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Following Restraint Death, Groups Seek Probe

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Disability advocates are calling for the Justice Department to investigate the death of a man with Down syndrome who was restrained after refusing to leave a movie theater.

Representatives from three Down syndrome advocacy organizations as well as Patti and Ron Saylor, the parents of the man who died, met with officials from the U.S. Department of Justice this week to ask for an independent investigation into the case.

Robert Ethan Saylor, 26, went to see the movie “Zero Dark Thirty” at a Frederick, Md. theater in January. When the film ended, he did not want to leave and three off-duty sheriff’s deputies who were working security restrained Saylor who died within minutes.

While a medical examiner ruled Saylor’s death a homicide, a grand jury determined that no charges were warranted.

The case brought concern and outrage from many in the disability community and advocates say a probe is needed to have a complete understanding of what occurred at the movie theater.

“For a lot of our parents and our self-advocates this is a very frightening incident,” said Sara Weir, vice president of advocacy and affiliate relations at the National Down Syndrome Society, who attended the meeting. “It rocks our community and we need to make sure that something like this never happens again.”

Justice Department officials told Saylor’s parents and advocates from the society as well as the National Down Syndrome Congress and a Maryland group known as Family Resource Information and Education Network for Down Syndrome that an investigation under the Americans with Disabilities Act or the Civil Rights Act could be warranted, Weir said.

The agency is expected to follow up with the Saylor family before determining whether to proceed with an inquiry.

In the meantime, Down syndrome advocates are also working with other developmental disability organizations to address the need for further law enforcement training and additional steps to prevent similar incidents, Weir said.

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Comments (6 Responses)

  1. Jene says:

    If it was ruled a homicide, how is it that charges were not warranted? Is it because someone thinks the life of a person with a disability is less worthy of justice than people who are typical? There needs to be some rethinking about this decision.

  2. Mo says:

    In our local city Spokane Washington we have been going through 7 years of a similar incident – the primary police officer was found guilty of causing the death of a disabled adult – who was beaten to submission/death in order “restrain”.
    please go forward with the investigation.

  3. F. Dang says:

    In some Counties the Psychiatric Emergency Response Team, PERT, rides with the patrolling officer ( or can be easily accessed ) They work with individuals who the police have stopped and appear to have psychiatric or other forms of disabilities. The police are trained to work in a particular way with individuals, where they take command of the situation. Individuals with disabilities may feel scared or intimidated when confronted by the police and responds by shutting down or becoming “stubborn”.

    We should train the police on how to work with the DD population or at least have them have access to professional who are trained who can work with this population.

  4. Mary Anna Dunn says:

    Is there anyone to whom letters and petitions could be addressed to demonstrate public support is behind a Justice Department investigation? Would these go to someone in DoJ or to Congress?

  5. Tacitus says:

    Mary Anna Dunn, I would suggest writing to the local papers.

  6. LouLou says:

    If this had been a cat or dog, etc., someone would be in jail and the ASPC would be screeming bloody murder.
    I am appalled that the ASPC raises MUCH MONEY with tears and pictures of animals that have been abused,. I agree, no animal should have to endure abuse. Where is the compassion for helpless retarded “children” who are scalded in bathtubs, beaten, suffer untimely deaths, and as the four found chained to a furnace in a filthy basement in an apartment bldg in Philadelphia. Pennsylvania, what happened to those almost unrecognizeable three men and one female? Shame.

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