Days after a grand jury determined that no crime was committed in the death of a 26-year-old with Down syndrome who was restrained by law enforcement, the U.S. Department of Justice is keeping a watchful eye on the situation.
Representatives from four disability advocacy groups met Tuesday with Justice Department officials in Washington to discuss the incident, which occurred in January.
Robert Ethan Saylor went to see the movie “Zero Dark Thirty” at a Frederick, Md. theater and wanted to watch it again after the showing was over. When Saylor refused to leave, three off-duty sheriff’s deputies who were working security restrained him and he died within minutes.
A medical examiner deemed the death a homicide, but just last week a grand jury found that no charges were warranted in the case which has sparked concern and outrage from those in the disability community across the country.
Saylor’s mother was among those at the meeting this week which included leaders of the National Down Syndrome Society, the National Down Syndrome Congress, the Kennedy Krieger Institute and a Maryland group known as Family Resource Information and Education Network for Down Syndrome.
“It was mostly a listening session,” said Lou Ruffino of the Justice Department’s Community Relations Service, which provides conflict resolution in civil rights cases where there is community tension.
During the two-hour meeting, advocates spoke about the need for better training for law enforcement in dealing with those who have Down syndrome. One idea floated was a Web-based training program complemented by opportunities for personal interaction with those who have the chromosomal disorder.
“The ultimate goal of this collaborative effort will be to create a training program that can be easily accessed and flexible enough that all law enforcement and first responders nationwide can participate,” Jon Colman, president of the National Down Syndrome Society, said in a statement.
Though no decisions have been made at this point about Justice Department involvement, Ruffino said the agency will continue to monitor the situation and could step in to provide training or other assistance moving forward.