A Frederick County grand jury on Friday declined to indict three sheriff's deputies involved in the asphyxiation death of a man with Down syndrome, prompting the man's family to question the thoroughness of the investigation by the officers' co-workers.
Robert Ethan Saylor's parents, Patti and Ronald Saylor, want to review the investigative file compiled by the sheriff's office and the state medical examiner's autopsy report before deciding whether to pursue civil action, Baltimore attorney Sharon Krevor-Weisbaum said. Neither file was available for public inspection Friday.
"The family is extremely disappointed and saddened by the grand jury's decision," Krevor-Weisbaum said. "The inquiry into events on that terrible night is not going to stop here."
Saylor, 20, died Jan. 12 after the deputies, moonlighting as Westview Promenade mall security officers, tried to remove him from a Regal Cinemas Westview Stadium 16 auditorium at the management's request. His caretaker had gone outside to get the car after a screening of "Zero Dark Thirty," and Saylor had returned to a theater seat, his family's lawyers say. Saylor ended up handcuffed on the floor after he became "verbally and physically resistant" to the deputies.
State's Attorney J. Charles Smith said the autopsy concluded that Saylor died of asphyxia, with obesity, atherosclerotic cardiovascular disease and a heart abnormality as significant conditions. Saylor stood 5-foot-6 and weighed 294 pounds, Sheriff Charles A. Jenkins said.
Smith said the medical examiner found that Saylor's Down syndrome, physique and heart disease made him more susceptible to sudden death in stressful conditions that would compromise his breathing.
The medical examiner's office ruled the manner of death as homicide in February. Smith said "homicide" means that "but for the actions of other individuals, Mr. Saylor would not have died."
"The deputies employed police procedures pursuant to their training with the Frederick County Sheriff's Office," Smith told a news conference outside the county courthouse.
Smith stressed that the grand jury had acted in an investigative function, meaning it did not rely solely on the investigative file from the sheriff's office. The panel heard from all 17 eyewitnesses, including the 18-year-old caretaker, and the three deputies, he said.
He said none of the deputies hit or kicked Saylor, or used any force to his neck or head. The only police equipment used was three sets of handcuffs, linked together to accommodate Saylor's girth, Smith said.
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.
He called Saylor's death a "tragic and untimely loss."
Attorney Patrick McAndrew, representing Lt. Scott Jewell, Sgt. Rich Rochford and Deputy First Class James Harris, said the deputies did as their training dictated.
"Each one of the deputies is the consummate law-enforcement professional," McAndrew said.
The sheriff said his officers have been trained to deal with developmentally disabled subjects.
In response to the family's concerns, he said it wasn't unusual for a police agency to investigate its officers' actions.
"I've got a professional, very complete group of professional investigators. I certainly rely on their work, and I hang my hat on them," Jenkins said. "Apparently the grand jury thought it was a very thorough and complete investigation," the sheriff said.
He said the officers remain on paid administrative leave pending the results of an internal investigation that will likely be done by the end of next week.By DAVID DISHNEAU Associated Press
Charlie Smith, State’s Attorney for Frederick County, Maryland addressed the press regarding the Grand Jury’s decision in the matter of Robert Ethan Saylor. Mr. Smith stated “I want to again convey my sympathies and prayers to the family of Robert Ethan Saylor for their tragic and untimely loss occurring in January of this year. I have been in touch with them during the course of our Office’s involvement, and in fact have apprised them of the Grand Jury’s determination in this matter prior to this press release.
To avoid the appearance of impropriety, a decision was made to use the investigative function of the Grand Jury to review the facts and circumstances surrounding the death of Robert Saylor, and any potential criminality of the police officers involved.
The death of Robert Saylor occurred on January 12, 2013 inside Theater 9 Westview Cinemas in Frederick Maryland. The entire event happened in just a few minutes time. All 17 eyewitnesses wrote out statements concerning what they saw and heard, including his 18 year old caretaker. Mr. Saylor was asked to leave the theater and was verbally and physically resistant to the Deputies.
None of the deputies hit or kicked Mr. Saylor or used any force to the neck or head of Mr. Saylor. The only police equipment utilized by the Deputies was handcuffs.
Robert Saylor was on his stomach for a total of one to two minutes. When those around him noticed he was having a medical emergency, they immediately took off the handcuffs, and called for EMS and began CPR.
The Deputies employed police procedures pursuant to their training with the Frederick County Sheriff’s Office.
The opinion of the Office of the Chief Medical Examiner was that a 25 year old Caucasian male, ROBERT ETHAN SAYLOR, died of ASPHYXIA. Down’s Syndrome, Obesity, Atherosclerotic Cardiovascular Disease, and Accessory Conduction Pathways of Heart, are also significant conditions….This individual was already compromised by his Down’s Syndrome, obesity, body habitus, and heart disease, making him more susceptible to sudden death in stressful conditions which would compromise his breathing. Using the medical definition of homicide (but for the actions of other individuals Mr. Saylor would not have died), the manner of death is best certified as HOMICIDE.
In Maryland, the Grand Jury serves as a protector of the public, and therefore may be asked to examine situations, such as police involved fatalities. It is common practice both here and in other Counties around the Country to utilize the Grand Jury as an independent body to assess the criminality of conduct. They do not decide civil liability or breaches of professional conduct, unless relevant to criminality.
Grand Jury is a secretive body and comment cannot be made on testimony occurring inside the courtroom. Nevertheless, it is the policy of the Frederick County State’s Attorneys Office to communicate the complete file to the Grand Jury, while explaining to them the current law on criminal homicide. This forum is not one for advocacy, but strictly for investigative purposes. Again, comment cannot be made on witness testimony but we can confirm that the Lead Investigator at the Frederick County Sheriff’s Office, the Deputy Medical Examiner, a police training expert, and all 3 involved Deputies were subpoenaed and did testify.
The Grand Jury has the option to continue the investigation and reconvene, or conclude their investigation with or without the formal presentment of criminal charges. The Grand Jury’s decision was to conclude their investigation without criminal charges. Therefore, our Office’s involvement, and that of the Grand Jury, is concluded.
J. Charles Smith III
State’s Attorney for Frederick County, Maryland
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