In response to the death of George Floyd, Virginia Beach City Council put out a letter essentially reassuring citizens that they were committed to racial justice and harm reduction.
But as long as Matthew Rushin is in prison, any declarations of commitment are merely reflective of a commitment to a political facade.
The justice system of Virginia Beach has professional protocol, a code of ethics, and professional training, and it is time to demonstrate an authentic dedication as far as Matthew Rushin is concerned.
Seventy-five thousand people are outraged. That number is growing.
When Black fatalities are piling up from police brutality, when Black lives line prisons, when an autistic Black college student is criminalized for having a disability– now is not the time to double down and throw up the best silver-tongued defense.
Now is the time to accept culpability and fix this.
Bring Matthew Home
Finally, amidst the repeated calls for accountability and justice, the Commonwealth Attorney issued a statement.
To whom, I don’t know. But, it appeared on the news the night of the 757 Black Lives Matter rally held to demand Matthew Rushin be issued a complete pardon. Only one sentence was read online, but the image of the full statement was pictured in the background. Here, it is transcribed.
For parallelism, I’ll break that statement up and give you the courtesy of directly addressing you and actually responding to you. Perhaps you could do the same in the future.
Forensic evidence in this case proved that Mr. Rushin was accelerating toward the victims’ vehicle at the time of the collision, and he never applied the brakes. He was driving at the victims’ vehicle at full-speed with his foot all the way down on the accelerator.
I have your forensic report. I’ll be addressing that report in an upcoming article. Please stay tuned for that.
You would not receive this forensic evidence for several days after charging Matthew Rushin with attempted murder.
Another victim of the crash was interviewed by police and stated that he heard Mr. Rushin say he was trying to commit suicide. An officer on scene also heard Mr. Rushin again state that he was trying to kill himself.
Did they? Because you had seventeen officers on scene.
Seventeen. There exists twelve hours of body cam footage and a recorded interrogation from that night at the precinct.
My question to you, then, is how many times did an exasperated Matthew Rushin, having been interrogated for hours and hours, say with complete consistency and resolve and clarity that he did not mean to hurt someone and was not trying to kill himself?
Also, when you have body cams, why are you only taking witness testimony that conflicts with the VAST amount of testimony documented and collected? The amount of evidence is like a King-James-Version-sized volume of testimony.
Isn’t that called hearsay?
When you had hours and hours of documented footage of Matthew explaining that he was panicked and lost control, why have the one witness whose testimony contradicts all the other witnesses as the basis for an attempted murder charge?
How reliable is witness testimony?
Not at all. In fact, the poor validity of witness testimony is common knowledge for all officers and prosecutors.
You know this.
Memories are not YouTube
The memory is not like a video recording of events. Different parts of the brain store the information from a memory. The act of remembering is not reliving a moment with exactitude but reframing it with all the different components of a memory–conscious and subconscious– being pieced together like a puzzle that makes sense.
Autistic People Don’t Make Sense to Non-Autistic Metrics for Behavior
For autistic people, this is a problem. Our behavior doesn’t make sense to most people, so their memories of us are reconstructions that include a tremendous amount of subconscious bias.
Humans focus on, retain, and rearrange memories to meet their preconceived ideas and biases of what behavior means.
The act of remembering, says eminent memory researcher and psychologist Elizabeth F. Loftus of the University of California, Irvine, is “more akin to putting puzzle pieces together than retrieving a video recording.” Even questioning by a lawyer can alter the witness’s testimony because fragments of the memory may unknowingly be combined with information provided by the questioner, leading to inaccurate recall.
Autistic people have the continuous experience of being misinterpreted. Our body language, our speech (or lack thereof), and our tone do not match the patterns of behavior people expect.
The Token Witness
But, let’s look at the one civilian witness (out of many) who said that Matthew stated he wanted to kill himself and examine critically for any indicators of bias.
Let’s also look at Matthew’s actions from the lens of an autistic person:
Witness: There was — from at this point, it looked to me like there was an older gentleman, smaller older gentleman holding a younger, taller person against the vehicle, but it looked like they were having a dispute. I wasn’t sure. So I went over there and walked over to see if I could assist them.
