National Down syndrome organizations unite to demand answers in the tragic death of a member of our community who died while in police custody during an encounter with three off-duty Frederick County sheriff’s deputies
The National Down Syndrome Congress (NDSC) and the National Down Syndrome Society (NDSS) applaud the US Department of Justice (DoJ) for opening an independent investigation into the tragic and unfortunate death of Robert Ethan Saylor, who had Down syndrome. On January 12, 2013, Ethan Saylor, 26, died while in the custody of Lt. Scott Jewell, Sgt. Rich Rochford, and Deputy First Class James Harris, all deputies of the Frederick County Sheriff’s office who were working as security guards at the Westview Promenade Shopping Center in Frederick, Maryland at the time. Ethan’s death was ruled a homicide by the Office of the Chief Medical Examiner.
“We are pleased to know the DoJ shares our concern surrounding the events leading to the tragic and avoidable death our beloved Ethan. Many questions remain unanswered, not the least of which is why the manager of the movie theater and the responding officers disregarded Ethan’s support staff’s direction,” said Ethan Saylor’s mother, Patti Saylor.
Ethan was a regular patron of the theater. That evening, Ethan returned to the theater after watching a showing of “Zero Dark Thirty” and a theater employee asked the Deputies to remove him. NDSC and NDSS remain concerned, especially in light of last Monday’s sheriff’s office report, that excessive force was used on Ethan and had the situation been handled differently he would still be alive today.
“Our organizations, along with the Saylor family, have been advocating for months for the DoJ to investigate whether Ethan’s civil rights were violated in the encounter with three off-duty officers who forcibly removed him from a movie theater. Our hope is this investigation will yield an independent, factual account of what happened on January 12 and ultimately, will lead to justice for Ethan and his family,” said NDSS VP of Advocacy & Affiliate Relations Sara Hart Weir.
“We are grateful that the DoJ has heard the concerns of the community and is investigating the Ethan Saylor tragedy. We are hopeful that their work will provide a thorough explanation of the events and will result in appropriate accountability,” said NDSC Executive Director David Tolleson.
NDSC and NDSS continue to push Governor O’Malley to appoint a Special Prosecutor by the Maryland Attorney General’s Office to determine whether the investigation by Frederick County of the homicide was proper and complete, if excessive force was used by the officers, whether Saylor’s right under the Fourth Amendment to the US Constitution was violated through an unlawful seizure, and if the practices and procedures of the Frederick County Sheriff’s Office conform to the Maryland and nationwide standards for use of force and treatment of individuals with intellectual disabilities.