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Don’t Forget Robert Saylor

Over the course of the past several months, widely publicized cases of malfeasance on the part of law enforcement officers in Ferguson, MO; Cleveland, OH; Staten Island, NY; Alexandria, VA; Baltimore, MD, and many others besides, have brought issues such as racial profiling, the militarization of municipal law enforcement departments, and the high rates of inner city joblessness, poverty, and crime to the forefront of what is often (and fatuously) called “our national conversation.”

Yet one particular case of police brutality is in danger of being forgotten amidst the current strum und drang over the death of Freddy Gray; that of another Maryland resident named Robert Ethan Saylor.

On the evening of January 12, 2013, the 26 year old Saylor, who had Downs Syndrome, was accompanied by his caretaker to the Regal Cinemas in New Market, MD, to see “Zero Dark Thirty.” After the film, Saylor’s caretaker left him in the theater to get the car, during which time Saylor went back to the theater because he wanted to see it again. Told he would have to pay for a ticket or else leave, he didn’t. Enter three Frederick County Sheriff’s Officers who were moonlighting as Westview Mall security officers: Scott Jewell, Rich Rochford, and James Harri. According to the Washington Post this [1] is what happened next:

According to witness reports, Saylor cursed at the first deputy who asked him to leave. When the other deputies arrived, the three pulled Ethan, who weighed 294 pounds, from his seat as he wailed and resisted, witnesses said. Several people heard the officers tell Saylor that he was going to jail.

They handcuffed the 5’6″, nearly 300-pound Saylor and threw him to the ground, during which time a witness recalled hearing Saylor call out for his mother. He died of asphyxiation shortly after. The medical examiner’s report, which revealed that Saylor’s larynx was fractured during the incident, ruled the case a homicide.

That March, a grand jury, working from a report compiled by none other than the Frederick Country’s Sheriff’s Office, failed to indict the three sheriff’s deputies. The Justice Department opened an investigation several months later. The Frederick County Sheriff, Charles Jenkins, met the news of the DOJ probe with supreme insouciance, telling the Washington Post that he was confident Justice investigators will review the case and say:

You know what? There is absolutely no excessive force, no inappropriate actions or wrongdoing by these deputies. This is simply an unfortunate situation where this man had a medical emergency while being escorted out of the theater.

Then-Maryland Governor, and current presidential aspirant, Martin O’Malley formed a commission to look into the case six months after Saylor’s death. Meanwhile, this past October a federal judge ruled that a wrongful death suit brought by the family against the three officers involved could move forward.

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In his ruling, U.S. District Judge William M. Nickerson noted with disgust that “a man died over the cost of a movie ticket.”

This week, U.S. Magistrate Judge Stephanie A. Gallagher ordered the Frederick County Sheriff’s Office to turn over relevant parts of the personnel files of the three officers to the Saylor family’s attorneys. A request to the DOJ press office for comment on its ongoing civil rights investigation into the Saylor case has, as of this writing, gone unanswered.

While the tragic events which unfolded last week in Baltimore have shined a light on race and civilian-police relations, we would do well to remember the murder of Ethan Saylor at the hands of moonlighting mall cops.

Violence against—much less the murder of—people with Downs Syndrome, who are among society’s most vulnerable and, for many families, their most treasured members, should be condemned in the strongest possible terms and not dismissed as merely, in the words of Sheriff Charles Jenkins, an “unfortunate situation.”

18 Comments (Open | Close)

18 Comments To "Don’t Forget Robert Saylor"

#1 Comment By The Wet One On May 6, 2015 @ 12:17 am

Honestly.

If Americans haven’t yet noticed, this kind of thing goes on all the time in the U.S. to all kinds of people.

The issue isn’t race. It’s a complete and total lack of police accountability and an absence of the rule of law.

But whatever. It’s your country, run it how you like. If you’re fine with you police killing whomever they please, whenever they please (and that’s what the evidence seems to indicate), well don’t be disappointed when your mentally handicapped relatives are killed by cops (as frequently happens), when mentally ill people are killed by cops (as frequently happens) or when you just happen to get gunned down on your doorstep over a domestic dispute while calmly talking with the cops (as happened to John Geer). And that’s just what happens to White people.

It goes on and on and on and on (I’ve been paying a bit of attention to this over the last several months) and Americans, so far as I can tell, are just fine with it.

So, I guess, have fun with that? Or something?

🙁

#2 Comment By Escher On May 6, 2015 @ 4:44 am

The police have become an occupying army, demanding instant compliance, failing which they resort to force without warning.
These 3 goons ought to be locked up and the key thrown away. Couldn’t they see Saylor’s condition?

