Neli Latson Pardon

Overview: In 2010, Mr. Latson was an 18-year-old with autism and intellectual disability, waiting outside his neighborhood library in Stafford County, Virginia for it to open. Someone called the police reporting a “suspicious” Black male, possibly with a gun. Mr. Latson had committed no crime and was not armed. The resulting confrontation with a deputy resulted in injury to an officer when Mr. Latson understandably resisted being manhandled and physically restrained. This was the beginning of years of horrific abuse in the criminal justice system. Prosecutors refused to consider Mr. Latson’s disabilities, calling it a diagnosis of convenience and using “the R-word,” and rejected an offer of disability services as an alternative to incarceration. Instead, Mr. Latson was convicted, sentenced to ten years in prison, and punished with long periods of solitary confinement, Taser shocks, and the use of a full-body restraint chair for hours on end for behaviors related to his disabilities.

Virginia and national disability advocates, including The Arc urged then-Virginia Governor Terry McAuliffe to pardon Mr. Latson. In 2015, with bipartisan support from state legislators, Governor McAuliffe granted a conditional pardon. Although this released Mr. Latson from prison, it required him to live in a restrictive residential setting and remain subject to criminal justice system supervision for ten years. The terms of the 2015 conditional pardon meant Mr. Latson could be sent back to jail at any time, causing constant anxiety.

The Arc and other advocates continued to push for a full pardon which was finally granted by Governor Ralph Northam in 2021. The full pardon from Governor Northam recognizes Mr. Latson’s success since 2015 and relieves him from that ongoing threat. Mr. Latson now has the chance to live a satisfying and self-directed life in the community, free from burdensome, unfair restrictions and the constant threat of reincarceration, but unfortunately never free from the painful truth that Black people with disabilities live at a dangerous intersection of racial injustice and disability discrimination. Mr. Latson’s case galvanized disability rights activists, bringing national attention to overly aggressive and sometimes deadly policing, prosecution and sentencing practices and the horrifying mistreatment of people with disabilities in jails and prisons.

Case Documents

Pardon of Reginald Latson

Request for Complete Pardon and Other Relief for Reginald Latson

Press Releases

The Arc Calls on Governor McAuliffe to Grant Conditional Pardon for Neli Latson Immediately

The Arc Demands Full Pardon for Neli Latson, a Young Black Man With Autism, to Rectify Injustice

Coalition Demands Governor Northam Grant a Full Pardon of Neli Latson, a Young Black Man With Disabilities Subjected to a Decade of Injustice

Advocates Applaud Full Pardon of Neli Latson, a Young Black Man with Disabilities, After Decade of Injustice

Related Media

Washington Post: Stafford County woman confronts issues of race, autism after son’s arrest

Washington Post: Neli Latson is — finally — free. It only took 11 years, two governors and a national conversation about race and disability

The Hill: Amid Black Lives Matter protests, advocates seek pardon for autistic Black man convicted in 2010

Washington Post: Remember Neli Latson, the black teen with autism who seemed ‘suspicious’ sitting outside a library? Ten years after his arrest, he still isn’t fully free.

The Hill: Criminal injustice towards autistic individuals and the regrettable necessity of labeling autism a disability

Dallas Morning News: The U.S. justice system has an autism problem

Washington Post: In Va. assault case, anxious parents recognize ‘dark side of autism’

The Hill: Racial justice, disability rights, neurodiversity and cross-movement solidarity

OZY: Are Police Finally Learning to Deal With Autism? 

The Hill: Law enforcement’s efforts at greater autism awareness

Washington Post: Ruth Marcus: In Virginia, a cruel and unusual punishment for autism

Washington Post: A Black disabled teen went unheard in prison. People are now listening.