Can you spend a few moments to let us know what you see? A Black autistic man’s life hangs in the balance.
We want to show you the evidence– videos, police transcripts, and court testimony– that the police don’t want you to see.
In response to calls for justice for Matthew Rushin, a Black autistic engineering student who was arrested at the scene of a car accident, the Virginia Beach Police Department have issued a statement.
These claims blatantly contradict their own body cam transcripts, their own interrogation footage, witness testimony, and include open falsehoods.
When a police department openly lies about things for which there is actual video evidence, what do we do?
The party told you to reject the evidence of your eyes and ears. It was their final, most essential command.
George Orwell 1984
This is a sort of Orwellian moment, where we are asked to deny the evidence of our own eyes and ears, because the VBPD say we must.
So I’d like you to take a look at the police’s claims, and the evidence, and tell us what you see.
If you aren’t familiar with the case of Matthew Rushin, that’s okay. In fact, that’s great! Fresh eyes and ears are always welcomed in a case like this. The more the better.
No one wants to allow a potential attempted murderer go free. But we don’t send kind, loving people to prison for having a seizure, either.
So will you please loan us your eyes and ears?
Let’s look at Commonwealth Attorney Colin Stolle’s claims… and then look at the evidence.
Right away, Stolle’s opening sentence conflicts with the facts of that dark and rainy night. Who struck who that night? We aren’t even sure. The other vehicle was moving out of a stop sign, and Matthew was turning in from traffic.
Who has right of way there?
The police state that it was Rushin who hit the other car, although they presented no evidence or data from this fender bender. We don’t even have an insurance report. No pictures. Police obtained footage, but it was never entered into discovery evidence. Its existence was never mentioned.
But never mind who struck who.
It was dark. It was raining. Two cars failed to see each other and dinged each other as they turned. These things happen. Matthew pulled into the parking lot and parked. He took off his seatbelt and waited for the other driver to pull up next to him.
Matthew talked about that fender bender a lot. He never changed his story. He said the guy hit him but looked at him all angry like it was Matthew’s fault. Matthew waited for him but was scared because he wasn’t getting out and he looked so angry.
We found out later that the driver was making a call. He did not pull over and get out of his car to exchange information as the law requires. He remained where he was.
Do you know anything about autistic people and rules?
We suffer extreme anxiety when people don’t follow them.
Matthew sat there in the dark, watching the other car, afraid. His heart was pounding. Car accidents terrify him.
Two years prior, he got into his car… and awoke from a coma days later in the hospital with a traumatic brain injury, from which he was still recovering.
The other car continued to sit in the intersection.
Matthew didn’t know what to do. The things that were supposed to happen weren’t happening, and he didn’t have a script for how to proceed.
A neurotypical person may have gotten out of the car and walked into the road, confronting the other driver. But Matthew Rushin is autistic and didn’t have a script for this. Nor is he a confrontational person. His panic began to rise.
Matthew described the encounter.This is directly from police transcripts summarizing body camera footage (text version below image):
The following is a summary of Statements made by Matthew Rushin as documented on Officer J. Dolida’s body camera video to Officer Dolida and Officer Kera on 01/04/19:at 2016 hours.
Rushin states I was turning into the parking lot where Panera is (by Total Wine) near Chipotle, Dairy Queen, and Chic Fil A. Rushin says he was going to pick up some pastries and his dad said to “be home by 2015” because “it is raining out and he doesn’t like me out in this weather”. Rushin says he turns onto the service road and is turning into the parking lot when a Volvo hits him. He states; it hits my front left.
So Matthew has stated from the first that the other car struck him, and the police never presented any evidence to the contrary. Why is Stolle claiming so boldly that it was Matthew who struck the other car?
But that doesn’t really matter. What matters is what happened next. Here is how the Commonwealth Attorney Colin Stolle describes it:
This is where we come to the crux of the matter. The fender bender no longer matters. A parking lot collision with a 2001 Volkswagon is not a life changing moment.
The big question is – did Matthew Rushin pull a u-turn and then deliberately drive headlong into an incoming car?
Was he suicidal? Was he trying to end his life? Did he intentionally speed over the median into oncoming traffic?
