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Police Officers Face No Charges In Accidental Death of Robert Ethan Saylor, Man With Down Syndrome

Robert Ethan Saylor, a 26-year-old Maryland man with Down syndrome, died of asphyxia when three sheriff’s deputies tried to forcibly remove him from a movie theater. Saylor, who was prone to angry outbursts, re-entered a screening of "Zero Dark Thirty" on Jan. 12, and was apprehended by the deputies. However, a grand jury declined to charge the officers with homicide in March.

The investigative file, which was released Monday, said: “The state medical examiner's office found signs of ‘positional’ asphyxia, or having been in a position in which he couldn't breathe. There was also unexplained damage to Saylor's larynx. The autopsy concluded Saylor would not have died had the officers not intervened. The autopsy also found that Saylor's developmental disability, obesity, atherosclerotic cardiovascular disease and a heart abnormality contributed to the death.”

Saylor’s 18-year-old caretaker, whose name is redacted from the report, warned the officers that he would “freak out” if the officer touched or spoke to him. According to the caretaker, she and Saylor just finished watching another movie when she asked him if he was ready to come home. Saylor then began cursing and punched a storefront window, so the caretaker left him outside the theater so she could give him some time to cool off and bring the car around, as per his mother’s and another one of his caretaker’s instructions. That’s when Saylor re-entered the theater and seated himself.

The caretaker rejoined Saylor, and a manager confronted them both and asked them to leave. The caretaker explained that Saylor was having an issue and needed time to cool off, but the manager called the police.

Then, according to The Huffington Post:

As the officers pulled the struggling Saylor from his seat and down an exit ramp, they went down out of view of most witnesses. One customer told police an officer had his knee on Saylor's lower back while the other deputies held Saylor's shoulders. At least two witnesses said the kneeling officer's knee was on the floor. Nobody reported seeing the officers touch Saylor's neck.

Saylor became unconscious, so the deputies rolled him over, by all accounts. The deputies couldn't find a pulse, so they removed the handcuffs and started chest compressions until he started breathing again, snoring but unconscious, according to all accounts. They asked the caretaker if she could wake him. Saylor never regained consciousness, despite the efforts of ambulance workers who arrived soon afterward.

Sources: The Huffington Post, The New York Times


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