Frederick sheriff cancels meeting as furor grows over man’s death -- Gazette.Net


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A community meeting previously scheduled for tonight by Frederick County Sheriff Chuck Jenkins to discuss neighborhood law-enforcement issues has been canceled due to a large turnout expected following the furor over the death of a developmentally-disabled man, according to authorities.

The sheriff’s office announced this morning that the meeting scheduled earlier this month for Crestwood Middle School near Frederick to discuss crime trends in that area will be rescheduled after several media sources reported that it was being held to discuss the death of Robert E. Saylor, 26, of New Market, a sheriff’s office news release said.

“This misinformation has generated an overwhelming interest in attendance by both citizens and the media than would typically attend,” Jenkins said in the release. “... I feel that it’s in the best interest of the school to postpone the meeting.”

Jenkins cited the fact that the school’s media center only holds between 35 to 50 people and that a winter program was scheduled for this evening at the school as reasons to cancel the meeting.

“We simply just do not want to interfere [with the school],” said Cpl. Jennifer Bailey, a spokeswoman for sheriff’s office.

The sheriff’s office has come under fire after the state Office of Chief Medical Examiner in Baltimore determined last week that Saylor, who had Down syndrome, died of asphyxia following his Jan. 12 removal from a mall movie theater by Lt. Scott Jewell, Sgt. Rich Rochford and Deputy 1st Class James Harris.

A probe by the Frederick County Bureau of Investigation into Saylor’s death was completed Tuesday and sent to the Frederick County State’s Attorney’s Office for review.

Frederick County State’s Attorney Charlie Smith said today that he, two assistant prosecutors and the head of the Violent Crimes Division will review the findings of the investigation to determine whether to bring criminal charges or present the case to a county grand jury.

“We’re going to move this as swiftly as possible for the victim and the officers involved, but we’re not going to leave any stone unturned,” Smith said.

Joseph Espo, a lawyer representing Saylor’s family, said Tuesday that the family is concerned about how their son was handled by the deputies.

“[Saylor] was gentle; he was not a threat to anybody,” Espo said. “The family is still waiting for answers.”

Each year county deputies are required to attend training on the use of force, Bailey said. In 2011, all sworn and civilian members of the office attended a four-hour training session on how to deal with people with mental health issues held by the Frederick County Health Department, she said. Espo said that deputies should have also receive training in dealing with those with other disabilities.

“Sadly, this tragedy could have been prevented,” Kate Fialkowski, executive director of The Arc of Maryland, said in a release today.

The Arc is a statewide advocacy group for people who suffer from developmental disabilities.

“Sometimes there are circumstances that present unique challenges when it comes to dealing with individuals with intellectual and developmental disabilities, especially in high stress situations,” she said. “With proper training, these officers would have realized there was a better way to work with Robert, as opposed to simply using force — an extreme and unnecessary reaction.”

While working second jobs for Hill Management at the Westview Promenade in Frederick, the three deputies involved in the incident were approached at 11 p.m. on Jan. 12 by a Regal Cinemas Westview Stadium 16 employee, who reported that a man had refused to leave the cinema, a sheriff’s office news release has said.

The employee told them that Saylor had already watched the movie in the cinema but would not leave. The employee told Saylor that he would either have to leave or pay for a new ticket.

Deputies tried to convince Saylor to leave, but he refused and cursed at the deputies, the release said.

Saylor continued to resist as deputies removed him from his seat and escorted him out of the theater. Saylor was briefly handcuffed, the release said.

Before leaving the theater, Saylor began having a “medical emergency,” the release said. Deputies then removed the handcuffs and called emergency medical services.

Saylor was taken to Frederick Memorial Hospital, where he was later pronounced dead, the sheriff’s office said.

The three deputies were placed on administrative leave Monday pending the outcome of the FCBI probe and an internal investigation by the sheriff’s office into their actions.

“Procedurally, [placing the deputies on leave] was the appropriate decision ONLY after this agency received the manner of death of Mr. Saylor from the Office of the Chief Medical Examiner,” Jenkins said in a letter released Monday. “Please allow myself and this agency the opportunity to complete the investigations necessary to collect all the facts regarding this case, before judgment is passed on involved deputies of the Frederick County Sheriff’s Office.”

Initially, after the medical examiner’s findings were announced Friday, the deputies involved were “continuing with their normal assignments” during the investigation, the sheriff’s office said at the time.

Since then, the sheriff’s office has received numerous calls from the public concerning Saylor’s manner of death, which Monday prompted officials to set up a call center on Tuesday to handle to volume, Bailey said.

As of 12:30 p.m. today, a Facebook post on the sheriff’s office profile that included Jenkins’ Feb. 18 letter had 1,313 comments. It had also been shared 69 times.

During a Frederick County Board of Commissioners’ meeting today, board President Blaine R. Young called Saylor’s death a “terrible tragedy.” He also said that he has faith in the sheriff’s office.

“I don’t think anyone believes we have a corrupt sheriff or a corrupt sheriff’s department,” Young said.

myoung@gazette.net