#3 Comment By jk On May 6, 2015 @ 7:39 am

It is great to see reports highlighting hypocrisies of the left or right.

Nevertheless, police officers are not trained psychologists, physiologists, or Emergency Room docs. They do not have time to make the psychological or physiological assessments when wrestling down a hostile, dangerous, individual that has expressed intent to harm others and may or may not be armed.

Nobody wants their skull crushed in the pavement. Cops are not sharpshooters that can shoot someone in the thigh in 1.6 seconds reaction time allotted from a distance of 20 meters.
The police officers may be smaller than the “perp” and may be tossed around like a rag doll if they do not have backup; they may have their weapons used against them or their colleagues.

While reports from other police forces outside the US do not indicate as many officer related deaths, many other countries do not have the density of privately held weapons.

So the solution naturally is for the police force to only hire men that are 6’ or higher at 220 lbs that are trained emergency room technicians and psychologists and ban guns.

Or maybe more body cameras as a start at least.

#4 Comment By Johann On May 6, 2015 @ 10:44 am

These kinds of things happen frequently across the nation. Making it solely a racial issue will result in the real problem not being fixed for sure. Looking at the world through ideological filters, racial or otherwise is not harmless.

#5 Comment By Chris Mallory On May 6, 2015 @ 11:18 am

I used to work in a residential setting with developmentally disabled adults. Most of them were this guy’s size or larger. We were trained so that one person could control a “resident” without causing them harm. Yes, they could get violent, waving around arms, kicking, punching, spitting. But they had no balance, speed, or coordination. One person could easily restrain them without breaking their necks.
In my experience, of all the different developmental conditions, “Downs” were always the easiest to deal with.

#6 Comment By Fran Macadam On May 6, 2015 @ 12:51 pm

Imperial war and occupation of the world has led to militarized occupation of the “Homeland,” all for the “security” of those doing the occupying, abroad or at home. It should be no surprise that the abuses perpetrated against occupied and droned supposedly inferior foreign peoples, become equally deployed domestically against those valued as less than human by our financial autocrats, an easy indistinction since our own population, mostly a nation of immigrants, mirrors polyglot humanity. What price to the hundreds of millions of Americans the consolidation of power and wealth in a de facto oligarchy that uses our government to further its own interests, not ours?

#7 Comment By MikeCLT On May 6, 2015 @ 1:23 pm

I agree with your article except that there was no “malfeasance on the part of law enforcement officers in Ferguson, MO.” Local, state and federal investigations cleared the officer in Ferguson.

#8 Comment By Thymoleontas On May 6, 2015 @ 1:56 pm

In a society of community and humane sentiment, one of those cops, upon seeing the boy’s condition, would have just offered to pay for the ticket himself.

Instead, we have America of 2015…

#9 Comment By c matt On May 6, 2015 @ 5:36 pm

Nevertheless, police officers are not trained psychologists, physiologists, or Emergency Room docs. They do not have time to make the psychological or physiological assessments when wrestling down a hostile, dangerous, individual that has expressed intent to harm others and may or may not be armed.

Of course not – why would anyone expect a cop to be trained to deal with wrestling down a hostile, dangerous individual without causing harm? It’s not like that situation will ever present itself in police work.

Oh, wait….

#10 Comment By EliteCommInc. On May 6, 2015 @ 9:34 pm

Nevertheless, police officers are not trained psychologists, physiologists, or Emergency Room docs. They do not ha”ve time to make the psychological or physiological assessments when wrestling down a hostile, dangerous, individual that has expressed intent to harm others and may or may not be armed.”

Hmmmm,

boy to read this type of response is dismaying. Anyone, who is unarmed and dies as the result of the police action is suspect.

No one gets a crushed larynx merely from being tossed on the ground. Apparently some level of forced was initiated against the gentleman’s throat. If accidental or deliberate, the police are ultimately responsible.

Your comment belies a rather irritating obtuseness.

The ability to assess and communicate are two of the most essential requirements of such positions. The ability to deescalate and allow others to deesclate does not require a degree.

But one simple observation: is this detainment, arrest neccessary right now?

The general notion that we should treat each other with respect is admireable, but our exchanges don’t always happen in that manner.

They were on duty at the mall, not a bar. Eventually the movie will end, the person will leave. There’s no crisis. there’s no emergency here.

As for the theater, I think they would much rather have someone see a movie twice than be associated with the death of an unarmed guy, soon to be discovered disabled – killed on their premises.

