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HOMICIDE: Autopsy Finds Robert Saylor, Maryland Man with Down Syndrome, Died from Asphyxia in Police Custody

Robert Saylor homicideThe death of a mentally disabled Maryland man who was arrested by police after refusing to leave a cinema has officially been ruled a homicide.

The Washington Post reports that Frederick County Sheriff’s Cpl. Jennifer Bailey announced on Friday that the state medical examiner’s office has concluded that 26-year-old Robert “Ethan” Saylor of New Market died of asphyxia while in police custody on January 12.

Saylor, who had Down syndrome, allegedly refused to leave a movie theater after viewing “Zero Dark Thirty” on a Saturday night. According to ABC 7, Saylor, who was at the theater with a health aide, wanted to see the movie again. When Saylor refused to leave, cinema staff notified three Frederick County deputies working security at the venue.

The Frederick News-Post reports that Saylor allegedly cursed at the deputies, who then physically removed him from his seat and from the theater. Deputies claim Saylor continued to resist them and was subsequently handcuffed.

A law enforcement source familiar with the case told ABC 7 that Saylor went into medical distress when he was forced face-down to the ground. After realizing he was suffering from some sort of medical emergency, the deputies removed the handcuffs from Saylor and had him transported to a nearby hospital, where he was later declared dead.

Patti Saylor, the victim’s mother, told ABC 7 last month that her son did not suffer from any pre-existing medical conditions and that she did not understand how he could have died in police custody.

“He just loved unconditionally everybody,” she said. “He has never had anyone put their hands on him in his life. He would not have been doing anything threatening to anybody.”

According to a Stauffer Funeral Homes obituary, Saylor attended Spring Ridge Elementary, TJ Middle School and later attended and graduated from The Benedictine School in Ridgely, Maryland. He was briefly employed at Goodwill and was ironically very interested in police and security agencies. He reportedly “amassed volumes of research on them.” He was also a member of the Damascus Road Community Church men’s choir and was known as “the best hugger” of the congregation.

The three deputies involved in Saylor’s arrest have been identified as: Lt. Scott Jewell, Sgt. Rich Rochford and Deputy First Class James Harris. All three continue to work their normal assignments while an investigation continues.

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5 Comments

  1. ShawnFebruary 19, 2013 at 5:16 amReply

    Why is this classified as a Homicide? That’s irresponsible.

  2. MattFebruary 19, 2013 at 12:12 pmReply

    What, if anything, did the aide do? Downs syndrom folks are notoriously stubborn. The aide should have clued the officers and theatre people in on this and provided a solution. Another thing, they can get very strong when defending themselves and he was no skinny weakling. I know, I’ve benn working with special needs folks for 20 years. Based on what I have read in media, the blame should go on aide and group home for not providing proper support and planning for his community outings.

  3. Restraint Asphyxia KillsFebruary 20, 2013 at 7:04 amReply

    Thanks for covering this case of police excessive force. Restraint asphyxia is almost always preventable, however despite knowledge of the condition, the police refuse to retrain their officers.

    In some states, using prone restraint on a child or a disabled person is a crime because of the known dangerousness of tge procedure.

    If a citizen killed someone in this manner it would be charged as manslaughter. SCOTUS has determined that asphyxia during restraint, or arrest, is an unconstitutional use of force.

  4. LoriFebruary 20, 2013 at 4:09 pmReply

    To Shawn – 3 over zealous police officers suffocate a disabled young man to the point of death and you don’t think it should be called homicide?

    No doubt there is plenty of blame to go around. Was the caregiver trained? Did the employees of the movie theatre over-react?

    Ultimatly – the restraint caused the death = homicide.

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