No charges for Md. disabled man's death in custody

  • Article by: DAVID DISHNEAU
  • Associated Press
  • March 22, 2013 - 5:56 PM

FREDERICK, Md. - A Frederick County grand jury on Friday declined to indict three sheriff's deputies involved in the asphyxiation death of a man with Down syndrome, prompting the man's family to question the thoroughness of the investigation by the officers' co-workers.

Robert Ethan Saylor's parents, Patti and Ronald Saylor, want to review the investigative file compiled by the sheriff's office and the state medical examiner's autopsy report before deciding whether to pursue civil action, Baltimore attorney Sharon Krevor-Weisbaum said. Neither file was available for public inspection Friday.

"The family is extremely disappointed and saddened by the grand jury's decision," Krevor-Weisbaum said. "The inquiry into events on that terrible night is not going to stop here."

Saylor, 20, died Jan. 12 after the deputies, moonlighting as Westview Promenade mall security officers, tried to remove him from a Regal Cinemas Westview Stadium 16 auditorium at the management's request. His caretaker had gone outside to get the car after a screening of "Zero Dark Thirty," and Saylor had returned to a theater seat, his family's lawyers say. Saylor ended up handcuffed on the floor after he became "verbally and physically resistant" to the deputies.

State's Attorney J. Charles Smith said the autopsy concluded that Saylor died of asphyxia, with obesity, atherosclerotic cardiovascular disease and a heart abnormality as significant conditions. Saylor stood 5-foot-6 and weighed 294 pounds, Sheriff Charles A. Jenkins said.

Smith said the medical examiner found that Saylor's Down syndrome, physique and heart disease made him more susceptible to sudden death in stressful conditions that would compromise his breathing.

The medical examiner's office ruled the manner of death as homicide in February. Smith said "homicide" means that "but for the actions of other individuals, Mr. Saylor would not have died."

"The deputies employed police procedures pursuant to their training with the Frederick County Sheriff's Office," Smith told a news conference outside the county courthouse.

Smith stressed that the grand jury had acted in an investigative function, meaning it did not rely solely on the investigative file from the sheriff's office. The panel heard from all 17 eyewitnesses, including the 18-year-old caretaker, and the three deputies, he said.

He said none of the deputies hit or kicked Saylor, or used any force to his neck or head. The only police equipment used was three sets of handcuffs, linked together to accommodate Saylor's girth, Smith said.

He said Saylor was on his stomach for one to two minutes. When he showed signs of medical distress, the deputies immediately removed the handcuffs, called for an ambulance and began cardiopulmonary resuscitation, Smith said.

He called Saylor's death a "tragic and untimely loss."

Attorney Patrick McAndrew, representing Lt. Scott Jewell, Sgt. Rich Rochford and Deputy First Class James Harris, said the deputies did as their training dictated.

"Each one of the deputies is the consummate law-enforcement professional," McAndrew said.

The sheriff said his officers have been trained to deal with developmentally disabled subjects.

In response to the family's concerns, he said it wasn't unusual for a police agency to investigate its officers' actions.

"I've got a professional, very complete group of professional investigators. I certainly rely on their work, and I hang my hat on them," Jenkins said. "Apparently the grand jury thought it was a very thorough and complete investigation," the sheriff said.

He said the officers remain on paid administrative leave pending the results of an internal investigation that will likely be done by the end of next week.

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