——–

Yawn, it would be nice if we lived in the utopia in which blacks do not experience police encouters more often than whites over such mundane nonemergency, non crisis indicies, but the fact of the matter is you are not going to wipe out more than 400 years of soxialization in 150 years.

It’s time we dealth with they wat it is as opposed to our notions of what we wish.

#11 Comment By gadfly On May 7, 2015 @ 1:27 am

Mike I think the Ferguson part was talking about their turning the police of ferguson into a collections agency. That was wrongdoing. Funny enough Wilson may have been one of the few in the force who wasn’t known paortkaing part in the racketeering.

#12 Comment By Brendan Sexton On May 7, 2015 @ 12:38 pm

“…. Cops are not sharpshooters that can shoot someone in the thigh in 1.6 seconds reaction time allotted from a distance of 20 meters.
The police officers may be smaller than the “perp” and may be tossed around like a rag doll if they do not have backup; they may have their weapons used against them or their colleagues.”
so many things wrong here, and in the rest of your post, but just for starters: no one, certainly no 300 lb mentally disabled gent can cover 20 meters in 1.6 seconds. no one. and in this case, the very unfit fellow was starting from a seated position! what in the world does your comment mean?
second, there was NO need for ‘back up’ here—there were already three officers in the group. And there were no weapons reported or observed.
most important: there was no ‘perp’ here! there was a confused fellow who was trying to get a second viewing of a movie without paying a second time. This is possibly ‘theft of service’ in many jurisdictions, but it hardly merits the confusion you would create by lumping this fellow into the category of ‘perp’

The police ARE trained to deal with such situations,or should be. No, they are not psychologists, but psychologists are not trained in this sort of crisis management–police officers ARE, or are supposed to be.
in this case there were terrible mistakes made–why the knee-jerk reaction that the officers could not possible have done better?
This sort of rejecting any and all criticism of the police actually is insulting to them–it assumes policing cannot be done in a professional manner, respecting the civilians they are hired to protect from harm and threat. Of course it can be done, and usually is–but it would not continue to be done well if it becomes unacceptable to point out the instances when it goes wrong, or to critique what went wrong and why, what could be done better next time, and so on.

#13 Comment By Jerry McKenzie On May 7, 2015 @ 1:17 pm

“Nevertheless, police officers are not trained psychologists, physiologists, or Emergency Room docs. They do not have time to make the psychological or physiological assessments when wrestling down a hostile, dangerous, individual that has expressed intent to harm others and may or may not be armed.”

And yet well-trained police forces around the world do make these assessments with much more better (nonlethal) results every minute, hour, day, week, month, and year. Strange that Americans can’t do that.

#14 Comment By Mike On May 8, 2015 @ 1:13 pm

Here’s a thought, jk, let’s treat the victim here as the one with the mental handicaps, not the “police officers”. There JOB is to assess and defuse situations to protect the public welfare, and American citizenry. You making grasping at every possible excuse to justify these thugs actions, yet give no credence to the know facts about Down Syndrome people is the reason cops assault rob and kill us with impunity. Now who is responsible for the bigger crime a Downs guy trying to steal a movie viewing, or the poor excuses for law enforcement that killed him?

#15 Comment By Richard Parker On May 10, 2015 @ 9:37 pm

Kelly Thomas (April 5, 1974 – July 10, 2011)RIP

#16 Comment By mohammad On May 11, 2015 @ 12:43 pm

You have held only the cops responsible. The one who called the cops is even more responsible. Who would care to live in a society where upon some small annoyance by a mentally disabled person cops are called into action. Where is charity?

In my childhood and up to my college years I was living in a district in a small city in Iran; there were a dozen of people with mental problems living there. A couple of them could get really dangerous in times. One would get completely naked every now and then, and would harass the females on the street. In no time, any appeal to police was made by people. People would deal with them, sometimes harshly, but always with a much better judgement and understanding, with more charity, than the cops in the case mentioned in this post.

#17 Comment By Cliff On May 14, 2015 @ 11:22 am

Two days ago, I saw through a window a young woman, obviously a student, being interviewed in a classroom by four campus cops. I have no idea what it was all about. But why does it take four men, three of them much larger than her, to interview one seated woman? They’re never happy unless it’s at least four-to-one.

#18 Comment By Joe A On May 14, 2015 @ 9:25 pm

We should be equally outraged over Freddy Gray and Robert Saylor. Police are subject to the same law as every other citizen and shouldn’t be given a pass any time they abuse that power.