Independent Investigation Needed in Death of Ethan Saylor

MARCH 27, 2013 


ATLANTA – The National Down Syndrome Congress (NDSC) believes that Robert Ethan Saylor’s civil rights were violated when he died after being restrained by three off-duty Frederick County, MD, Sheriff’s deputies.  Although the coroner ruled Saylor’s death a homicide, a grand jury declined to indict the deputies.

 “We cannot comprehend the series of poor decisions that were made leading to Ethan’s death,” noted David Tolleson, Executive Director of NDSC.  “If you used any other adjective to describe him – such as his race, religion, gender or sexual orientation – the streets would be filled with people seeking justice.  It appears that individuals at the theatre acted as if this was an emergency situation, or that Ethan presented an imminent threat, when in fact more time was both needed and available to assess the situation.”

 Tolleson adds, “By all reports, the officers involved are good men who did not intend for Ethan to die.  However, if an otherwise good person with good intentions were to kill someone with their car – perhaps because of neglected maintenance or driving under the influence – they would still be held accountable.”

 According to NDSC representatives, the Saylor case is filled with poor decisions and missed opportunities. 

  •  The officers should have been trained on how to interact with individuals with Down syndrome and other developmental disabilities.
  •  Recognizing that Ethan had Down syndrome, the officers should have showed more patience.
  •  The officers should have worked with Ethan’s support person on strategies to diffuse the situation, rather than handcuffing him. 
  •  Ethan’s mother was on the way to the theatre, called by his support person.  Officers should have waited for her to arrive to help resolve the situation.
  • Other patrons nearby said they were afraid to get involved.  They shouldn’t have been.

 Tolleson noted that NDSC believes an independent investigation of what happened is necessary.  “Beyond the need for accountability, we need to know exactly what occurred so that we can work with law enforcement to ensure that it never happens again.”  

The NDSC believes that everyone, including people with developmental disabilities, have every right to attend events and activities in their community.  More awareness is needed about Down syndrome to ensure that all people feel welcome, included and safe.  “Ethan’s death is a tragedy and shines a spotlight on the need for awareness about people with Down syndrome in our communities, particularly among first responders.”

 Representatives from NDSC, Family Resource, Information and Education Network for Down Syndrome (F.R.I.E.N.D.S.), National Down Syndrome Society, Kennedy Krieger Institute, and the Saylor family met with the Community Relations Service (CRS) of the U.S. Department of Justice yesterday. 

 At the meeting, NDSC representatives asked for an investigation into the Saylor case.  The group also discussed the need for nationwide Down syndrome training for law enforcement officers.  

“It’s a first step,” Tolleson noted, “but we have a long way to go.”

29 Responses

  1. Amy Dietrich Hernandez Mar 27, 2013 - Reply

    Yes! Thank you, NDSC for your leadership in this matter! Please stand with all of us who are outraged by Ethan’s horrific death until justice is done!

  2. Rachel Douglas Mar 27, 2013 - Reply

    I had a wee bit of hope one of our advocacy groups would rise to this call for true advocacy. Thank you for listening and hearing, you have set the bar for the others to follow.

  3. Mark Leach Mar 27, 2013 - Reply

    Thank you for issuing a public statement on this. I agree that for any other minority group, this would be a matter of national attention. I appreciate you working towards that end. I look forward to further public statements and updates on this matter.

  4. Eileen wilson Mar 27, 2013 - Reply

    I am LIVID over this incident & the response from the grand jury. I do appreciate your follow – up, but seriously think the family also needs to file a civil suit and that we need to help them do that. The only way they will understand how to prevent this from happening again? Is when then have to pay out few million…. Then it hits the training manuals!

    mom to molly kate

  5. Anderson Mar 27, 2013 - Reply

    Need to be sure to follow up so this never happens again.

  6. Tammy Mar 27, 2013 - Reply

    Thank you so much. You have my support.

  7. Brian Long Mar 27, 2013 - Reply

    Who should be contacted in the call for an independent investigation?

