investigate.

  7. Reading this entry (and the piece in the Washington Post) really hurt my heart. I tweeted about this story to my followers, the Governor and Attorney General of the state of Virginia. For people with any sort of mental disability, all it takes is one of these interactions with law enforcement officers and their bodies and spirits are rendered irreparably broken. Add in the fact that a person is male and black or brown and it is almost always much worse. I have read in horror about children who have died locked away in the state sponsored cages of the bad old days. How soul-wrenching it is to see that they are not over.

  8. Stories such as this are so incredibly heartbreaking. Especially so for those of us who have children on the spectrum. Although slight in stature, our 17 year old son can be unbelievably strong in situations of defense or spontaneous reaction to things he doesn’t understand. I wonder if we shouldn’t have our children, no matter the age, have something on their person (such as medical bracelet) to help identify why response would be difficult when asked seemingly simple questions such as “What is your name?”. As a former educator, I found that many times, parents did not want their child “labeled”. Although it may be heartbreaking to us, I think it is more helpful than hurtful. It allows our kids, and those in our classroom, an opportunity for help and services that are best for them. If no one knows, then the behavior is treated as if they are just naughty, rude, or intentionally inappropriate. And educators/aides, etc. who are uncomfortable /untrained (as most of us are) can seek help. I know that all school systems are different, but my hope is that the more awareness there is, the more our children can be helped appropriately and earn the respect they deserve.

  9. I see this and closer to home for me, I think of Kelly Thomas here in Orange County CA, who was not autistic but schizophrenic – still someone who didn’t act typically. He died because of the police.

    And I look at my oldest, who is over 6″ tall, frustrates easily, and though quite verbal, has non-typical ways of speaking and moving his body – especially if he’s stimming, which is often. We were thrilled when he finally began doing things like walking to the store for a snack on his own instead of insisting on having an adult with him. And yet every time he leaves the house in the back of my mind I’m disquieted, because I see how people look at him even when he’s with me. Someone who might make a phone call about a suspicious person whose odd behavior is scarier because he’s big. And yet I don’t want to train him out of harmless movements that calm him down and make him feel better.

    My city’s police department already has a certain reputation for overreacting to some situations and I’ve often thought of going to their headquarters and asking about their training on issues like this. I’m not sure what I would do after they told me though.

  10. I cannot believe that this actually happened. It brought be to tears reading it. While I don’t have an autistic child myself, a very close family friend, who’s children I babysat for many years have an autistic son. I love him dearly. He is sweet and loving (sometimes we say he loves a little too much as his hugs almost crush you) and he would never intentionally hurt anyone. However if he were in this situation? I don’t doubt at all that he would fight back. I really, really hope this poor boy gets released. He will most definitely be in mine and my family’s prayers.

  11. I live in Fl and will be helping to spread awareness. I have two girls on the spectrum and this terrifies me, always has. We role play and do so often. In fact my child wanted to role play her being lost and a cop asking her her name, my name, where she lives and her phone number. This from a child who 2 yrs ago couldn’t hold a conversation, only had 50 or so words and would only repeat everything said to her. She now knows our info. In the story she had what she’s been waiting for years for, a shih tzu she’ll name Angel, who ran off because she forgot the leash. So she goes after her and a cop stops her and asks if she needs help. In her story he helps, he’s a funny character though who also takes her out to eat and gives someone a ticket while helping her. They do find her lost Angel and contact me and he brings her home. She then gets a talking to by me and the cop about how we never ever run off looking for anything by ourselves. And I think of this story and wonder if she really would be that calm and able to give our info when needed or if she’d just stare and start to rock. Role play does seem to help, she even introduces herself and me to cops or at least says hi in passing now which never would have started without role playing.
    Lately I’ve been wanting to call our office here and set up a meeting as my oldest has been stopped while walking her dog and asked questions by the cops that sit out here and one grown man offered her his number. She’s higher functioning and we’re working on independence and self esteem but she gets terrified and has panic attacks with each “meeting” she has with someone out there alone. I think it’d be good for my girls and for the cops. I hope others will consider this in their communities. It may help bring awareness and who knows maybe a cop will remember meeting that child and help if it’s ever needed.
    We keep so much to ourselves I’m not even certain our neighbors would know us and where we live. It’s a scary thought even losing my children for a moment in a store much less out there.
    I hope with help of awareness and Neli’s situation we can all help him in some way and our own children at the same time.

  12. I wanted to see if there was a petition that I could sign for this young man, but it’s now closed. I hope someone can start a new petition. This was the first that I had heard about Neli and I can’t imagine what is he going through.

  13. Pingback: Please stop blaming and punishing | Adventures of Team W

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