Matthew Rushin received a conditional pardon on November 9, 2020, yet he remains in prison and is now infected with COVID-19.
Those of us who love and support Matthew Rushin celebrated the conditional pardon he received on November 9, 2020, because it meant he’ll be free years before he would have been.
We look forward to the day when he is free to come and go as he wishes, to be with his family and friends, to play his piano and viola, and to put his life back together.
His family looks forward to Matthew receiving the medical care that has been denied for nearly 2 years, to being free of their constant worry about his physical and mental health and his physical safety, and to being able to be with him, to embrace him for the first time in 2 years.
His friends are eager to see Matthew. His girlfriend, the one he was going to see the night of the accident, has been by his side every day. Some, like me, are eager to meet him in person for the first time.
Now, after learning this week that Matthew has COVID-19 and is very ill, experiencing severe headaches and shortness of breath, we are devastated. Prison is already dangerous for an autistic person. Will he live to come home?
He told his mother that he does not want to die alone in a cell.Matthew is autistic, has asthma, a brain cyst that has not been evaluated or treated for two years, a traumatic brain injury, a cyst on his brain, and possibly seizures. He’s experiencing transient blindness. He has PTSD.
Prison is not equipped to provide the kind of care needed by COVID patients who have such high risk factors. At the time of the pardon, it was incredibly disappointing that it was conditional and had so many stipulations.
Governor Northam and his administration have not acknowledged any of the many ways Matthew was wronged by the criminal justice system, from the moment he crawled out of the back of his vehicle to this moment in time when he is allowed to remain in a place unequipped to provide an appropriate level of care for someone infected with COVID and his risk factors.
The pardon didn’t acknowledge the error made by police, the Virginia Beach Commonwealth Attorney, and judges (not to mention the press and public) of interpreting an echolalic response as a confession.
By refusing to even consider that this was an error, the state of Virginia and the Virginia Beach criminal justice system are saying it is ok to discriminate against autistic (and other) marginalized people.
The pardon didn’t acknowledge that Matthew was denied appropriate medical care at the time of the accident. There has been no acknowledgement that a 20-year-old autistic man who had lost consciousness and was described by both police officers and witnesses as not comprehending, not taking in information, in “hysterics,” and being “disturbed mentally” was a clear indication that his response that he didn’t need medical care was not an informed decision.
It didn’t acknowledge that the crisis intervention team should have been activated and that Matthew should have been evaluated by professionals qualified to assess his mental health, his communication, and his ability to provide informed consent.
It didn’t acknowledge that these things occurred despite the fact that Virginia Beach police involved in interrogating Matthew for hours without an advocate or lawyer failed to follow the Virginia Beach Police Department Field Guide for calling in the crisis intervention team, or that they failed to insure that Matthew was transported for evaluation. No one acknowledged that his father was forced to his dad to wait in the freezing rain at the accident scene, neither allowing him to see or talk with Matthew or even telling him when Matthew was transported to the police station.
No one talked about how VBPD knew that Matthew was autistic, that he’d had a serious brain injury, that he also had ADHD and anxiety, and that he’d indicated that he lost consciousness at least twenty times.
It didn’t acknowledge or explain the inhumanity with which Matthew was treated. It doesn’t explain why the police thought it was appropriate to take a picture of Matthew with dried blood running down his face (from the accident) and for the media to use this picture over and over to accompany news stories about Matthew, including news stories about the pardon.
It didn’t acknowledge that the evidence for denying bail was fabricated. The checklist for bail determination stated that there were videos of the accident. Virginia Beach Commonwealth Attorney stated in a written comment to Channel 3 News that there was no video of the accident.
It didn’t acknowledge or explain the denial of medical and mental health treatment during Matthew’s incarceration.
It didn’t explain why Matthew was transferred from Virginia Beach to Nottoway days before a scheduled MRI (which was 14 months overdue).
It didn’t acknowledge that Colin Stolle disputed the reports by qualified mental health professionals to state that Matthew had previous suicide attempts. It didn’t acknowledge that Colin Stolle created a false narrative with many misleading statements to try and prevent the pardon.
It didn’t acknowledge that there are alternative explanations for the cause of the crash, explanations backed by evidence and expert assessment.
Law enforcement officers, lawyers, and judges are human, capable of misinterpretation, of judgements based on lack of understanding. Despite the progress made in the Virginia General Assembly during the 2019 and 2020 sessions to more justly serve all people– including people of color, those with disabilities, and those with mental health challenges– the Virginia Beach criminal justice system and the state of Virginia has chosen to dig in their heels rather than acknowledge any shortcomings or accepting culpability in a miscarriage of justice.
Governor Northam has the opportunity to stand up for Black and autistic people victimized by a racist, ableist (in)justice system where the power of the police, commonwealth attorneys, and judges override the rights of individuals.
Governor Northam has spent the last two years stating his commitment to equity and elimination of racism in our laws.
Why isn’t this commitment being extending to Matthew Rushin?
- Matthew Rushin remains in prison and now has COVID-19 - January 14, 2021
- My Son Took His Life at 15. Here’s What I’ve Learned. #NoDejahVu - September 7, 2020