Teen With Down Syndrome Killed By Cops After Aide Warned of Condition

18-year-old Robert Ethan Saylor died in a Maryland movie theater in January.

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Documents released by a Maryland county’s sheriff department reveal that an aide to a man with down syndrome who died at the hands of police warned law enforcement officials about his condition.

The Associated Pressreports that 18-year-old Robert Ethan Saylor was sitting in a movie theater in Frederick, Maryland in January. He had watched “Zero Dark Thirty” with his aide, who is unnamed in the documents. But the man with down syndrome wanted to watch the movie again. Saylor was acting violent outside the theater and insisted on going back in, and he did. But a manager told Saylor’s aide that he could not be in the theater without a ticket. So three off-duty police officers who were working as security guards near the theater were called in to help.

“I explained, ‘Yes, we are having a little issue, I’ll handle it. We just have to be patient,’” said the aide. “Then a sheriff came and said, ‘Another show is starting. I have to go get him out.’ I explained Ethan is (sic) Down syndrome.” The aide added that if the police touched Saylor, he would “freak out.”

Saylor was cursing at the officers, and the off-duty cops threatened to arrest him. Saylor began to flail and call for his mother, and the police then attempted to restrain Saylor. All four of them fell on a ramp, and the three officers placed three sets of handcuffs on Saylor. Then, he went quiet and was unresponsive, and the officers did CPR on him after removing the handcuffs. One witness said one cop had a knee on Saylor’s back, but nobody said the police touched Saylor’s neck.

Whatever the case, Saylor died as a result of asphyxia, and there was damage to his larynx. But a grand jury determined that no charges against the officers will be forthcoming, according to the AP.

The heartbreak for the Saylor family didn’t end there, though. They had to wait several months for the evidence presented to the jury to be released. The police delayed the release of the documents recently released until an internal affairs investigation was completed. “This matter has been investigated thoroughly,” said Daniel Karp, an attorney for the sheriff’s office. “It’s obviously a tragic and unfortunate incident, but the deputies did nothing wrong.”

The Saylor family and advocacy groups met with the Justice Department in the months after Robert’s death, and called on Maryland to open an independent investigation. The family’s lawyer say they are exploring the possibility of filing a civil suit.


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Alex Kane is former World editor at AlterNet. His work has appeared in Mondoweiss, Salon, VICE, the Los Angeles Review of Books and more. Follow him on Twitter @alexbkane.