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Family Sues Over Movie Theater Death Of Man With Down Syndrome


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The parents of a man with developmental disabilities who died after being handcuffed at a Frederick County, Md. movie theater have sued Regal Cinemas and the county in federal court.

The lawsuit filed Thursday also names the county sheriff’s office, three deputies and the movie theater as defendants.

Robert “Ethan” Saylor, 26, died in January after the incident at the Westview Regal Cinemas at Westview Promenade in Frederick, Md.

In the lawsuit, Patricia and Ronald Saylor accuse the defendants of negligence, violating Ethan Saylor’s civil rights and violating the Americans with Disabilities Act.

“If any of the defendants had heeded Mr. Saylor’s aide as to how to deal with Mr. Saylor, his tragic and unnecessary death would have been avoided,” they say. Saylor had Down syndrome and an IQ of about 40, they say, and it was easy to recognize his developmental disability.

The family is seeking an undetermined amount in compensatory and punitive damages, and is requesting a jury trial.

Saylor attended a screening of the movie “Zero Dark Thirty” on Jan. 12 with an aide. He became agitated after the movie and refused to leave. Three off-duty sheriff’s deputies working as security officers handcuffed Saylor. The lawsuit says he “ended up on the floor.”

According to the sheriff’s office, Saylor suffered a “medical emergency.” The deputies removed the handcuffs, attempted CPR and called for emergency workers, the sheriff’s office said. Saylor died soon after.

A medical examiner ruled the death a homicide and found that Saylor died of positional asphyxia and excited delirium, complicated by his disability and weight. A grand jury later declined to indict the sheriff’s deputies, and an internal investigation cleared them of wrongdoing.

Saylor’s death drew national attention. In September, Maryland Gov. Martin O’Malley met with the Saylor family and said he would seek better training for law enforcement in how to respond when they encounter people with disabilities.

“That’s a welcome step, but it does not look backward and say who’s responsible and who should be accountable for what happened,” said Joseph Espo, an attorney for the Saylors. “No one’s been held accountable for Ethan’s death.”

The Saylors accuse the deputies — Richard Rochford, Scott Jewell and James Harris — of gross negligence and malice.

Daniel Karp, an attorney representing Frederick County, the sheriff’s office and the three deputies, said the “extreme allegations” in the lawsuit were “disappointing.”

“The allegations of deliberate wrongdoing are absolutely unwarranted,” Karp said, referring to an internal sheriff’s office investigation that the office declined to release. “The officers have been exonerated. An accident occurred, and the officers were not at fault.”

Karp said many claims in the lawsuit are “exaggerated” or untrue, including an allegation that the deputies broke Saylor’s larynx.

Regal Cinemas did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

© 2013 The Baltimore Sun
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Comments (6 Responses)

  1. Samantha says:

    This is such a sad story. I do not have all of the details and cannot say what or how this happened. This person is gone and the medical examiner found that it was due to “positional asphyxia and excited delirium”. He didn’t do this to himself. The officers probably did not intend on killing anyone, but it sounds like that is what happened.

  2. 2ontheSpectrum says:

    I hadn’t heard anything about this case, but I am stunned. I cannot believe that the deputies overreacted so severly to an obviously disabled man who refused to leave the theater! The deputies were definitely responsible and should be held accountable. Even if Saylor could not be moved or would not move, there was no reason to handcuff him and put him in a position that caused him to suffocate. So what if the movie theater lost a few dollars…
    I would also be after the aide that took him to see “Zero Dark Thirty.” What was that aide thinking?!

  3. Amy Dietrich Hernandez says:

    Oh, so he was just walking around with a broken larynx before his Down syndrome killed him? Seriously, how do you “exaggerate” a broken larynx? Ethan was killed by off duty police officers who didn’t take a few minutes to assess the situation before acting. No one was in danger of dying until those officers put their hands on Ethan.

  4. Harry Fulton Decuir says:

    My deepest condolences go out to the Saylor Family for the unprecedented death of their son, Eathan Saylor. I find it most important to reflect back on the wonderful memories that Ethan blessed your family with.He will never be forgotten and always loved and adored by those who loved him and knew him well. To Mr. and Mrs. Saylor, I am quite sure that Ethan loved the both of you very much and his heart was filled with good memories and happiness. Sincerely, Harry Fulton Decuir

  5. Teresa Roberts says:

    Breaking a person’s larynx and brunt force, because he would not comply? Surely they knew the young
    man was disabled. Why did they not let it play out, ask the aide to call his parents, give him a sedative?
    Did the patrons of the theatre complain? What procedures did the police department have in place for such a thing? Is this the procedure to subdue a running assailant? We all have to learn, one size does not fit all.

  6. AlWBrown says:

    Sympathies to the Saylor family. It is always hard to let go of a young one, especially when you bury your own child. As the article doesn’t give the point of view of the other parties I can’t personally judge how the event actually took place, but either way I hope this is a starting point for police departments and agencies nationally to consider people’s disabilities when arresting and confronting these people.

    This situation in my opinion could had been avoided by assessing the scene more properly first.

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