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Solitary Confinement Is A Despicable Way To Treat The Mentally Ill

Reginald Latson

Reginald Latson

Reginald ‘Neli’ Latson is a black 23-year-old autistic boy with Asperger’s and an IQ of 69. He is locked-up in solitary confinement in Virginia. His crime: Wearing a hoodie while black when he was 18-years-old and sitting on the grass outside a public library waiting for it to open.

From the Facebook page, Justice for Reginald Latson,

One day, he took a walk to the local library as he often did, but found it to be closed. He waited outside the library for it to open. Somebody at a school near the library called the police, saying that there was a suspicious person sitting near the library who he or she believed had a gun. The police ordered a lockdown on local schools and went searching for the supposed gunman.

Shortly afterwards, a “school resources officer” and sheriff deputy approached Neli, recognizing him as the person that the police were searching for. According to the police, Neli attacked the officer for no apparent reason. According to Neli and his family, however, he complied with a search, which resulted in no gun being found, was threatened and then tried to leave, but the deputy grabbed him from behind. A struggle ensued, during which the deputy used pepper spray on Neli. Neli himself eventually got his hands on the can of pepper spray and, depending on whose account one believes, either used it on the officer or fled from the scene. At some point during the fight or pursuit, the deputy suffered a broken ankle and a cut to the head.

Sound familiar? I suppose Neli is lucky to be alive. Michael Brown, Eric Garner, Tamir Rice and many others too numerous to mention are dead.

Then again, maybe he isn’t so lucky. He is locked up 23 hours per day isolated in a cell with a hole in the floor for a toilet and no bed, television or radio. He is permitted one hour per day out of his cell to exercise in a somewhat larger cell.

Solitary confinement is torture. Why is the State of Virginia torturing him?

The distressing simple answer is: Solitary confinement is the only option available in jail because he is unsuitable for general population and is hostile to staff. His situation is not unusual because this is how our nation ‘treats’ the mentally ill. For example, the Los Angeles County Jail is our nation’s largest psychiatric facility.

Ruth Marcus of the Washington Post explains what happened to Neli after he was convicted of assaulting the deputy and placed in a group home upon successfully completing a residential treatment program,

When Latson became agitated after a visit with his mother, staff unfamiliar with his routines called police. Latson asked the officer to shoot him and tried to grab his gun. Instead of treating this like the mental health crisis it was, Frederick County, where the episode took place, filed felony charges. Olsen [the white prosecutor] seized on the episode as a probation violation and moved to revoke Latson’s probation.

Transferred back to the Stafford County jail against the judge’s recommendation, Latson had another run-in with authorities. Taken off his anti-psychotic medications and suicidal, he hit an officer as he was being moved from solitary into a “crisis cell” with no bed and a hole in the floor for a toilet.

Neli’s lawyers want the judge to place him in a secure mental health treatment facility in Florida, a recommendation supported by Virginia mental health authorities who have secured federal funding to pay for his placement.

Unfortunately, the prosecutor has other plans. He is refusing to support the placement because he is determined to prosecute and convict Neli of assaulting the officer in jail. Marcus explains why,

Latson’s intellectual disability, Olsen has argued in court, is “an aspect of convenience. When his advocates want him to be retarded, he is.”

Olsen grudgingly acknowledges that Latson has been diagnosed with autism but contends that the 23-year-old’s problems in the criminal justice system do not arise from his disability. “He is a person with autism that also has this hate, this racial hate and this hate for law enforcement,” Olsen said.

That last quote tells me all I need to know. The prosecutor is a racist because only a  racist would even think to accuse Neli of “racial hate.”

Of course the kid hates cops. Why wouldn’t he?

Olsen probably thinks of himself as a good Christian. He isn’t. But for Olsen, Neli would be safely receiving the treatment he needs for his mental illness instead of being housed in solitary confinement, untreated.

44 Then they themselves also will answer, ‘Lord, when did we see You hungry, or thirsty, or a stranger, or naked, or sick, or in prison, and did not take care of You?’ 45″Then He will answer them, ‘Truly I say to you, to the extent that you did not do it to one of the least of these, you did not do it to Me.'”

Matthew 25:44-45

 

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Frederick Leatherman

Frederick Leatherman

I am a former law professor and felony criminal defense lawyer who practiced in state and federal courts for 30 years specializing in death penalty cases, forensics, and drug cases.

I taught criminal law, criminal procedure, law and forensics, and trial advocacy for three years after retiring from my law practice.

I also co-founded Innocence Project Northwest (IPNW) at the University of Washington School of Law in Seattle and recruited 40 lawyers who agreed to work pro bono, assisted by law students, representing 17 innocent men and women wrongfully convicted of sexually abusing their children in the notorious Wenatchee Sex Ring witch-hunt prosecutions during the mid 90s. All 17 were freed from imprisonment.

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