- Associated Press - Thursday, April 21, 2016

RICHMOND, Va. (AP) - Virginia prison and jail officials violated an autistic and mentally disabled inmate’s constitutional rights by subjecting him to cruel and inhumane conditions, including long stretches in solitary confinement, his lawyers say in a federal lawsuit filed Thursday.

The complaint also says Reginald Latson was shocked with a stun gun and strapped for hours in a restraint chair after acting out because of his disabilities. The lawsuit says Latson should have received treatment, not punishment, during his nearly three years in various state prisons and regional jails.

Gov. Terry McAuliffe gave Latson a conditional pardon in 2015 so he could be moved to a Florida treatment center, but the complaint says irreparable damage was already done.

“After his release from prison in early 2015, Mr. Latson has shown significant difficulty adapting to his new environment,” the lawsuit says. “His mental and emotional development has been utterly derailed, and he experiences severe anxiety and fear in the presence of authority figures.”

The lawsuit names several state correctional officials as defendants and seeks unspecified monetary damages.

Michael Kelly, a spokesman for state Attorney General Mark Herring, said the office does not comment on pending litigation. State prisons spokeswoman Lisa Kinney did not immediately respond to phone and email messages.

According to the lawsuit, Latson’s legal troubles began in May, 2010, when someone reported a suspicious-looking black man in a hoody outside a Stafford County public library. A deputy sheriff tried to question and frisk Latson, then 18, who “responded to the deputy’s use of force with a fight-or-flight response” that is common among people with autism spectrum disorder, the lawsuit says. The deputy was injured, and Latson was sentenced to two years in prison for the assault.

Latson was released on probation, but had a mental health crisis in a Frederick County residential treatment program that led to another scuffle with police, the lawsuit in U.S. District Court in Alexandria says. Latson’s probation was revoked and he was placed in solitary confinement for the first time before pleading guilty and being sentenced to 10 years in prison for the Frederick County fracas.

After being transferred to the Rappahannock Regional Jail in Stafford County, Latson hit a guard who was moving him from one cell to another. That’s when he was shot with the stun gun, strapped to the restraint chair for nearly nine hours and transferred to solitary confinement for more than a month, according to the suit. He was then moved to a state prison in Marion, where he again was held in isolation.

“For much of this period, which lasted almost six months, Mr. Latson spent his days staring at the wall in complete isolation and with nothing to distract him or help pass the time,” the complaint says, adding that “these restrictive and inhumane conditions led to serious psychological and physiological harm for Mr. Latson.”

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