Page 3 of 4   <       >

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

The issue resonates not only with parents but with police. Every year, the International Association of Chiefs of Police picks one major issue to address at a national summit. In 2010, it was improving police response to people with mental illness and such conditions as autism.

"It has been a huge and significant part of our conversation in the last couple of years," said John Firman, director of research for the organization.

Firman, who participates in the Big Brother program, has a "little brother" with Asperger's. He said that when he goes out with the youngster, he sometimes wonders, "If anything would happen here, how would police deal with him?"

Among the summit's recommendations, Firman said, were that all officers be trained in how to deal with such people and that police work closely with families and community organizations.

Latson's case, however, was not a matter of a law enforcement officer being untrained, the prosecutor said. "This deputy has a 33-year-old mentally retarded child," Olsen said. "So the deputy is very sensitive to dealing with children with disabilities. He's lived it every day for the last 33 years."

Pained parents

On March 4, the jury found Latson guilty of four charges, including assault of a law enforcement officer and wounding in the commission of a felony. On May 19, he is scheduled to appear before Stafford County Circuit Court Judge Charles Sharp, who can accept or reduce the jury's recommended sentence.

Last week, prosecutors tried Latson on a breaking-and-entering charge related to an incident in 2009. In that case, prosecutors said, Latson rang the doorbell at a teenager's home. When the teen opened the door, Latson hit him and followed him inside. Latson pleaded guilty to assault last year. On Thursday, he was found guilty of breaking and entering.

"I'm not here to try to paint a pretty story about my son," but he is not the violent individual that Stafford authorities have depicted, said Latson's mother, Lisa Alexander. "Neli is not a danger to society. He doesn't belong in jail. He belongs at home."

Holly Robinson Peete, a co-host of CBS's "The Talk" and mother of a 13-year-old boy with autism, said she has had nightmares about a boy sitting on a lawn with a hooded sweat shirt. "In my dream, the boy's face is my son's," said Peete, who, with her son's twin sister, has written a children's book, "My Brother Charlie," about a boy with autism. "I'm telling you: It haunts me."

And it haunts other parents, too.

Ann Worley of Springfield has a scar on her cheek where her son David bit her. When he was younger, David would take out his frustrations on himself, she said, but now he is 18, 6-foot-2 and 360 pounds, and he lashes outward.

"There was a time last September, I actually locked myself in the bathroom," Worley said. "I was scared. I thought I was going to have to call the police."


<          3        >

© 2011 The Washington Post Company