Prosecutor: Is that– are any of those people present in the court room?
Prosecutor: Who is that?
Witness: Matt Rushin, I’m sure.
Prosecutor: Okay. He was — which person? He was the younger— the younger person. The one being held?
Witness: Being held, yes.
Prosecutor: What happened then?
Witness: I took over holding him against the vehicle because I didn’t want the old man to get involved into an altercation with a younger person. I still didn’t know what was going on. When I take– when I take control holding him against the vehicle, another gentleman comes around and he goes, hey, are you the jerk that ran the red light? And Matthew answers, he goes, yes. Yes it was me, Man. The gentleman goes — asks, he says, what are you doing man? Matt says, I don’t know, man. I don’t know, man. I was just trying to kill myself. I couldn’t control it, while I’m holding him.
Author retraction: At the time that I wrote this article, I did not have all of the information. Inconsistencies in testimony made it seem as if this particular witness caused duress to Matthew; however, upon receiving Matthew’s statements, this witness appears to have been a comfort to Matthew.
Matthew reported the first man restraining him intimidated and scared him, but this witness helped him to calm down and feel more grounded.
It was the first witness, the one who was never called to testify, who held Matthew against a car and upset him so much.
Autism and Uses of Restraint
While Virginia Beach Police Department employees experts in autism and provides multiple trainings to all officers, it’s clear those trainings didn’t apply to considering Matthew’s behavior.
Look at what happens to autistic people when you grab them (click here to read entire thread):
Here’s how autistic people responded.
There are many responses, maybe over 100, and not one autistic person was like, “I nonchalantly and coherently am able to reason with the person that I am not in the place to be touched.”
Basically, to summarize, autistic people freak out and will do whatever it takes to stop people from restraining them.
But you only considered testimony from the guy who felt he was being the hero by restraining a young Black man.
Did you even catch that in your “thorough review”?
Did it even occur to you what it was like for the panicking, melting down, Black autistic person under duress to be pinned down by white strangers yelling and swearing at him?
Did you notice that this witness whitewashed the language of the man screaming at Matthew by removing the swear words from his recollection of the events?
Everyone else was very clear that the man was screaming and swearing in Matthew’s face.
But your attempted murder charge ignores a preponderance of reliable or corroborated evidence and gives all the weight of accuracy to the recollection of a witness who simply referred to that swearing, screaming guy as an “other gentleman.”
His memory needed a justifiable explanation for his behavior that made him the hero in the story, not the bigot. So he was helping a smaller, older man by restraining the taller, younger Black man.
But did Matthew really look dangerous?
Witness Testimony, Continued
At this point I’m like, oh, man. I’m holding – I’m holding someone who is actually involved in an accident, you know. Matthew was very distraught.
He didn’t seem like he was all there. Like I was trying to talk to him and he wasn’t really answering very well. And his speech was a little slurred. So I ask him if he was drinking. He said, no. And he said he tried to kill himself, he hit a few cars, in the conversation there, but that was it. So I continue to hold him.
The shorter gentleman that was there, but for me holding him, he had walked away with the older gentleman that was asking Matthew if he was the one that ran the red light.
A police officer shows up behind us-from behind us and he starts to ask questions. And Matthew was still– he was still struggling with his answers, trying to answer the police officer. He seemed, you know, like disturbed, you know, mentally at the moment.
Witness: Like maybe shock. I don’t know. I’m not a doctor. So the police officer asked him for his ID. Police officer told him, you know, don’t reach into your pockets. He asked him, do you have anything in your pockets that can hurt me or can poke me, anything? Matthew said, no, no, but he continue to reach into his pocket for his ID. I told him – I told myself, don’t reach in your pockets, man. Don’t reach in your pocket. And he still did so he wasn’t receiving what the officer was telling him.
Even the witness who thought a Black man needed to be pinned against the car– with no other information than other white people were doing it– knew that no Black man in his right mind would reach into his pocket when a police officer told him not to. The subtext there is, “You are going to get yourself killed.”
But clearly, Matthew wasn’t in a coherent state. Even this witness describes him as distraught, in shock, slurring, not understanding what he was hearing.
