Federal Lawsuit Filed to Seek Redress for Cruel and Inhumane Confinement of Autistic Individual

ALEXANDRIA, VA - Today, the law firm of BuckleySandler LLP and the Washington Lawyers’ Committee for Civil Rights and Urban Affairs filed a federal lawsuit on behalf of Reginald “Neli” Latson, a young African-American man diagnosed with autism spectrum disorder and intellectual disability, who was incarcerated in Virginia for nearly three years before receiving a conditional pardon from Governor McAuliffe in January 2015.  The lawsuit seeks redress for the serious harm caused by the cruel and inhumane conditions of Mr. Latson’s incarceration, including extended periods of solitary confinement.

The complaint explains that a misunderstanding with a police officer who accosted an 18-year-old Mr. Latson outside the public library in his own community led to Mr. Latson’s suffering for nearly three years in the Virginia correctional system, with most of that time spent in isolation.  For months at a time, Mr. Latson was held in 23- to 24-hour solitary confinement as a result of the correctional facilities’ deliberate indifference and unwillingness to make appropriate accommodations for his disabilities.  Extensive documentation of Mr. Latson’s mental condition and vulnerability as well as numerous pleas to treat him more humanely were disregarded.  Instead, Mr. Latson, who was described by a jail warden who testified on his behalf as a “child in a man’s body,” was forced to languish in extended isolation during which he was deprived of reading material, a radio, or even a clock.  When he became suicidal, officers handled Mr. Latson roughly, and when he reacted physically they shocked him with a Taser and strapped him for hours in a restraint chair.  This harsh and inhumane treatment continued, as Mr. Latson was punished with extended solitary confinement and sensory deprivation while being treated cruelly and even mocked for his disability. 

The case received national attention as multiple newspaper articles and editorials across the country decried Virginia’s cruel treatment of Mr. Latson, but this apparently had no impact on corrections officials.  It was not until the Governor’s pardon, which received broad-based and bipartisan support, that Mr. Latson was released from this torment – but not before Mr. Latson was again placed in solitary confinement after the Governor granted his pardon and while he was awaiting release.

Unfortunately, the mistreatment of Mr. Latson has had extremely damaging and lasting effects.  Dr. Nakia Hamlett, a psychology professor at Yale School of Medicine who has interviewed and examined Mr. Latson, explained that “the sustained trauma he endured while imprisoned” has “utterly derailed” his future life prospects.  Prior to his suffering at the hands of corrections officials, it was hoped and expected that Mr. Latson would be able to live in the community with relatively minimal support.  As a result of his mistreatment, however, he will likely need costly residential treatment and other services for the foreseeable future.

The complaint, filed in the U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of Virginia, describes violations of Mr. Latson’s rights under the First, Eighth, and Fourteenth Amendments to the U.S. Constitution pursuant to 42 U.S.C. § 1983, Section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act, 29 U.S.C. § 701 et seq., and Title II of the Americans with Disabilities Act of 1990, 21 U.S.C. § 12131, et seq.  The complaint seeks compensatory and punitive damages against Virginia and correctional authorities and officials. 

“BuckleySandler is proud to bring this case on Mr. Latson’s behalf, and we sincerely hope that it will have an impact on the treatment of intellectually disabled, autistic and mentally ill inmates both within and outside of Virginia,” said Caitlin Kasmar, a partner at BuckleySandler.  “Nobody – guilty or innocent – should have to endure the kinds of conditions Mr. Latson endured for what amounted to years within the correctional system.”

“What happened to Neli Latson is just one example of the serious national problem of solitary confinement of prisoners, particularly young men and people with mental disabilities,” said Roderic V.O. Boggs, Executive Director of the Washington Lawyers’ Committee. “This has been recognized not just by our DC Prisoners’ Project and other advocates, but also by authorities ranging from President Obama to Supreme Court Justice Anthony Kennedy. We are pleased to work with BuckleySandler to obtain justice for Mr. Latson and prevent such cruel and inhumane treatment in the future.”

Click here to view the complaint.

Media Contact:

Da’aga Hill Bowman
Director of Development & Communications
Washington Lawyers’ Committee
202-319-1000; daaga_bowman@washlaw.org


Mark Lutin
Senior Manager of Communications
BuckleySandler LLP
202-349-7929; mlutin@buckleysandler.com

- For more than 45 years, the Washington Lawyers’ Committee for Civil Rights and Urban Affairs has represented individuals and groups seeking to vindicate their civil rights.  It has handled over 5,000 civil rights cases in employment, housing, public accommodations, and other aspects of urban life. It represents people with claims of discrimination based on race, gender, national origin, disability, age, religion, sexual orientation, and military service and status.  For more information, visit www.washlaw.org; or write to: Washington Lawyers’ Committee for Civil Rights and Urban Affairs, 11 Dupont Circle, NW, Suite 400, Washington, DC 20036; phone (202) 319-1000.   

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