It matters, because this crash caused serious and lasting injury to an innocent family.
The police say yes, this was intentional.
Matthew was charged with two counts of malicious wounding. His lawyer Melinda Glaubke told him he had better plead guilty if he wanted the slightest chance of going home any time soon.
Glaubke told Matthew that they would look at him and the case and determine he’s guilty. By looking at him. Because he’s Black? At least, that much may be true. Except, Glaubke told Matthew’s parents that she would not allege that VBPD or the prosecutor were profiling Matthew and she refused to believe that race would be a factor in how the Virginia Beach police treated Matthew.
Matthew insisted that he did not crash intentionally. His story is backed up by the police body cam transcripts, the interrogation videos, and the court transcripts. Not to mention the psychiatrist, the forensic crash report, and Matthew’s own medical records
I’ve compiled the highlights from his interrogation in this brief video clip so you can see and hear for yourself.
If you want, you can view more of it here. We have nothing to hide, but we value your time. The reader’s digest version is below:
As you can see, Matthew states again and again that he did not intend to hurt anyone, including himself. He was distressed beyond what was reasonable or in character for him and was trying to undo his mistake of leaving the scene of a collision. He remembers those bright LED lights…
The police were left with a mystery. Why did Matthew Rushin accelerate into that car?
It’s clear that, to them, the only explanation possible is that Matthew accelerated purposely, hoping to drive himself into oblivion.
They don’t appear to consider the most common cause of accidents such as this, which is not suicide, but people panicking and hitting the accelerator by mistake instead of the brake.
My own father did this when I was 16 – tried to brake and ended up accelerating at a gas station. There are a lot of wild videos on Youtube of people doing this, too.
This is called “brake misapplication;” it is a serious-but-fairly-common mistake, and the subsequent forensic analysis report named this the cause of the crash.
The forensic analyst named three primary reasons for believing that Matthew was not attempting suicide:
First, if Matthew was suicidal, he wouldn’t have pulled a U-turn. A U-turn would slow him down a lot, and matches his claim that he was returning to the scene of the first accident. Why pull a u-turn when he could have just accelerated through the intersection into the concrete wall of the upcoming overpass? Or, if he felt the need to take someone else out with him, accelerate into the oncoming lane right from the intersection?
Why slow down, pull a u-turn, and THEN try to crash? It is not consistent with the behavior of a suicidal person.
According to the forensic analyst:
Second, the head-on collision was not centered. It impacted on one side of the Ford Explorer, causing the cars to spin. This suggests that Matthew was not aiming at the car towards the Explorer but was steering away from it.
Third, pedal misapplication (hitting the gas instead of the brakes) is a much more common reason for crashes like this, and it is most common in people Matthew’s age. The old (like my father) and the young (like Matthew) are most at risk.
People with autism and ADHD (Matthew has both) are more likely to make this mistake as well, regardless of our age.
You can read the report in its entirety here.
But after all, a forensic analysis can only ever be an educated guess. It can show what, based on the data compared to similar collisions, the behaviors that happened right before the crash, not the thoughts of the person behind the wheel. Based on data from hundreds of thousands of other collisions, and on the math, a reliable educated guess can be made.
Could Matthew have been struck by a suicidal impulse seconds after completing his U-turn, and aimed for an oncoming car – poorly?
According to the official statement from Mr. Stolle, Matthew outright claimed to be attempting suicide at the scene.
This section of Stolle’s letter is pretty darn clear, regardless of what a forensic expert says, don’t you think?
That sounds pretty cut-and-dry, you have to admit! If he openly admitted to doing it, who cares what the forensic report says, right?
…Except that none of that appears to be true.
You’ve seen highlights of the interrogation, and if you like you can watch more on our Youtube channel. We’ve watched the entire thing and we have the transcripts as well.
At no point does he say that he was killing himself. He is respectful and emphatic that he was not trying to kill himself.
The police’s own transcripts of the body cam footage don’t record him saying any of these things.
Through every interaction, on multiple body cams, Matthew is recorded telling the same story you heard about in the interrogation. He pulled a U-turn, then he lost control of the car.