Later, this witness further whitewashes the events related to the “other gentleman” who was screaming, “Were you trying to fucking kill yourself?”
Defense: And you thought he said something like, you know, What were you doing, or–
Defense: Did you recall him saying anything like were you trying to kill yourself? Were you trying to kill other people? Do you remember that gentleman saying anything like that?
Witness: I don’t remember.
Witness: I don’t remember.
Defense: You remember you talked to police officers afterwards, right?
Defense: Okay, so is it possible that part of what that man said had the word kill in it?
Witness: The other man? I don’t know.
Witness: I don’t know.
Defense: And did he get– how close did he get to Matthew when he was saying what he was saying?
Witness: About five, six feet, maybe seven.
Defense: Okay. What he was saying was sort of an aggressive– he was saying it in an aggressive way, confrontational?
Witness: Just a question. He didn’t seem to me like he was very — of course, he was upset —
Defense: Uh huh.
Witness: — you know, when he ask, but it was more like — just like, What are you doing, you know.
Here’s how Officer Cordingley described that witness:
Cordingley: That’s when he yelled, You could have fucking killed us. And that’s when I realized that I needed to get him away from the situation.
Defense: So [ Witness B] was the first one to introduce the word kill into the conversation? I mean, nobody had said anything about that in your presence prior to that?
And here is the witness who yelled describing himself:
Witness B: I said something to him, something to the effect of, what the F are you doing? You could have killed somebody. He was agitated. I would describe him as maybe a little in hysterics. I saw a bystander come up and bearhug him to try and calm him down a little bit. When I said what I said to him a police officer motioned me away back around the side of my car and said, You’re not helping, or something like that, you know, just stay out of the way.
Witness B: Oh, when I said what I said to him his comeback to all of us standing there was something to the effect of, I wish I were dead. I should be dead.
So there is conflicting testimony, but one witness is much more reliable than the other. One created a narrative.
Nevertheless, this is maybe five unrecorded seconds of hours and hours of footage.
Matthew was sentenced based on five seconds of testimony that had all the indicators of being unreliable and was countered by another witness.
Every autistic person knows what echolalia is. It’s part of that “repetitive behavior” that is a part of the diagnostic criteria. We repeat things we hear to help us to process, and moreso when distressed.
Speaking becomes difficult, unintelligible, or impossible for many of us when we are experiencing anxiety.
Everyone who parents an autistic child knows what echolalia is. Everyone who is autistic or knows someone is autistic will wince to see strangers grabbing and yelling at an autistic person in meltdown.
They will also say that anything said during a meltdown is not something to be taken as hard evidence.
Whether he was believed to be suicidal before or after the accident, was it not clear that he needed mental health care? Isn’t that what a crisis intervention team is for?
For reference, here are a list of officers on scene and inter-office communications related to the accident:
- Officer T. Aicher
- Sergeant Ball
- Officer Cordingley
- Officer J. Curtin
- Officer J. Dolida
- Officer J. Ford
- Officer J. Hamlin
- Officer K. Jones
- Officer E. Kera
- Officer C. Loveless
- Officer A. Manner
- Officer M. Mengel
- Officer A. Murawski
- Officer R. Nash
- Officer M. Para
- Officer M. Smith
- Officer K. Tassa
- Officer M. Taylor
- Officer C. J. Loveless to Detective J.M. Hosang and Officer C. K. Daley dated 01/2319
- MPO E. Kera to Det. J. Hosang dated 01/09/19
- Officer J.P. Dolida to Officer C.K. Daley dated 01/04/18
- Ofc M. Mengel to Ofc. C. Daley and Det. J. Hosang dated 01/04/19
- Ofc. A.T. Manner to Ofc. C.K. Daley dated 01/04/18
- Officer J. Curtin to Officer C. Daley and Detective Hosang dated 01/09/19
- Officer Taylor to Officer C. Daley and Detective Hosang dated 01/05/19
- Ofc. G.F. Cordingley to Ofc. C. Daley dated 01/05/19
- Officer M.M. Smith to Officer C.K. Daley dated 01/04/19
- Officer R. Nash to Officer C. Daley dated 01/04/19
- Officer K.E. Tassa to Officer C. K. Daley dated 01/05/19
While the point of impact was not captured on surveillance camera from nearby businesses, his driving at a high-rate of speed leading up to the crash was captured on multiple cameras. Two victims in this case were severely injured.
