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.
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