He also admits to saying “I want to die, I want to die,” after he first got out of his car and was accosted by an angry driver. An autistic person will recognize those words – we say them when we are in meltdown.
He also keeps insisting that he doesn’t really remember the details of the actual crash.
At this point, the officers knew that Matthew was autistic. One of the officers had recognized Matthew from his 2017 accident. He knew Matthew had been in a coma after that crash. He knew Matthew had a brain injury.
All of the officers on the scene – 17 of them – had been trained in autism response.
They knew that autistic people will repeat things said to them when under stress. So when a man yelled “were you trying to fucking kill yourself?” at him, he repeated it back.
Or did he?
What Matthew admits to saying, and what witnesses report him saying, was ‘I want to die”, which is not the same as “I was just trying to fucking kill myself”.
The man who yelled at Matthew after the crash never reported Matthew saying that he had been trying to kill himself.
He heard “I want to die.” That’s not the same thing.
Even though the police pumped him to say that he heard Matthew express clear intent, the man was very clear that Matthew had said “I want to die” not “I was just trying to fucking kill myself”.
When he was under oath in court, the man told the exact same story.
Matthew’s own defense lawyer double-checked that Matthew had said “I want to die” not “I was trying to kill myself” or “I wanted to kill myself, okay?”
The witness confirmed.
It’s true that “I want to die” is not a normal thing for someone to say. But it is a normal thing for an autistic person to say while in meltdown.
I said it once when I melted down after my mother accused me of not trying hard enough to keep the house clean. If I thought I had just killed someone in a car accident I couldn’t remember, and a strange man slammed me up against a car, then another was restraining me, and I was disoriented, and a stranger was yelling in my face… I would probably say that, too. Doesn’t mean I meant to get in a car accident.
To some people, though, “I want to die,” and “I want to kill myself,” are synonymous.
To someone not trained in autism, anyway.
Here is what another witness said about Matthew:
This passage may be one of the most important pieces of evidence in the entire case, both for the prosecution and the defense.
In it, the witness remembers Matthew saying he was trying to kill himself. But he also notes that Matthew was not in a lucid, fully-conscious state of mind. Slurring his words, deeply distraught, “in shock,” in “hysterics,” flailing…
Was Matthew a doomed man confessing his sins? Or was he a horrified man dealing with the reality of a ghastly car crash and the possibility that he may have killed someone?
Did the witness hear “I want to die” or “I should have died” and misconstrue it to mean he had been suicidal before the crash?
Was Matthew in a rational state of mind, capable of controlling himself and speaking rationally? Or was he an autistic in meltdown, controlled entirely by his amygdala, impulsively repeating the words that had been yelled at him, desperate to escape the nightmare he was experiencing, and unable to even understand what was happening?
All 17 police officers were trained in autism response. Matthew told them he had ASD. He told them that he was saying he wanted to die because of the accident, not the other way around.
The police should have take this into consideration, rather than assuming malicious intent.
They also should have been much more concerned by the fact that Matthew seemed confused about the crash and couldn’t really remember or explain what had happened.
That witness of the crash, who recalled in court hearing Matthew saying that he wanted to kill himself, also said Matthew was in a severe state of confusion.
When someone with a traumatic brain injury loses control of their vehicle and crashes into oncoming traffic, you should be concerned when they are confused, slurring their words, can’t follow simple instructions, and can’t remember exactly what happened.
Was Matthew in a fit state of mind to be interrogated without a lawyer?
They asked him repeatedly if he wanted to go to hospital and he declined. But someone with a head injury, who has just been in a major vehicle accident when they weren’t wearing a seatbelt, should always be taken to hospital.
People don’t always know when they are ok.
They should have taken him for medical examination, to assess whether there was a medical cause for the accident, like a seizure. They should have committed him to psychiatric care, considering that they thought he was capable of murder-suicide.
Instead they questioned him for four hours at the scene, and then took him into the precinct for further interrogation – which you have seen – and then arrested him for attempted murder.
They should have asked themselves if there weren’t more rational explanations for an autistic man with a traumatic brain injury straying over the median and having no memory of the crash.
