Saturday, March 30, 2013

National Down Syndrome Congress says independent investigation needed in death of Ethan Saylor, Maryland man with Down syndrome who died in custody of sheriff deputies

From the National Down Syndrome Congress:

ATLANTA – The National Down Syndrome Congress (NDSC) believes that Robert Ethan Saylor’s (pictured) civil rights were violated when he died after being restrained by three off-duty Frederick County, MD, Sheriff’s deputies.  Although the coroner ruled Saylor’s death a homicide, a grand jury declined to indict the deputies.

“We cannot comprehend the series of poor decisions that were made leading to Ethan’s death,” noted David Tolleson, Executive Director of NDSC.  “If you used any other adjective to describe him – such as his race, religion, gender or sexual orientation – the streets would be filled with people seeking justice.  It appears that individuals at the theatre acted as if this was an emergency situation, or that Ethan presented an imminent threat, when in fact more time was both needed and available to assess the situation.”

Tolleson adds, “By all reports, the officers involved are good men who did not intend for Ethan to die.  However, if an otherwise good person with good intentions were to kill someone with their car – perhaps because of neglected maintenance or driving under the influence – they would still be held accountable.”

According to NDSC representatives, the Saylor case is filled with poor decisions and missed opportunities.
  •  The officers should have been trained on how to interact with individuals with Down syndrome and other developmental disabilities.
  •  Recognizing that Ethan had Down syndrome, the officers should have showed more patience.
  •  The officers should have worked with Ethan’s support person on strategies to diffuse the situation, rather than handcuffing him. 
  •  Ethan’s mother was on the way to the theatre, called by his support person.  Officers should have waited for her to arrive to help resolve the situation.
  • Other patrons nearby said they were afraid to get involved.  They shouldn’t have been.
Tolleson noted that NDSC believes an independent investigation of what happened is necessary.  “Beyond the need for accountability, we need to know exactly what occurred so that we can work with law enforcement to ensure that it never happens again.”

The NDSC believes that everyone, including people with developmental disabilities, have every right to attend events and activities in their community.  More awareness is needed about Down syndrome to ensure that all people feel welcome, included and safe.  “Ethan’s death is a tragedy and shines a spotlight on the need for awareness about people with Down syndrome in our communities, particularly among first responders.”
Representatives from NDSC, Family Resource, Information and Education Network for Down Syndrome (F.R.I.E.N.D.S.), National Down Syndrome Society, Kennedy Krieger Institute, and the Saylor family met with the Community Relations Service (CRS) of the U.S. Department of Justice yesterday.

At the meeting, NDSC representatives asked for an investigation into the Saylor case.  The group also discussed the need for nationwide Down syndrome training for law enforcement officers.

“It’s a first step,” Tolleson noted, “but we have a long way to go.”