NDSC & NDSS Commend Maryland Governor for Establishing Commission

NDSC & NDSS Commend Governor O’Malley for Establishing a Commission for Effective Community Inclusion of Individuals with Intellectual and Developmental Disabilities in Maryland

National Down syndrome organizations see this as an important step to ensure what happened to Ethan Saylor never happens to another person from the Down syndrome community,
however, we still call on the Governor to open an independent investigation into Saylor’s tragic death

Washington, DC (September 16, 2013)- The National Down Syndrome Congress (NDSC) and the National Down Syndrome Society (NDSS) commend Governor O’Malley for issuing an Executive Order to improve training to help law enforcement personnel, paramedics, and other first responders better respond to situations involving individuals with intellectual and developmental disabilities (IDD).

“Our family commends Governor O’Malley and his administration for listening to our call for action by establishing this important Commission. The Commission is one piece to ensuring what happened to my son, Ethan, never happens to a member of the disability community again. Ethan deserved to be a welcomed member of our community, as do all people with IDD. I look forward to working with Dr. Shriver and the Commission as they move forward on their vital work,” said Patti Saylor, mother of Ethan, Frederick, Maryland.

NDSC and NDSS have advised Governor O’Malley that establishment of the Commission is only a first step to protecting individuals with intellectual disabilities. In addition to improving training going forward, there needs to be a second Grand Jury called and there needs to be an independent investigation, consistent with U.S. Department of Justice (DoJ) procedures into whether the use of deadly force by the officers was appropriate.

A second Grand Jury is needed because:

  • The witnesses to Ethan’s homicide, that were identified in the Frederick County Sheriff’s Department Incident Report, all stated that they were not asked to testify before the first Grand Jury;
  • According to the Frederick County Sheriff’s Department Incident Report, the written statements by the witnesses to the homicide were prepared while at least one of the officers being investigated was in the same room. Having the officer who is being investigated for a homicide in the same room while the witnesses are asked to prepare statements concerning what they saw is intimidating for those witnesses.
  • While the U.S. Department of Justice is investigating whether the officers’ actions violated federal law, only a Maryland Grand Jury can investigate the state crimes committed during the homicide.

An independent investigation into the officers’ use of deadly force is needed. The DoJ’s Handbook on Police Use of Excessive Force requires that there must be two distinct investigation of police use of excessive force that results in a fatality:

  • An investigation into whether the officers committed any criminal offense; and
  • An investigation into whether the officers followed departmental policies in the use of force.

No investigation has been conducted to determine whether, under Frederick County and/or the State of Maryland’s use of force policies it was appropriate for the officers:

  • To use prone restraints , when no serious crime was being committed and where Ethan was neither a threat to others in the theater nor to himself;
  • To roust Ethan, who they knew had an intellectual disability,  out of his seat and forcibly remove him from the theater when they were advised that his mother was on the way;
  • To use lethal force on an individual with intellectual disabilities when he was not committing a major crime and was not a threat to himself or others.

“Our organization, NDSS, applauds Governor O’Malley for using his authority to issue an Executive Order establishing this Commission, under Dr. Shriver’s leadership, and looks forward to collaborating with it so that what happened to Ethan never happens ever again. However we still need to know whether a state crime was committed by the officers and whether their use of deadly force against an individual with intellectual disabilities was merited and consistent with the County and State’s use of force policies,” said NDSS VP of Advocacy & Affiliate Relations Sara Hart Weir.

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.

“Training for law enforcement and first responders is positively a first step,” said Susan Goodman, Director of Governmental Affairs for NDSC.   “However, many questions remained unanswered about what really happened that night.  The internal investigative report just does not reflect what witnesses to the event saw happen.  Nor does it make sense because of the injuries (a crushed larynx) that caused Ethan’s death.  Ethan’s family and all Marylanders deserve to know the truth.”

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