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The Autism Spectrum According to Autistic People

Autism neurodiversity
matthew rushin young black man with long curly hair black autistic lives matter

Free Matthew Rushin

Matthew Rushin is a young, Black autistic man. A year and a half ago, he was a mechanical engineering student at Old Dominion University. In January of 2019, Matthew was involved in a car accident. Within hours, he was charged by a magistrate with attempted murder. He is currently serving a 50 year sentence with 40 years suspended.

MANIPULATED

Matthew’s legal representation did not consider his medical history or support needs when she coerced him into accepting a plea deal or what that would mean for his future.

*Additional donation options available below (see “Support Matthew”)

health at risk

A pardon package was submitted to Governor Northam in June. Please join over 200k people in calling for an absolute pardon.

how can you help?

  1. Share about his case
  2. Sign the petition
  3. Contribute to his legal defense fund
  4. Follow his family on social media below

*Additional donation options available below (see “Support Matthew”)

breaking news

NeuroClastic Responds to the Commonwealth's Attorney's letter to Governor Ralph Northam with the facts.

Learn More About Matthew's Case

Articles from NeuroClastic
URGENT: Matthew Rushin is in Prison for Being Black and Autistic
Matthew Rushin was facing the potential of life in prison following a car accident. Here's how that happened.
Read More
Matthew Rushin and the Virginia Beach Police Department
Readers have unanimously responded with suggestions that police officers need more training in disability and mental health. Were VBPD officers trained?
Read more
Matthew Rushin and the Injustice System: The Worst Nightmare of Every Parent of an Autistic
Parents of autistic children know that the ignorance about autistic behavior and what autism means can be a death sentence for their autistic children if they interact with the wrong people.
Read More
Meet Matthew Rushin
He had absurd levels of ridiculous, reckless optimism. He always looked to the future. He was sensitive, kind and thoughtful in ways most people aren't observant enough to be.
Read more
Matthew Rushin: An Open Letter to the Commonwealth Attorney of Virginia Beach
The Virginia Beach Commonwealth Attorney (prosecutor) responded to the outrage over the unlawful treatment of Matthew Rushin, a 20 year old Black autistic college student.
Read more
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FAQ about the Case

Matthew was never convicted of a crime. On the night of the accident, he was charged with attempted murder in the 2nd degree, which has a maximum sentence of ten years.

Later, the Commonwealth Attorney increased the charges to two counts of aggravated malicious wounding, a class 2 felony with the same weight and penalty as first degree murder. He also charged Matthew with a felony hit-and-run with a penalty of up to ten years.

This is a common tactic used by prosecutors, especially against people of color, to put the accused in a lose-lose position. The accused person either accepts a plea agreement and forfeits their right to due process, or they go against a jury that is likely to decide their guilt because of internalized prejudice.

Matthew’s lawyer told him that if he didn’t accept the plea, a jury would take one look at him and decide he was guilty, then he’d be spending the rest of his life in prison. If he accepted the plea, though, he had a 50/50 chance of going home.

Matthew’s parents were livid that he had been coerced to accept a plea agreement. They believed that once he’d signed the paper, it was over; however, more than a week elapsed between the day Matthew signed a plea and the hearing to enter the plea before a judge. During this week, it could have been withdrawn; however, Matthew’s attorney did not inform him or his parents that the plea could be withdrawn.

Matthew was diagnosed as a young child with ADHD. In middle school, he was diagnosed with Asperger’s (now called autism). In 2017, he had a car accident that left him in a coma with a severe brain bleed and traumatic brain injury. At the time of his accident, he was having seizures due to swelling and bleeding around the brain; however, he was not diagnosed with seizure disorder.

As a result of his 2017 accident, it was realized that Matthew had a Rathke’s Cleft cyst on his brain which would need to be monitored for changes indefinitely and may require brain surgery if it grew.

Matthew had to learn to walk and talk again after that accident, and eventually was able to make a mostly-full recovery and resume classes at Old Dominion University where he was a mechanical engineering student; however, he was experiencing PTSD related to the accident and anxiety from it.

While some people who are autistic or ADHD have difficulty with driving due to poor motor coordination, spatial or visual processing issues, or difficulty with motor control, many autistic people are extremely safe and reliable drivers who go their entire lives without an accident.

NeuroClastic’s editorial team and consultants from various medical, psychiatric, and occupational therapeutic fields have reviewed Matthew’s medical documents following his 2017 accident and have found that he his family did everything recommended to ensure that he was cleared to drive.

However, after his second severe accident, which was similar to the first, it became apparent that he may have an underlying condition causing him to lose consciousness. The same condition may have been responsible for both accidents.

In fact, when viewing the interrogation video from the night of the accident, NeuroClastic’s lead on Matthew’s case noticed what appeared to be a focal seizure.

