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Group Urges Police Disability Training After Man With Down Syndrome Dies In Custody

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File photo of a Frederick County Sheriff's Office vehicle. (Credit: Frederick County Sheriff's Office)

File photo of a Frederick County Sheriff’s Office vehicle. (Credit: Frederick County Sheriff’s Office)

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FREDERICK, Md.— A Frederick County support group is urging increased police training related to developmental disabilities after a man with Down syndrome died in police custody.

The group FRIENDS of Frederick County said Thursday that people with Down syndrome may have weak chest muscles or skeletal structures that could put them at greater risk of unintentional harm.

Group President Denny Weikert says those characteristics could increase the risk of harm from lying face down with one’s hands behind one’s back.

Robert Ethan Saylor, a 26-year-old from New Market, died of asphyxiation Jan. 12. Three sheriff’s deputies working as security guards tried to forcibly remove him at the manager’s request from a Frederick movie theater, where he had finished watching a movie and was refusing to leave. On Monday, the deputies were placed on administrative leave pending the outcome of the investigation. The state medical examiner’s office has ruled the death a homicide.

State’s Attorney Charlie Smith said Wednesday he has received the investigative file on Saylor’s death from the Frederick County Sheriff’s Office. However, the file doesn’t include the final autopsy report. Smith says his office will need that document to complete its investigation. He will then decide whether to bring criminal charges against the officers, or to present evidence to a grand jury.

Joseph B. Espo, a Baltimore attorney representing the family, says they want answers.

The Sheriff’s Office previously said Saylor cursed and resisted arrest and was handcuffed as he was led out. Before leaving the theater Saylor began having what the Sheriff’s Office said was a medical emergency. Authorities say the handcuffs were taken off and Saylor was taken to a hospital, where he died.

“I think what they most want to see out of the investigation is a clear account of what happened and why it happened,” Espo said.

Saylor’s mother, Patti Saylor, told television station WJLA-TV that her son went to see the movie “Zero Dark Thirty” with a health aide. The family’s lawyer said Tuesday that the aide had gone to get the car, something she was allowed to do, when events unfolded. Patti Saylor said her son had no preexisting medical conditions and “just loved unconditionally,” she said in a segment that aired in January.

“He would not have been doing anything threatening to anybody,” she said.

Saylor’s obituary says he loved his cat and music, particularly Reggae.

Sheriff’s Office Spokeswoman Cpl. Jennifer Bailey said Monday that deputies who work with the public received training last year on interacting with people with mental health issues. The training by the county’s health department did not specifically cover Down syndrome, however.

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(TM and Copyright 2013 CBS Radio Inc. and its relevant subsidiaries. CBS RADIO and EYE Logo TM and Copyright 2013 CBS Broadcasting Inc. Used under license. All Rights Reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed. The Associated Press contributed to this report.)

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