  8. Michael Manchester Mar 27, 2013 - Reply

    I live in British Columbia Canada and have been endorsed by the British Columbia Society for Schizophrenia as a primary care giver to Intellectually Disablled in the home. I have a genuine concern for Robert Ethan Salor and his family. I also have a genuine concern for the legal bias towards DD in the case of Robert Saylor of Maryland since I have relatives living in adjacent states. My concern originates from disclosure statements provided during the press release of Friday the 22nd day of March 2013 by State Attourny Charles Smith. If I may quote the release in particular:
    “He said Saylor was on his stomach for one to two minutes. When he showed signs of medical distress, the deputies immediately removed the handcuffs, called for an ambulance and began cardiopulmonary resuscitation, Smith said.”
    My concern is that this “one or two minutes” was in the “face down” position and is what caused the onset of asphyxia and the coronary distress. In my own research of the U.S. Department of Justice I believe the document for which I paste a link to was ether never observed or distributed to Sheriff offices in Maryland or, the content of it was ignored or forgotten the night Robert was placed in this position however knowledge of the the risk to asphyxia has been known for 18 years if not more.
    As a care giver myself, there is nothng more important than the preservation of life while taking responsibility of those under my care, and would I never place someone of Roberts description into this postion for ANY amount of time.
    Beyond this glaring infraction committed by deputies I am left wondering how accurate the time estimate of “one or two” minutes provided in the investgaton is however – that amount of time is already discouraged for this procedure due to the high risk of asphyxia.
    I bring this point up having observed statements of report the same day were made “Attorney Patrick McAndrew, representing Lt. Scott Jewell, Sgt. Rich Rochford and Deputy First Class James Harris, said the deputies did as their training dictated.” and also that day reported was “The sheriff said his officers have been trained to deal with developmentally disabled subjects.”
    These statements do not align with the document that I have made familiar relative to this situation.
    In light of this contradiction I support an independant investigation to the Saylor case, better trainng for all officers of law, and greater publi awareness for DD

  9. Joana Tsinonis Mar 27, 2013 - Reply

    Thank you for taking a position to protect our children. Your comments are praise worthy for adding much needed light to a situation.

  10. Shelley Gottsagen Mar 27, 2013 - Reply

    The death of Ethan should be investigated and the officers that suffocated him should be prosecuted. People with disabilities are victimized more frequently than any other minority in our society. There needs to be accountability for the overreactions that caused Ethan’s death. Law enforcement officers need to be required to take Disability Sensitivity Training by people with diverse disabilities. My heart goes out to Ethan’s family and friends.

  11. Michael Manchester Mar 28, 2013 - Reply

    In addition to my aforementioned concerns regarding inconsistancy of disclosure statements in the case of Robert Ethan Saylor . . .
    I have to reveal other points that may lead to deliberate misinformation or conspiracy by use of the media as a tool by the Frederick County Sheriff Office to alter public opinion or, even to influence the court procedings and grand jury that apparently were unable to recognize discrepancy to fully evaluate the case and thus offer adequate judgement in the hearing.

    In an effort to adhere to chronological order of events, I’d like to begin with initial statements made in releases quoting “authorities” of the following:
    “As officials tell it, Saylor had been watching “Zero Dark Thirty” at a Frederick movie theater last month and, as soon as it ended, wanted to watch it again. When he refused to leave, a theater employee called three off-duty Frederick County sheriff’s deputies”

    This statement reported here:
    contradicts statements made by Joseph Espo that before being asked to leave the theatre Robert was imersed in his hand held video game and was not creating any disturbance nor did he have any intention of remaining for a second viewing of the film. From what I understand Espo stated “the care giver was outside retreaving the car” and so was disposed for the moment with the obvious intention of leaving with Robert soon thereafter. I would like carity on this.

    Then there is the statement made by Sheriff Jenkins that “Saylor had a medical emergency while walking out” which is an obvious contradiction to statements found here:
    that include “In their effort, three deputies and Mr. Saylor all fell into a heap” in a side aisle of the auditorium, the report says. The deputies then handcuffed Saylor, using three sets to accommodate his girth, while he was face down on the floor, according to the autopsy report. He became unresponsive and the deputies rolled him over. They couldn’t find a pulse, so they removed the handcuffs and started chest compressions.

    Which then leads to indication of more incompetance where in administering cardiopulmonary resuscitation failed to notice Robert was not breathing? . . . I’d like to understand whether the asphyxia was determind by being suffocated or by struggling with his heart already in arrest or both. If Robert was not breathing at that moment – no amount of CPR would recover his heart beat. I would have administerd artificial resperation simultaneously if breathing had stopped. Again it appears we have a lack of training as it relates to positional asphyxia.

    Then, we have testimony by Espo that the care giver was not permitted to intervene:
    “The aide spoke with management and at least one deputy to try to defuse the situation but was ignored, according to Espo.”
    found here:

    In addition to this we know of testimony that Roberts mother was called and on her way . . .
    I know NDSC has an agenda with a larger scope relative to my comments. My intent is to make known my own observation of contradiction in information released primariy by FCSO including their conflict of interest by investigating their own department themselves and recommending this case be brought to grand jury which is everything BUT transparent and; could be used for not alowing further testimony by qualified professionals that woulld have influential opinions about the circumstances the night of January 12th 2013.
    For the purpose of justice, justice for Robert Ethan Saylor, justice for the Saylor family, for better training in law enforcement, and for greater awareness of DD
    Thank you for your support.

  12. Jennifer Dawn Mar 28, 2013 - Reply

    Thank you for your advocacy and for representing human rights and civil rights. This is a case of excessive police brutality and unnecessary force. We will keep pushing for an independent investigation.

  13. Jennifer Dawn Mar 28, 2013 - Reply

    Just blogged about it– thank you for your advocacy– will push and push and push for action!