Was this footage (or the promise of it) not why a magistrate charged Matthew with attempted murder?
Driving at a high rate of speed (which, according to the footage was the norm for traffic) is not even a citation in this case, nor is it indicative of a literal attempt at murder. Does speeding indicate the will to murder someone?
And to shift tone for a minute, two people were injured. One will never regain the mobility and function he had before the accident. It is tragic. They did not deserve to have their lives disrupted in profound ways.
One has permanent brain damage and remained in a medical facility as of the sentencing hearing in November 2019. The sentencing hearing in Virginia Beach Circuit Court lasted several hours. The sentencing judge heard at length from both the Commonwealth and the defense before imposing the 10-year active sentence.
Once more, I am going to reiterate how tragic it was that a man was severely injured.
Why do we care how long the sentencing hearing lasted?
I want to know how long the review and consideration was before you charged Matthew Rushin with attempted murder.
So you’re saying that you really took a long time to decide how long you were going to put an autistic Black college student who had no prior record in prison, and that is supposed to make this less disturbing in what way?
Trust me, chief, I already figured out where your priorities are.
Contrary to what may be being asserted, the victims do not in any way feel that the sentence given was too harsh. In fact, based on the severity of the injuries suffered, they have expressed that the sentence was too lenient.
“Contrary to what may be being asserted…”
Why are you commenting on interpersonal conflict among victims’ families that happened months after the incident– that had absolutely zero to do with Matthew or the details of the accident– and choosing to comment on that, rather than on addressing your own police force’s gross misconduct?
Do you think that the seventy-five thousand people asking you why things happened the way they did for Matthew Rushin are asking you about this? Or is this another deflection?
The victims of an accident are entitled to their feelings. Their feelings are valid. Their pain is valid.
Those feelings, however, are not details of the case.
Curious Praise for the Defense
Rushin was represented by a defense team who are two of the most experienced attorneys in Virginia Beach with over 60 years’ experience between them. The defense team is certainly aware of the mechanisms within the court system to address mental health.
Why is Virginia Beach repeatedly playing hype man to the defense’s representation? This is an absolutely bizarre comment to make.
The seventy-five thousand people who are outraged over this injustice do not need a commercial for the skills level of the defense team. They need a commercial for your department’s commitment to equity.
Is it because Matthew’s defense was really great at protecting the interest of your force?
Inequity: Exhibit A
Virginia Beach Police Sergeant Margaret E. Hobbs, who was arrested for drunk driving with a two children, a 2-year-old and a 5-year-old, in the back seat of her car.
In an article from The Virginian Pilot entitled, “Virginia Beach police sergeant avoids jail time with DUI plea,” the incident is described:
Hobbs started to drive away but made a U-turn, came back and asked whether it was OK to leave the base. She did this two more times, which made the sentry suspicious, so he pulled her over, Linstroth said. A petty officer who was called to assist noticed Hobbs smelled of alcohol and had slurred speech. She nearly fell down several times while trying to perform a walk-and-turn sobriety test. She told the officer she was taking pain medication for a knee injury.
Hobbs was able to spend her 30 day sentence at home because her lawyer (Matthew’s lawyer) was able to “convince” the judge that because the officer was diabetic and needed to eat frequently, it was best she spend those thirty days at home.
And of course, that was granted.
This is an incident that demonstrates intent. It was a conscious choice to be incapacitated and drive. She couldn’t walk a straight line without falling she was so drunk– and using narcotics.
Matthew Rushin has a cyst on his brain that is causing him transient blindness. He is autistic with anxiety, ADHD, and autism diagnoses.
Prison isn’t good for him, but where was his defense? Where was the concern for his health?
Inequity: Exhibit B
Virginia Beach resident Eric Duane Kaba, who struck and killed a 23-year-old man in March.
According to Virginia State Police, the driver, identified as Virginia Beach resident Erick Duane Kaba, was traveling eastbound on I-64 when he lost control, went off the roadway, and drove through the median into the westbound lanes.
