What happened in Stafford?

Until someone emailed me the story, I had not heard about the case of Neli Latson, an 18-year old with Asperger Syndrome.

The cascade of missteps that led to the arrest suggest a combination of public racial profiling and the over reaction of law enforcement officers who are unfamiliar with autistic behavior.

The story details the events which led to the arrest: someone made a call to the Sheriff’s office to report a young black man sitting in a grassy area, possibly with a gun.

Except there was no gun.

The official report is here:

No gun was found on the subject and subsequent investigation has indicated that that a gun was not actually seen by the reporting parties at Park Ridge Elementary. While no weapon was seen authorities are still investigating the possibility.

I’m guessing that black means there must have been a gun, right?

Asperger Syndrome is “characterized by significant difficulties in social interaction,” according to Wikipedia. It is no wonder, then, that a confrontation between law enforcement and the young man took place. The sheriff’s department had no way of knowing of Neli’s condition, however:  according to the article, the young man did not have a medical alert bracelet.

But we know now. So why is the young man still in custody?

Yes, he’s been moved to a state mental hospital, but he remains in custody. According to the article and a website being maintained by his mother, his condition is deteriorating.

All because a young black man was sitting under a tree.

What happened in Stafford was a tragedy.

Why do I get the sense that this story will not have a happy ending?

3 thoughts on “What happened in Stafford?

  1. Nearly the exact same thing happened a few months back between me and one of my neighbors in DC. I heard voices coming from a backyard a few doors down — one of the voices screamed, “You wanna shoot me?” and then I heard a lot of furniture being thrown around violently. No shots had been fired at that point, but I figured it’d be better to call the police before any shooting started.

    A couple minutes later, as the SWAT team was rolling up into the alley, I finally spotted where the screaming was coming from — it was one young man off his meds who was having a violent altercation with one of the voices in his head (I swear to God he was talking with multiple voices).

    That was about the point where the police kicked in the back gate and confronted him. Thank God the young man fled into the house instead of fighting back because I was able to flag the officers down and get them to stop before they entered the home and had to start doing things that would require paperwork.

    The scene commander for the SWAT team was incredibly responsive to the unexpected nuances of the situation. As soon as I told him that it was actually a mental health episode, he deescalated immediately and made the executive decision to give my neighbor a pass for running away from the officers who had confronted him.

    The point of my story is, I don’t know whether racial profiling was involved in Neli Latson’s or not — my neighbor happened to be black (my block’s about 40% black, 40% white and 20% Latino) but that didn’t have anything to do with me deciding to call 911, I distinctly heard him threaten…er, himself…with a gun. But what I do know for certain is that a police department and prosecutor’s ability to respond to situations involving mental health issues is entirely dependent upon the training and leadership of the government officials involved.

    Sounds like Stafford may have a way to go in training its people.

  2. There is a recording of the 911 call. There should be a video of the encounter with the first officer, if it was close enough to the high school. Those might shed some light on what happened.

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