As prosecutors investigate the case, advocacy groups are calling for increased training for police following the death of a New Market man with Down syndrome who was forcibly removed from a movie theater last month by three off-duty Frederick County sheriff’s deputies.
The Arc of Maryland — a statewide advocacy group for people who suffer from developmental disabilities — is one of at least two groups that has reacted to the death of Robert E. Saylor, 26, on Jan. 12.
“Sadly, this tragedy could have been prevented,” Kate Fialkowski, executive director of The Arc, said in a news release. “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.”
F.R.I.E.N.D.S. of Frederick County — also known as the Family Resource Information and Education Network for Down Syndrome — said in a statement that the group continues to be “strong supporters” of the Frederick County Sheriff’s Office.
But the group encouraged law-enforcement agencies to consider further training in dealing with individuals with developmental disabilities.
“When an individual with developmental disabilities is challenged in our society, efforts must be made to patiently work with them to resolve the situation,” said the statement, signed by F.R.I.E.N.D.S board of directors.
“No one should ever die under such circumstances,” said Joanna Pierson, executive director of the Arc of Frederick County.
The case attracted national attention after the state Office of the Medical Examiner in Baltimore determined earlier this month that Saylor died of asphyxia after his removal from the 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, which was classified as a homicide, was completed Feb. 19 and sent to the Frederick County State’s Attorney’s Office for review, while an internal departmental investigation into the deputies’ actions is still ongoing, according to Cpl. Jennifer Bailey, a spokeswoman for the Frederick County Sheriff’s Office.
The FCBI investigation is being reviewed by county State’s Attorney Charlie Smith, two assistant prosecutors and the head of the Violent Crimes Division.
They will determine whether to bring criminal charges or present the case to a county grand jury, Smith said.
“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,” he said.
Joseph Espo, a lawyer representing Saylor’s family, said that they are 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.”
Saylor was fascinated by police and would sometimes call 911 just to speak to officers, Espo said.
“He was interested in the police,” Espo said. “His interactions with them, up until his death, were pleasant.”
While working second jobs for Hill Management at the Westview Promenade in Frederick, the three deputies 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.
Saylor had been escorted to the theater, where he saw “Zero Dark Thirty,” by a health aide, Espo said. After going to the car, the aide came back to find Saylor back in the theater.
The aide spoke with management and at least one deputy to try to defuse the situation but was ignored, according to Espo.
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 three deputies were placed on administrative leave on Feb. 18, pending the outcome of the investigations.
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.
The sheriff’s office has received numerous calls from the public concerning Saylor’s manner of death, which prompted officials to set up a call center last week to handle the volume, Bailey said.