Ethan Saylor's family files lawsuit against deputies, department, cinema

10:20 PM, Oct 17, 2013   |    comments
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WASHINGTON (WUSA9) -- WUSA 9 has learned that the family of Robert "Ethan" Saylor has filed a lawsuit against three deputies, Frederick County Sheriff's Department, the Regal Cinema and the property manager for negligence in regards to his death. The lawsuit cities that negligence caused Saylor to die  a "violent, terrifying, and painful" death.

Saylor died in police custody in January after three deputies, moonlighting as movie theater security, removed him from a Frederick movie theater for not having a $12 ticket.

Saylor had Down syndrome. His health aide was with him the night that he died. She says, "I kept telling them why don't you just let me go in there and give me a few minutes with him? I'd just give him a big hug and he'd be right out, but they wouldn't listen to me." 

The aide told WUSA 9 that Ethan became angry after they both went to see the film Zero Dark Thirty. She said he liked it so much, he wanted to see it again. She said Ethan went right back into the theater to see the movie for the second time, even though he didn't have ticket. Then she said this of the deputies, working as security, "They said he had to leave right now."

She said security would not let her in, made her wait in the lobby, "All of a sudden, I hear kicking and screaming, and 'ouch, Mary, Mom, that hurts, don't touch me, get off' and so I run in and I'm crying hysterically. I didn't really know what to do. I see him jumping up in the air, and screaming, so I turn around because I was scared, and I turned back around, and all of a sudden they're on the floor, and after all the noise, it was just completely silent. They have three handcuffs on him." 

The aid told us the ambulances came, and she followed to the hospital, "About an hour, an hour and a half later, his mom comes out and tells me that he passed away."

The medical examiner ruled Ethan Saylor's death a homicide via asphyxiation.

A grand jury later found no wrongdoing on the part of the deputies. Frederick County Sheriff Chuck Jenkins said he stands by the three deputies in whose custody Ethan died.  He also said he believed his men did not use excessive force, and that a Justice Department investigation would exonerate the deputies.

Word spread about Ethan Saylor's death.  Maryland Delegate and Democratic Gubernatorial Candidate Heather Mizeur spoke out for justice for Ethan, "It turns out that under the ADA laws, a caretaker doesn't need to have a ticket with someone with a disability at a movie theater anyway, so the two tickets that were purchased for Ethan and his caretaker would have been sufficient for him to stay a second time."

Mizeur wrote a letter to Maryland Governor Martin O'Malley asking for his help, "We can train our public safety officials and all of our public employees in the community at large to have a better understanding of how to address our neighbors that have intellectual disabilities."

Emma Saylor launched a petition asking for an independent investigation into the death of her brother. More than 340,000 signatures were later delivered to Gov. Martin O'Malley. Maryland Senator Brian Frosh also asked the governor to take action. 

Maryland Gov. Martin O'Malley met with the family in September. Robert Ethan Saylor's mother Patti told reporters that O'Malley spoke about taking action to require police training about people with Down syndrome. She also said O'Malley would consider the family's plea for an independent investigation of Saylor's death.

A day later, WUSA 9 spoke to John Firman at the International Association of Chiefs of Police. He was overjoyed at the Governor O'Malley's response to the pleas of Ethan Saylor's family. "Police have to have more help, more training, more policies, more support, more funding support, more mental health in the community."

The association published a report three years ago urging police agencies nationwide to develop crisis intervention teams to help officers in encounters like the one at a Frederick movie theater that left Saylor dead, asphyxiated in three sets of police handcuffs.

The association suggested that if officers have time, they should consult the people who know the subject.

"If police have the time and no one is being threatened, but she's lost control, as they come into the house, they take that precious few moments to get information from that mother who is fully informed. Then when they get up the stairs their likelihood of successful intervention is very high," says Firman. "If they move right by the mom and skip all that information and run up the stairs, then the likelihood goes the other way."

Meanwhile, Justice for Ethan supporters continued to ask Gov. O'Malley to launch an independent investigation into Saylor's death.  On Sept. 17, O'Malley issued an Executive Order to improve training to help law enforcement personnel, paramedics, and other first responders better respond to situations involving individuals with intellectual and developmental disabilities ("IDD"). It created the Maryland Commission for Effective Community Inclusion of Individuals with Intellectual and Developmental Disabilities.


The commission's deadline for submitting an initial report addressing Maryland's law enforcement guidelines and statewide training standards was set for January 9, 2014, which would have been Saylor's 27th birthday.

Following the executive order, Ethan Saylor's mother issued a statement, saying, "Our family commends Governor O'Malley and his administration for listening to our call for action by establishing this important Commission. The Commission is one piece toward ensuring what happened to my son, Ethan, never happens to a member of the disability community again. Ethan deserved to be a welcomed member of our community, as do all people with IDD. I look forward to working with Dr. Shriver and the Commission as they move forward in their vital work."

Then, on Oct. 17, Ethan Saylor's parents filed a lawsuit alleging that "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." The lawsuit names the three deputies working that night.


The lawsuit also alleges that the Regal Cinema employee that asks the deputies working as movie security to remove Ethan Saylor was negligent.

After the family filed the lawsuit, Sheriff Chuck Jenkins said the lawsuit doesn't surprise him. He refutes and disputes that there was any negligence on the part of the three deputies on the night in question. He also said there was no excessive force used whatsoever, that the deputies' actions were not inappropriate, and that their actions were reasonable under circumstances

To the best of the sheriff's knowledge, he says the three deputies underwent every type of training available, including training on how to deal with individuals with autism, but that there is no formal type of training to deal with that particular mental disability, and that's why the governor set up his commission.

WUSA 9's Debra Alfarone will have more information on this latest development on the news later this evening.

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