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Parents Sue Deputies over Death of Down-syndrome Man at Maryland Movie Theater

On Thursday, October 17th, the parents of a man born with Down syndrome filed a wrongful death suit against three sheriff’s deputies from the state of Maryland for causing his alleged: “violent, terrifying, and painful death” as the deputies attempted to remove the handicapped man from a movie theater earlier this year.

The disabled man, Robert Ethan Saylor, 26, of New Market, Maryland, asphyxiated in mid-January after three Frederick County (Maryland) deputies dragged him out of the theater in handcuffs and restraints. The deputies were working evenings on a part-time auxiliary detail, providing security services at a local mall at the time of the incident.

The officers were called in by the movie house’s managers after Saylor allegedly went back into the movie theater to watch “Zero Dark Thirty” for a second time without paying for an additional ticket. Saylor was not alone, he was accompanied by his full-time nursing aide. The aide attempted to dissuade Saylor from “sneaking” back into the movie but was unsuccessful. The aide told investigators that she advised the deputies that the 294-pound Saylor, who used a wheelchair, would “freak out” if they touched him.

Witnesses on the movie theater explained to reporters how they observed the man screaming, “Mommy! Mommy! It hurts!” as he was forcibly removed. According to the lawsuit filed in U.S. District Court in Baltimore, Saylor’s parents, Ronald and Patricia Saylor, allege that their son ended up on the floor, pinned down by one of the deputies on top of him.

The suit further alleges:

“As the deputies manhandled Mr. Saylor, they fractured his larynx, making it difficult for him to breathe. Because this was apparent, the deputies rolled him to his side, removed his handcuffs, and called emergency medical technicians. It was too late — Mr. Saylor suffocated.”

Daniel Karp is the attorney representing the sheriff’s office in the case. Karp disputed that account of events and told members of the press that Saylor’s Adam’s apple could have been damaged when responding paramedics had to insert a breathing tube. Karp claimed there was no evidence that any of the deputies applied force to Saylor’s neck.

In addition to each of the sheriff’s deputies, Richard Rochford, Scott Jewell and James Harris, the suit names the theater’s parent company, the property management company, and Frederick County as defendants. The plaintiffs are seeking an undisclosed amount for damages under the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA).

Although the state medical examiner declared Saylor’s death a homicide, a Frederick County grand jury did not return indictments in March. The three deputies were never charged in connection with the incident and they have returned to duty.

The decision not to prosecute quickly made national news headlines. A civil rights investigation was opened by the U.S. Justice Department and is currently pending.

References:

NBC News: Parents sue deputies in death of man with Down syndrome at Maryland movie theater

Washington Post: Settlement Update

NOLO

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