We forwarded this video, along with Matthew’s medical records and transcript summaries from the body cam footage that night, to a board-certified clinical neurologist with more than 40 years of experience in the field. He wrote a letter summarizing his findings, indicating that Matthew’s symptoms were consistent with post traumatic migraine or temporo-frontal epileptic events and that he was in urgent need of care from a qualified neurologist.

 

The prosecutor’s office claimed that Matthew was not taken to the hospital after his accident because he said that he did not need to be transported; however, witnesses used the following phrases to describe Matthew’s behavior following the accident:

…agitated, a little in hysterics, distraught, he didn’t seem like he was all there, he wasn’t really answering very well, his speech was a little slurred, disturbed-like mentally at that moment, like maybe shock, he wasn’t receiving what the police officer was telling him, he was moving his head around a lot, flailing his arms quite a bit, wasn’t receiving information (from bystander holding him and telling him to calm down and suggesting he lay down), it’s like he didn’t hear me, impression that even when the officer came up he was not understanding what was being communicated to him by witness or officer.

Further, Matthew’s face and head were bleeding. An officer placed Matthew in cuffs on the scene because he was believed to be too erratic and was “flailing,” and not because he was under arrest. Given those descriptors, it should have been clear that Matthew was not capable of making informed decisions about his health.

One of the arresting officers had even responded to the 2017 accident and found Matthew unconscious and face down in water. Matthew’s father stood in the rain on the side of the road, without access to Matthew, for nearly two hours while police prevented him from speaking to his parents.

Lastly, and most importantly, if VBPD and the prosecutor truly believed that Matthew was suicidal, then they absolutely should have assumed that he was a danger to himself and needed psychological care. But, it does not appear that VBPD did believe Matthew was in mental health crisis, which would have meant that he was not suicidal.

In the above video from the Washington Post (Lindsey Sitz), a statement from VBPD at the 8:57 mark reads (emphasis mine):

Matthew Rushin was an adult at the time of the accident, and there was no indication that he was in mental health crisis.

In the following article, the stages of a seizure are mapped out with direct quotes from VBPD’s body cam transcript summaries and police reports:

Matthew Rushin: Did Virginia Beach PD suspect seizure and hide it?

This article demonstrates with quoted evidence that VBPD were made aware that Matthew had last consciousness and that he did not remember the accident.

First Statement from Matthew on Body Cam:Officers knew he lost consciousness

 

We do understand that anyone could be treated unfairly regardless of race or disability, but the primary evidence against Matthew was that he repeated a phrase that a man was yelling at him immediately following the accident. This man yelled, “What were trying to do? Were you trying to f#cking kill yourself?”

Matthew repeated something to that effect, though what he said isn’t clear: some variation of “I should be dead,” or “I want to die,” or “maybe I was trying to kill myself?”

Autistic people, especially when in a state of overwhelm, often repeat things they hear as a way to help with auditory and verbal processing. This behavior, known as echolalia, is one of the most common traits associated with being autistic.

For more information, watch this video from Amethyst Schaber (2014):

If you watch this video, from the interrogation room the night of the accident, Matthew is talking out loud trying to still process what he’d heard. When autistics are alone, they often spend time trying to process social information they didn’t understand in the moment.

This brilliant article from an autistic father to his autistic son explains this process of unpacking that “information overflow” later.

An Autistic Father’s Letter to an Autistic Kid

Essentially, echolalia was used as a confession and disability was treated as a crime.

We bring up race because a similar case to Matthew’s, with a white autistic male from Matthew’s neighborhood, had extremely different outcomes. We know that guilt is often presumed when Black or other people of color are involved in an incident.

Here is information about a similar case which highlights racial disparity in treatment:

As a direct result of Matthew’s accident, one family’s lives were tragically changed forever. Matthew was traveling at a high rate of speed when his vehicle drifted into oncoming traffic at a median break. He struck a vehicle with an elderly couple inside, and the driver sustained life-threatening injuries.

The passengers of the vehicle Matthew struck were George and Danna Cusick, a New York couple who were vacationing in Matthew’s home city of Virginia Beach. The driver, George, sustained injuries that would cause him to experience permanent impairments.

Matthew himself has expressed his profound remorse. At sentencing, he told the Cusick family that he realized that he has caused them devastation, even though it was an accident. He offered to move to New York to play a supporting role to try and offset some of the loss they have experienced by doing whatever they needed.

We agree that this was a tragic accident, and that the Cusick family did not deserve this; however, Matthew being in prison for a medical emergency is not going to repair anything lost by the victims.

We also agree that the Cusick family deserves to know the truth, and that justice for them is understanding that this was an accident and not someone purposefully attempting to harm them.

But loss of consciousness is a medical emergency that was not a criminally malicious act, and having a medical emergency while driving is something that could happen to anyone.