Sgt. Michelle Anaya of Virginia State Police say Kaba over-corrected back into the median, then struck an embankment at the overpass of Evans Street, which caused the vehicle to go airborne.
While the vehicle was airborne, it struck 23-year-old James C. Steinhauser, Jr. of Virginia Beach, who was standing on Evans Street. Officials say the victim died upon impact.
Kaba was taken to Norfolk Sentara Hospital with non life-threatening injuries.
So, Kaba was taken to a hospital. Matthew wasn’t.
Let’s look at some other details, here:
After two months of investigation, police arrested Kaba and charged him with DUI Involuntary manslaughter, driving under the influence of drugs, and driving while suspended/revoked third offense and received no bond.
So this guy, who had a suspended license, who was a repeat-offender, who literally killed someone with his airborne vehicle, is charged with involuntary manslaughter.
It took two months of investigation to issue these charges. It only took a few hours to charge Matthew.
Matthew had no priors. Matthew was sober. Matthew had a driver’s license. Matthew didn’t kill anyone.
Yet he was charged hours later with attempted murder…
But a three-time DUI offender with no driver’s license gets two months of deliberation and a charge of involuntary manslaughter?
This is what you need to respond to.
Until you start talking about it, we will continue to talk about it. Let’s put everything in the light.
We Demand an Explanation
We all do. Seventy-five thousand of us need you to explain your own department and city’s actions.
An insanity defense, which was never raised or presented by defense, would have required that Mr. Rushin did not understand the nature and wrongfulness of his actions. It’s important to point out that Mr. Rushin was an employed engineering student at ODU.
Let’s break this down.
First of all, an insanity defense is successful in about one out of a thousand cases in Virginia. So, again, you respond with meaningless deflection to absolve your department of gross negligence and injustice.
Is this how NAMI wants you to approach mental illness?
Could you tell the City of Virginia Beach how many tax dollars are invested in your autism and mental health fail-safes designed to keep people with mental illnesses and developmental disabilities from ending up in the judicial system for symptoms of those illnesses and disabilities?
But here’s the thing that really gets me. One more time, for the people in the back:
It’s important to point out that Mr. Rushin was an employed engineering student at ODU.
If Matthew can make a sandwich and do math, he isn’t really disabled? Is that your knowledge of autism? Traumatic brain injury? PTSD? Anxiety? ADHD? Meltdowns? PTSD flashbacks?
This is a reflection of one of two things:
- Your gross incompetence at understanding autism and mental illness– when autism makes up a larger percentage of the population than people with red hair or people with green eyes– makes you utterly unsuited to be a part of the “justice” system, or
- You are trying to leverage public ignorance and dog-whistling to people who will be complicit in backing up your racism and ableism because you think that your population is full of enough “useful idiots” to get away with what is tantamount to murder.
Are you trying to say that disabled people are incapable of achievement, and if they’re not incapable, then they don’t get to have their disability acknowledged?
Disability: A Matter the Virginia Beach Judicial System Litigates
Then why did Sergeant Hobbs get to forfeit her jail time because of a disability? Because she was competent to know right from wrong when she got behind the wheel with a 2-year-old and a 5-year-old while so hammered she couldn’t walk. That’s an act of intent.
In fact, her excess drinking in combination with type 1 diabetes made driving far more dangerous due to her disability.
Where is her responsibility for her choices?
This. Ends. Now.
Mr. Rushin was charged with aggravated malicious wounding, and those charges were reduced to malicious wounding after the defense team approached the prosecution with proposed plea offer. The evidence strongly supported convictions for malicious wounding, as this was an intentional act. Based on a thorough review of evidence in this case, the Commonwealth rejects the assertion by Mr. Rushin’s family that this was simply a traffic accident.
Let’s get this straight:
Mr. Rushin was charged with aggravated malicious wounding, [ no, he was charged with 2nd degree attempted murder ] and those charges were reduced to malicious wounding after the defense team approached the prosecution with proposed plea offer.
You said it, not me.
Matthew’s defense team came up with that offer.
That’s all anyone in the world would need to know in order to know that Matthew was not represented by competent counsel.
