The Lookout

Man with Down syndrome, a fan of the police, dies in police custody

The Lookout

The death of a man with Down syndrome while in police custody was ruled a homicide by the chief medical examiner’s office in Baltimore.

The 26-year-old, Robert Ethan Saylor, was so enamored with law enforcement that he would call 911 just to ask questions. About a month ago, he'd gone to see "Zero Dark Thirty” and immediately wanted to see it again. When he refused to leave the Frederick, Md., movie theater, security was called, and three off-duty deputies arrived: Lt. Scott Jewell, Sgt. Rick Rochford and Deputy First Class James Harris.

According to the Washington Post, "Saylor cursed at the deputies, who weren’t wearing uniforms, and began hitting and kicking them. The deputies restrained him using three sets of handcuffs linked together and escorted him from the theater." At some point, he "ended up on the ground ... suffered a medical emergency and died."

Patti Saylor, Ethan’s mother, told the CBS local Baltimore station, “He has never had anybody put their hands on him before in his life. He would not have been doing anything threatening to anybody.”

The lawyer for the family, Joseph Espo, told the Washington Post, “Ethan was developmentally disabled, not a criminal.” If anything, noted the paper, Saylor, who was a huge “NCIS” fan, caused police to make too many unnecessary trips to his house because he just liked to talk to officers, prompting his mom to bring cookies to the station as a thank you last year.

Espo added that more training for officers seemed to be in order. “Clearly it highlights a need for training, if there was none, or more and better training if there was some," he said.

The story has received national attention. Comments like this one on the Frederick County Facebook page are typical: “Obvious this man was mentally challenged just by appearance and any police officer worth his salt would and should have taken that into consideration. This is a sad, horrible thing and action should be taken against these officers," wrote Brandon Aviance Glenn.

Cathi Clark Kreis posted, “I am a special education teacher for 20 years and have NEVER met a violent child with Down Syndrome! As a teacher, I am required to be trained in Crisis Prevention Intervention (CPI). I'm surprised police officers are not.”

After hundreds of concerned messages, Frederick County Sheriff Charles Jenkins posted a letter in response. It reads in part, “The death of Mr. Saylor was very tragic and I want to assure everyone that a thorough investigation is being conducted.” Jenkins added that the three officers had been placed on administrative leave pending the outcome of the investigation.

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