Did Matthew have a seizure?
You saw in the interrogation video that Matthew remembered the LED lights of the oncoming Ford very distinctly. The officer interrogating him even remarked on that, didn’t she?
Do LED headlights strobe when you look at them? They do to me. I, like many autistic people and some non-autistic people, see strobing from LED headlights.
It is known that the strobing from LED lights – particularly against a dark background – can trigger seizures.
Now, obviously Matthew didn’t have the kind of seizure people usually think of when they think of a seizure. We think of the pass-out-shake-uncontrollably kind of seizure. That is the tonic-clonic, generalized type of seizure. It affects the whole brain.
But there’s another kind of seizure, called a focal seizure. Focal seizures happen in only a part of the brain.
They are common in people with head injuries, and the people having them don’t fully lose consciousness, but they are often unaware that anything has happened. They simply freeze for short while, or they may even continue walking but lose time. They may see things that aren’t there.
Many people have focal seizures for years and have no idea. Family members just think they “zone out” or dissociate.
You know, exactly like Matthew did in the interrogation room, when he stopped pacing, stood in an odd posture and didn’t move.
We have shown this video to neurologists and they agree that this is what a focal seizure looks like.
Autistic people are at high risk of having seizures. So are people with brain injuries. Matthew was diagnosed with both.
38% of autistic people experience seizures, focal or generalized, compared to 1% of the population. Seizures are the leading risk of death for autistic people, and EEGs show that our brains’ frequently go through “electrical discharges” which are essentially tiny subclinical seizures, even when we never show any signs of a seizure.
So, we have an autistic person – who is naturally prone to having seizures and/or is frequently experiencing subclinical seizures – with a history of traumatic brain injury. The more severe the injury, the greater the chance of developing epilepsy.
Matthew was in a coma after his 2017 crash. That is a severe head injury. He also experienced seizures while in the hospital recovering from that injury.
Knowing this – one of the police officers remembered Matthew’s 2017 crash and had attended the scene – Matthew should have been transported straight to a hospital and seen by a neurologist.
What was clear to the officers was that Matthew was confused, disoriented, and unable to give consistent details of the night after the U-turn. He also refers to “coming to.”
Considering that he was reporting a loss of awareness and control of the vehicle, and that the last thing he remembered was LED headlights, and his steadfast insistence that he had lost control of the car, it seems reasonable that they would get him examined by a medical professional.
Even if he had recklessly and heartlessly driven himself head-first through other people’s lives in a burst of self destruction, wouldn’t that be all the more reason to get him hospitalized and given psychiatric care?
Instead, they handcuffed him, arrested him, jailed him, denied him bond and denied him access to a neurologist when his mother requested it.
They did this because they were already certain that Matthew had tried to kill himself. After all, he had done it before, in 2017, right?
Or… did he? Everyone assumed it was a suicide attempt because why else would someone get into a car, not buckle their seatbelt and accelerate into a tree?
…Unless they got into their car, had a focal seizure and their foot depressed the accelerator.
So… was he even suicidal then?
Was he suicidal ever?
Here’s what the psychiatrist who testified at Matthew’s trial had to say on the subject.
So Matthew does not have a history of attempted suicides, or suicidal behaviour.
“But wait!” you say. “What about the wrist slitting? The VBPD statement says he attempted suicide in 2018 too.”
Yes, it does. It says this:
Well, it’s interesting that they cite this because according to Dr. Keenan’s report, that was not a suicide attempt, it was cutting/self harm. That is not the same thing.
You can see the scars on his forearm for yourself, if you like. Are those self-harm marks, or suicide marks?
The statement also neglects to mention that Dr. Keenan’s report on Matthew’s mental health was submitted as an exhibit for the defense. In it, he cites the accident as a result of Matthew’s anxiety disorder, ASD and ADHD. He did not believe Matthew suffered from depression or was suicidal.
He did not consider the accident anything more than an accident. In fact, he thought Matthew should be in psychiatric care, and then released to the community.
In summary – is there any evidence at all that Matthew was attempting suicide?
Only his words, “I want to die, I want to die” after the crash, when a stranger was yelling at him and two others were restraining him?
