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.
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.