Family of Robert 'Ethan' Saylor demands independent investigatio - DC News FOX 5 DC WTTG

Family of Robert 'Ethan' Saylor demands independent investigation into death

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ANNAPOLIS, Md. -

The family of a developmentally-disabled man who died in January while in police custody went to Annapolis, today, to try to get some changes in state policy. And, to some degree, they were successful.

It's the Ethan Saylor case. Moments after being handcuffed by sheriff's deputies in Frederick County, January 12th, Saylor stopped breathing. The sheriff has said Saylor was being "belligerent and disorderly." Family members say the 26-year-old man with Down Syndrome had an IQ of 40, and deputies should have been more patient.

A sad irony in the case of the late Ethan Saylor is: the young man loved being near police officers. His mother, Patti Saylor, who came to Annapolis with petitions with hundreds of thousands of signatures, was asked: what would Ethan be doing if he were here? Gesturing toward a nearby uniformed policeman, Mrs. Saylor said, "He would run up to that officer, there, and hug him. Ask him, 'Do you have a gun? Do you have a dog? Can I get a job with you?' Because Ethan loved police officers."

But on the evening of January 12th, at a movie in Frederick, Ethan refused to pay to see a second showing, and, when he was physically removed from his seat (by three sheriff's deputies), Ethan died of asphyxiation.

Frederick County Sheriff Chuck Jenkins has maintained that the heavy young man was "loud, belligerent, and disorderly." An internal investigation and a grand jury resulted in no charges.

The Saylor family (and supporters) used the internet to gather 340,000 signatures on a petition calling for better training for first responders who encounter the developmentally disabled.

"We need to do training... in this state," declared Mrs. Saylor at a news conference just outside the Maryland Statehouse. "You know, if people are dying, there's obviously not enough training."

The Saylor family (and their supporters carrying the petitions) also called on Maryland Governor Martin O'Malley to establish an independent investigation of the death of Ethan Saylor. The group managed to get a meeting with the Governor O'Malley. Afterward, Patti Saylor told reporters: "He was definite about taking action in regard to training. And I believe he'll be letting you know about that. That was an absolute 'yes' to our request about [better] training."

The mother of Ethan Saylor said, at this point, Maryland's governor would consider the family's request for a separate, independent investigation, but O'Malley indicated to the family that he would decide that issue later.

The U.S. Justice Department is also investigating whether Ethan Saylor's civil rights were violated in the fatal incident.

Statement from the Governor’s Office on Ethan Saylor

The death of Ethan Saylor is a tragedy, and we are exploring all options to ensure that this never happens to another Marylander again. The Governor had a very good meeting today with Ethan Saylor's family and with an advocate for individuals with Down syndrome.

This tragedy has already been investigated by the Frederick County Sheriff's Office and a Frederick County grand jury, and there is a third investigation currently underway by the U.S. Department of Justice. So although the Governor is considering an investigation, he is more focused on forward-looking strategies to protect the safety and rights of all people, including those with intellectual or developmental disabilities, and promoting a better understanding of all our neighbors.

The Governor joins with the many people in Maryland and across the nation to mourn Ethan’s loss of life. In the coming days, we will announce actions aimed at improving training for law enforcement personnel and other first responders so that we can do everything we can to ensure this never happens again.


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