HAGERSTOWN, Md. — A man with Down syndrome who died in the custody of three Frederick County sheriff’s deputies contributed to his own asphyxiation by resisting arrest after refusing to leave a theater seat for which he had not paid, the officers said in a federal court filing Monday.
The deputies, who were moonlighting as mall security officers, asked a judge to dismiss a wrongful-death lawsuit filed by Robert Ethan Saylor’s parents, contending that they, too, were at fault for putting their son in the care of an aide who couldn’t control his angry outbursts.
The motion, filed in U.S. District Court in Baltimore, is the first detailed response from the deputies to the family’s allegations that the officers and Regal Cinemas Inc. were grossly negligent in the Jan. 12 confrontation at the Westview Promenade shopping center near Frederick.
The officers were cleared of criminal misconduct by a Frederick County grand jury in March. They and Knoxville, Tenn.-based Regal have denied any civil liability for Saylor’s death.
Saylor, who had an IQ of 40 and weighed 294 pounds, died with a fractured larynx after the deputies tried to escort him in handcuffs from an auditorium where he was awaiting a repeat viewing of “Zero Dark Thirty.” Saylor had re-entered the theater while his aide went for her car. The theater manager had summoned the deputies.
Baltimore attorney Daniel Karp, representing Lt. Scott Jewell, Sgt. Rich Rochford and Deputy First Class James Harris, wrote that the deputies responded reasonably to an apparent case of trespass and theft by a subject who then resisted arrest.
“His decision to struggle with the deputies when they seized him by the arms to forcibly remove him from the theater clearly exposed him to a risk of injury,” Karp wrote.
He suggested that Saylor’s parents, Patricia and Ronald Saylor, had a duty to either supervise their son appropriately in public places or delegate that responsibility to someone “who would be able to control him adequately, so that he did not engage in conduct detrimental to other persons or to himself, including criminal conduct.”
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