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Think before you act

Posted: Saturday, Feb 23rd, 2013

A few weeks ago a Maryland man died while in police custody. However sad, this does happen from time to time to both those innocent and guilty of crimes.

This case, though, is different. The Maryland man who died was a 26-year old man with Down syndrome.

The man, Robert Ethan Saylor, went to see the popular movie Zero Dark Thirty with a friend. After all, Saylor loved anything that had to do with police or the military. He was fascinated with the police. He would often dial 911 just to have the police or sheriff’s office come to his home, and they always did knowing there probably was no real emergency. Saylor’s mother would bake cookies for the officers and deputies at the end of each month as a ‘thank you’ for being kind to her son.

So, when the story broke that Saylor died while in police custody, friends of Saylor’s and his family wondered why and how this happened.

According to a report published in the Washington Post, Saylor went to see Zero Dark Thirty with a friend. At the conclusion of the movie, Saylor remained in his seat where he insisted to see the movie again. Not knowing how to handle the situation, the movie theater staff called three off-duty Fredrick County Sheriff’s deputies to assist. The deputies were regular security guards for the movie theater.

Upon arrival, the deputies asked Saylor to leave the theater and buy another ticket in order to it again. After Saylor refused, the deputies tried to physically remove Saylor. Passionately wanting to see the movie again — and not understanding why he had to leave — Saylor began kicking and hitting the deputies as they tried to handle him. The deputies then wrestled Saylor to the ground where they cuffed him and escorted out of the building. While in custody, Saylor was found unconscious. He died of asphyxiation.

The story up to this point is enraging. It’s fair to argue that the staff handled the situation correctly by calling the deputies. It’s fair to argue that the deputies were right to ask Saylor to buy another ticket. Lost in what’s fair, however, is the context and background. Saylor was a mentally disabled individual — not a criminal. Simply put, he did not understand why he had to leave the theater. He only wanted to see the movie again.

The deputies should not have to be hit or kicked — but Saylor was not the average person acting in malice towards the deputies. Rather, the deputies should have talked Saylor into giving them his home phone number or tried to find a little background on Saylor. Or, better yet, the deputies should have been aware enough to know that Saylor often calls in to the sheriff’s office and should have known they were dealing with a young man with Down syndrome.

Instead, the deputies did exactly what they should not have — physically restrained Saylor and cuffed him. This probably scared Saylor beyond belief. He probably could not figure out why he could not move his arms correctly or why the deputies were treating him as they did. In Saylor’s mind, he probably only wanted to watch the movie again — like at home. He probably did not grasp the concept of why he couldn’t watch the movie again.

Anybody who knows a person with Down syndrome knows how sweet and innocent they are. Because of the developmental disability, Saylor reacts differently in different situations. He didn’t grasp why he could not watch the movie. So, he stayed. He wasn’t a criminal.

Sadly, the deputies did not understand either. Rather, they treated Saylor like any other person. Because of this, Saylor’s death has been declared a homicide. The deputies have been placed on administrative leave. This is now a sad situation for all parties.

The deputies and the movie theater acted inappropriately and incorrectly. And, now Saylor is dead; his family and his community lost a kind, loving, and special friend. Sadly, this should serve as an example to the rest of us — some issues are better left alone.

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