  14. Ann Gluf Mar 29, 2013 - Reply

    This is an outrage. Thank you for publishing this statement. We do need to help this family. Our family had an incident with police where our son was not treated appropriately. TWe need to educate our law enforcement. They are here to protect us….right?

    Mom to Eric

  15. Rafael A. Candelaria Mar 30, 2013 - Reply

    Can anyone tell me what led to this tragic incident?, was he behaving erractically?
    no matter the circumstances though, this should have never happened. I have a Son with Down Symdrome and one of my greatest fear is not of him being beat up in School or having an accident somewhere, but of him getting detained or being arrested by a Law enforcement agency who treat everyone like common criminals and have no compassion for Individuals with any type of disability. Our Law enforcement Agencies need to do a better job in training and Educating their people who have the power over Life or Death in a situtation. To Serve and Protect, not to Detain and Murder.

  16. Mary Wasserman Mar 30, 2013 - Reply

    Thank you for taking this stand. We have relied on NDSC since 1973 and we are counting on you to stand for Justice for Ethan so all children and adults with Down syndrome can live without fear. Please let us know how we can help!

  17. Judi Sovitski Mar 30, 2013 - Reply

    There is no doubt that an injustice has been done. Ethan should be be alive today. When he cried out for his mom they should have waited for her. Case closed. I have a daughter with Down syndrome and know how attached to their moms they are. They don’t ever mean any harm. But sometimes they do need their parents to advocate for them. The fact that poor Ethan was suffocated in a gross misunderstanding is sickening and the officers who killed him should NOT get away with it!

  18. Paul Kane Mar 30, 2013 - Reply

    I sincerely hope the Saylor family benefited from the meeting and that the call to action is answered in earnest. Perhaps the plea for empathy towards the officers can be reflected to public servants in all capacities and to the public in general…. including the other non-innocent people involved. Thank you for taking another first step, NDSC.

  19. Bob Lawhead Apr 01, 2013 - Reply

    The US Department of Justice has performed well over the last several years in requiring the individual states to serve people with disabilities in “the most integrated setting” as required by the Americans with Disabilities Act. The death of Ethan Saylor is an example of a citizen with disabilities accessing the local community and losing his life in that setting due to ignorance and what appears to be a gross over reaction by a group of men who decided to use force instead of reason. It is highly unlikely that these men would have acted in this way with a non-disabled person under similar circumstances. This appears to be a case of discrimination on the basis of disability resulting in death that should be fully investigated by the DOJ.

  20. Michael Manchester Apr 06, 2013 - Reply

    Shaken and left with a lack of trust in those of authority in society, perhaps if a subsequent investigation is followed through by DOJ, they may find disregard for the A.D.A. in the actions of FCSO deputies against Mr Saylor the night of Jan 12th 2013. I don’t find any reference to it what so ever in any disclosure anywhere in this case.

  21. Lynda Willis Apr 11, 2013 - Reply

    I strongly recommend that the experts in dealing with adults with Down Syndrome at The Advocate Lutheran General Hospital Adult Down Syndrome Patient Center in Chicago be involved in developing the training, guidance, and any other materials. They have already created documents that would be very useful. The Center has 20 years experience in dealing solely with Adults with DS and are uniquely positioned to contribute. As the mother of a 43 year old son with DS, I have found Drs. Chicoine and McGuire’s book “Mental Wellness in Adults With Down Syndrome” very helpful in dealing with emerging issues as my son gets older.

  22. GULER May 05, 2013 - Reply

    I just want to know what’s being done with his aide? He was left in her care and did she get charged with neglect? Not all people are educated with abilities or disabilities of Down syndrome people that is why it should be the care givers responsibility to educate the policemen on the proper handling of the situation. I agree the police need to know how to handle different situations properly, but in the heat of the moment they don’t have time to be trained so the responsibility falls on the care givers shoulders first

    • HR May 27, 2013 - Reply

      Guler – what is “being done” with his aide? Hopefully some sessions with a grief counselor and a psychologist to help her cope with Ethan’s killing. “It should be the care givers responsibility to educate the policemen” – do you realize how foolish this sounds? Three uniformed goons pile on her client and she’s supposed to “educate” them on the spot? I apologize for lashing out at you, but I am outraged that this could happen in the 21st century and still more outraged that NOT ONE of the officers was assigned any responsibility for committing this completely avoidable homicide.

  23. Michael C. Lloyd Oct 21, 2013 - Reply

    I am a 63 year old autistic person diagnosed by a psychaiatrist 7 years ago with asperger’s syndrome. Maryland is a state controlled by left-liberal democrats. Alot of the police in MD are poorly-trained, ignorant, un-educated, arrogant bullies. I read the other day that Mr. Saylor’s mother is going to sue. Very good. I hope she finds a very competent litigator and I hope he or she goes after these bullies with the intent to punish them as much as possible. I hope all these people, including the Sheriff, lose their jobs and get sued and lose the lawsuit. I hope, in addition to that these people do lots andd lots of jail time. Punish them to the maximum extent of the law. Maybe next these police will get some training so this doesn’t happen again.


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