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In Va. assault case, anxious parents recognize 'dark side of autism'

Instead, a law enforcement officer with 33 years of experience ended his career early, and a teenager, who had committed no crime in the moments before he encountered the deputy, has spent about 10 months in custody.

Stafford prosecutor Eric Olsen maintains that Latson didn't assault the deputy because of his Asperger's but because of "his violent tendencies." But advocates for people with autism fear that Latson's case represents a scenario that will become increasingly common in years to come.

"It's not like the population is going down," said Scott Campbell, who has done more than 120 presentations for local agencies, including police departments, on how to deal with autistic children. "It's going up."

A violent struggle

On the morning of the confrontation, Latson's mother said, he slipped out of the house early to go to the library. But it was closed, so he sat on the grass.

What followed was a call to police about a suspicious black male, outside the library, wearing a hoodie and possibly carrying a gun. The call came, authorities said, after some children at the elementary school across the street became frightened and told a crossing guard.

The school was put on lockdown, a search ensued and deputy Thomas Calverley, 56, a school resource officer, spotted Latson walking out of a nearby wooded area.

"Hey, what's up, man?" Calverley said, according to his testimony.

The deputy approached. He squeezed the front pocket area of Latson's sweat shirt and lifted it to check for a gun. There was none. According to authorities, no gun was found, and the children, when questioned later, said they never saw one.

Calverley said he asked the teenager his name several times and, after the teen refused to give it, he grabbed Latson, 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.

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.

Latson's attorneys didn't dispute what had happened. Instead, they presented an insanity defense in court. They said Latson - in whom intermittent explosive disorder and attention-deficit hyperactivity disorder had also been diagnosed - could not control his behavior because of an "irresistible impulse."

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