Through all of the footage, all of the transcripts, Matthew steadfastly insists that he lost control of the vehicle and that he was not suicidal.
There is nothing in his psychiatric history indicating that he has ever been suicidal. Anxious? Yes. Self-harming? One time. Suicidal? No.
The forensic crash report concludes that the crash was accidental and not a suicide.
The forensic psychiatrist reports diagnoses of anxiety, but not depression, and recommends that Matthew be in psychiatric care, rather than prison.
“What about the videos?” you say. “They said they had videos.”
They didn’t even have videos.
They were using deception techniques in their interrogation– lying to Matthew– because the only videos produced by the prosecution failed to capture the crash.
Here’s one. Have fun looking for the crash in it.
Here is another video they produced:
Even if the videos showed the crash, they couldn’t tell us whether Matthew was having a seizure or not. For that he would have needed to be inspected by a neurologist, which has not happened.
Not in the year and a half since this crash has Matthew been checked by a neurologist.
They have no evidence to prove that Matthew was behaving in any way maliciously. Even if you take his echolalia during meltdown as God’s Truth, he never said he wanted to hurt anybody.
Let me be clear – this accident was a horrific tragedy. An elderly couple’s life was forever changed. While no one died, a man suffered injuries from which he will never fully recover.
That is terrible. It should never have happened. They are innocent victims of an awful, life-changing event.
That does not mean it was done with malice.
Intent matters. It matters whether you intend to kill someone, versus accidentally do so.
Once, in Nova Scotia, an old woman had a heart attack while driving, and collided with a school bus. It was a terrible accident. A lot of kids were hurt. My own spouse suffered a traumatic brain injury from it.
But it wasn’t a murder attempt, was it?
25 letters from community members, ranging from Matthew’s employer to the little old lady down the road, insist that Matthew is the kindest, gentlest, most loving person they know.
Someone who collects socks for the homeless and does errands for old women in wheelchairs would not maliciously wound other people, would they?
It’s hard for us to accept that sometimes terrible things happen by accident.
Personally, I find it really hard to accept that 17 members of the VBPD, all of whom were trained in autism response, failed to recognize and respond appropriately to an autistic meltdown.
I find it hard to accept that these same officers handcuffed a man who had just been involved in a severe accident, who was bleeding, and confused, and slurring his words, and took him to the precinct instead of the hospital.
I find it hard to accept that officers trained in autism interrogated an autistic man with a traumatic brain injury without an attorney or parent present.
I find it hard to accept that even though the officers noticed that Matthew repeatedly seemed to think the crash happened as he exited the U-turn, instead of a quarter of a mile further down the road, and even though they noticed Matthew’s fixation on the LED lights, and even though they knew he had a history of traumatic brain injury… they did not allow him to be assessed by a neurologist.
Matthew Rushin has been incarcerated ever since that tragic night. During this time he has experienced severe headaches, and periods of blindness. Yet he has been denied access to a neurologist.
An EEG within 24 hours of the crash could have told us whether Matthew had a seizure. No EEG has ever been done on him. He has not had an MRI. All he has been given is a prescription for Ativan. He has been in prison, not a psychiatric care facility as the forensic psychiatrist recommended.
And so, tell me – what do you think? Do you think he is proven guilty, beyond a reasonable doubt?
Do you think his lawyer was right to pressure him to plead guilty?
And finally – do you think this is justice?
To complete this trial by public opinion, I’ll let Matthew have the final words, as they did in court at his sentencing. The full apology was several pages long, but here are the key points:
Matthew’s point is an essential one.
Yes, irreparable harm was done. But if it was not done maliciously, then is prison going to help heal it? If a brain injury and a bad combination of events caused this accident, rather than deliberate malice, can prison fix it?
So, people of the Jury of public opinion…
Is he guilty of malicious wounding? Attempted murder?
Is it at least worth giving him access to his neurologist so we can find out?
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- See For Yourself – The Truth About Matthew Rushin - July 28, 2020
- Sixteen-year-old Killed by Restraint: It’s Time for Connection Over Control - May 7, 2020