I can understand why you have a hard time telling Matthew’s defense apart from the prosecutors. It’s hard to tell where one ends and one begins.
But hey, it’s all one team for you. Is that why Matthew’s lawyer was promoted to judge after his plea was entered?
If your review had, in fact, been as “thorough” as you claim, then you’d know that he was charged with 2nd degree attempted murder, which carries a maximum sentence of ten years. The defense approached prosecution with two counts of malicious wounding, each carrying a maximum sentence of twenty years, plus a hit-and-run tacked on to round it out to a full half a century.
Everyone seems to have conspired to make sure that Matthew never had a chance at a fair trial. He wasn’t granted bond. Matthew would not have been convicted of attempted murder in any fair court.
The average life span for autistic people is 38.
But Matthew thought he was going home to his mother, so he signed that paper. His mom asked him the other day, on a phone call from prison, if he understood the plea deal.
He asked her, “You mean that thing I signed so I could come home?”
There are thousands of pages of documentation to go along with the case, and 12 hours of body cam footage.
Please don’t insult 75,000 people calling for justice, and your constituents, by claiming your review was “thorough.”
You didn’t even get the one-paragraph summary right. Instead, you mentioned public-facing gossip and spouted some ableist canards to remind ableists that people who can do math and make a sandwich aren’t really disabled.
You know what words you didn’t say in your response full of platitudes:
Traumatic Brain Injury
Sensory processing disorder
Crisis intervention team
No, this was not “simply” a traffic accident. How about you show people the respect they damn well deserve and stop reducing a human rights issue to deflective platitudes, yeah?
It was a complicated case compounded by the weight of 20 years of prejudice under the pressure of people who think that if you can make a sandwich and you can do math, then you are also capable of doing everything– and not being able to do everything without making a mistake is not only a moral failing, but apparently the equivalent of attempted murder.
Because when Kaba got in his car with a suspended license with three DUIs, drunk and stoned, and killed someone– it was “involuntary manslaughter.” Involuntary. An accident.
When VBPD Sergeant Hobbs wanted to risk her children’s lives by driving with them while she was so drunk and impaired by opioids that she was unable to walk, she received so much sympathy that she didn’t even have to go to jail for her mere 30-day sentence.
Matthew was a model citizen. He was actively anti-violence. He was disabled. He made mistakes. That is regrettable. He shouldn’t drive again.
But he is not a violent offender. He is not violent, period.
You are violent.
What does having Matthew in prison benefit society? What does him being locked in a cage do for the world? In what way is this justice?
His disability, his brain injury, and his PTSD factored into this accident– in reality and in everyone’s mind who is not a sadistic, racist, ableist– but your department never even allowed him to see a doctor.
You violated protocol. Your “thorough” review was not thorough. Your response reflects how little your investment is in finding the truth or in taking a critical look at your police department.
A vulnerable, autistic Black young man that was characterized at sentencing as lacking in maturity, impulsive, and having PTSD, traumatic brain injury, a cyst on his brain, and needing comprehensive psychiatric care– and you deem yourself qualified to understand the implications for the interaction of those diagnoses?
He could make a sandwich, so hey, he was competent to enter a plea that increased his maximum sentence length by four whole decades (double the entire length of his life), right?
Answer One Question
I want to know the answer to one question, above all.
On January 4, 2019, when a battalion of officers interrogated him on scene, could Matthew Rushin have done math? That night, was he capable of even the simple task of making a sandwich?
If the answer is no, then you need to look at your ableism and your gross incompetence, and you need to pursue justice to ensure that Matthew Rushin is not criminalized for having a medically valid crisis.
Seventy-five thousand people are waiting for an explanation.
To Sign the Petition to Governor Northam, click here.
To learn more about this case, read these articles:
Part 1, Details of the accident (June 2020)
Part 4, Meet Matthew Rushin (June 2020)
To see the complete action pack and learn more about how you can help, click here.
- The Identity Theory of Autism: How Autistic Identity Is Experienced Differently - October 17, 2021
- Grocery Store Aggressive Meltdowns and How to Deal with Them - September 20, 2021
- An interview with Soma Mukhopadhyay, pioneer of rapid prompting method (RPM) - August 17, 2021