Had Matthew been negligent to attend doctor’s appointments or refused tests, he would have been responsible for medical negligence. Though he had seizures the night of his 2017 accident, it was believed they were a result of his brain injury and swelling.

He was not diagnosed with seizure disorder. It is common to go years between seizures or not experience them until exposure to specific triggers.

Matthew was simply heading to his place of work at Panera bread to have a pastry with his girlfriend when she finished her shift. While he cannot be retroactively diagnosed, it is clear that there was cause for medical attention.

Justice by punishing for a malicious, intentional crime for an accident is simply adding one tragedy on top of another and does not help the family of the victims.

More NeuroClastic Articles

A Response to Colin Stolle’s Letter to Governor Northam About Matthew Rushin

In response to the public outrage, the Commonwealth Attorney of Virginia Beach wrote a letter asking that Matthew Rushin not be pardoned. Stolle accused those calling for Matthew’s release of being removed from the facts. Here are the facts.

Press Release: Black Lives Matter 757 Plan to Shut Down the Oceanfront in Virginia Beach for Matthew Rushin and Other Victims

Black Lives Matter 757 were the first to pick up advocacy for Matthew Rushin, and they have continued to stand up to the racist and ableist system despite militarized police action against them.

HAPPY BIRTHDAY MATTHEW! #GiftMatthewFreedom

Sumayya Hasan puts together a collage of posts and videos that happened to wish Matthew Rushin a happy 22nd birthday and to ask Governor Northam to pardon him.

CALL TO ACTION: It’s Matthew Rushin’s Birthday & a Video from Netflix’s Atypical and Friends

Today, August 4, is Matthew Rushin’s birthday. As a call to action, we’re asking that anyone who wants to participate post a photo or video on any social media platform wishing Matthew a happy birthday and tagging it #GiftMatthewFreedom

See For Yourself – The Truth About Matthew Rushin

Did Matthew Rushin attempt suicide without concern for innocent lives? Look at the evidence the police don’t want you to see, and decide for yourself.

External Articles

videos

Support Matthew

district33@senate.virginia.gov, jennifer@jenniferboysko.com,
ralph.northam@governor.virginia.gov, ralph@ralphnortham.com, district09@senate.virginia.gov, district31@senate.virginia.gov, district08@senate.virginia.gov, delgdavis@house.virginia.gov, dellbagby@house.virginia.gov, district16@senate.virginia.gov,
service@oag.state.va.us, kelly.thomasson@governor.virginia.gov, brian.moran@governor.virginia.gov, tonya.chapman@vpb.virginia.gov,
DelCHerring@house.virginia.gov, DelVWatts@house.virginia.gov,
DelPHope@house.virginia.gov, DelMSimon@house.virginia.gov,
DelJLindsey@house.virginia.gov, DelRSullivan@house.virginia.gov,
DelMLevine@house.virginia.gov, DelSHeretick@house.virginia.gov,
DelMMullin@house.virginia.gov, DelJBourne@house.virginia.gov,
DelKDelaney@house.virginia.gov, DelJCarrollFoy@house.virginia.gov,
DelDScott@house.virginia.gov, DelTKilgore@house.virginia.gov,
DelRBell@house.virginia.gov, DelMRansone@house.virginia.gov,
DelJLeftwich@house.virginia.gov, DelLAdams@house.virginia.gov,
DelJCampbell@house.virginia.gov, DelJMiyares@house.virginia.gov,
DelRCampbell@house.virginia.gov, DelKPlum@house.virginia.gov,
DelKKory@house.virginia.gov, DelALopez@house.virginia.gov,
DelSRasoul@house.virginia.gov, DelMPrice@house.virginia.gov,
DelDHelmer@house.virginia.gov, DelJCole@house.virginia.gov,
DelSSimonds@house.virginia.gov, DelCJenkins@house.virginia.gov,
DelTWright@house.virginia.gov, DelRRobinson@house.virginia.gov,
DelTWilt@house.virginia.gov, DelMFariss@house.virginia.gov,
DelNRush@house.virginia.gov, DelGDavis@house.virginia.gov,
DelCCoyner@house.virginia.gov, DelABatten@house.virginia.gov,
district25@senate.virginia.gov, district18@senate.virginia.gov,
district28@senate.virginia.gov, district36@senate.virginia.gov,
district21@senate.virginia.gov, district35@senate.virginia.gov,
district03@senate.virginia.gov, district26@senate.virginia.gov,
district04@senate.virginia.gov, district20@senate.virginia.gov,
district38@senate.virginia.gov, district34@senate.virginia.gov,
district24@senate.virginia.gov, district14@senate.virginia.gov,
district02@senate.virginia.gov, district17@senate.virginia.gov,
district29@senate.virginia.gov, district05@senate.virginia.gov,
district01@senate.virginia.gov, district07@senate.virginia.gov

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