Three deputies have been placed on leave in the wake of a medical examiner’s report that labeled the death of a Maryland man with Down syndrome a homicide.
“After thorough consideration of all of the facts, I made the decision to place the deputies on administrative leave,” Frederick County Sheriff Charles Jenkins said in a statement obtained by WJLA. “When completed, the death investigation will be forwarded to the Office of the State’s Attorney for Frederick County for review to determine if this case will be presented to a Grand Jury.”
WJLA reported on Friday that Robert Saylor, 26, of New Market, Md., was asphyxiated on Jan. 12, according to a medical examiner’s ruling late last week, WJLA previously reported.
A “law enforcement source familiar with the case” told the station that Saylor “went into distress when he was put face down on the ground.”
The Washington Post reports how Saylor, who was with a health aide, came into contact with Lt. Scott Jewell, Sgt. Rich Rochford and Deputy First Class James Harris:
As officials tell it, Saylor had been watching “Zero Dark Thirty” at a Frederick movie theater last month and, as soon as it ended, wanted to watch it again. When he refused to leave, a theater employee called three off-duty Frederick County sheriff’s deputies who were working a security job at the Westview Promenade shopping center and told them that Saylor either needed to buy another ticket or be removed.
Joseph Espo, an attorney representing Saylor’s family, intimated to CBS News that he’s concerned the sheriff’s office might face a conflict of interest when investigating the actions of its own deputies.
You bet your ass there is a conflict here. It is disgusting.
“We just think it would have been preferable to have an outside agency take a look,” Espo said. “I think what [the family members] most want to see out of the investigation is a clear account of what happened and why it happened.”
During the investigation, the deputies who were with Saylor are still active. They are Lt. Scott Jewell, Sgt. Rich Rochford and Deputy First Class James Harris. They had been working secondary employment with Hill Management at the Westview Promenade.
Since Robert Saylor’s death has been ruled a homicide, the Frederick County Sheriff’s Department’s Facebook page has been lit up with hundreds of comments, saying the officers should be jailed and they are a disgrace and should be fired.
Sheriff Charles Jenkins has written a letter to the community, calling the incident “tragic” and urging people to reserve judgment. The sheriff was childhood friends with the victim’s father, making the case even more difficult.
“I really sympathize with his family. I wish we could have that moment in time back.”
Frederick County’s top prosecutor is promising a thorough investigation into the death.
State’s Attorney Charlie Smith said Wednesday he has received the investigative file from the Frederick County Sheriff’s Office on the death of Saylor.
Saylor died of asphyxiation Jan. 12 after three sheriff’s deputies tried to forcibly remove him from a Frederick movie theater at the manager’s request. The state medical examiner’s office has ruled the death a homicide.
“There did come a point when they had to remove him from his seat,” says Jenkins. “There was no excess force. They did have to handcuff Mr. Saylor and unfortunately as they were walking out he suffered a medical emergency.”
Baltimore attorney Joseph Espo, who is representing the family, said Saylor’s caregiver might have been able to defuse the situation, but the caregiver was outside getting her car to take Saylor home when the conflict started.
“They could have just waited a couple of minutes for Ethan’s caregiver to return to the scene and let her deal with it,” Espo said. “He was sitting in his seat, while admittedly not having paid for another ticket, minding his own business. It was not an urgent situation that required immediate attention.”
When the caregiver returned to the theater, she tried to intervene and de-escalate the situation but was ignored, Espo said.
“The deputies continued doing their thing,” he said. “They didn’t disengage.”
Espo said he and the family met with Jenkins on Friday and expressed their disappointment that the three deputies were still on duty.
“The decision to keep the deputies on regular duty was deeply troubling to the family,” Espo said. “Ethan died in their custody, and these officers just went right back to work.”
Paul Foss, head elder at Damascus Road Community Church, which Saylor and his mother, Patti, had attended for several years, said Saylor was a valued member of the congregation who loved hugs from his church friends. After learning of Saylor’s death, church members filled his seat with bouquets of flowers, Foss said.
“He loved to be there for both services, the 9 and the 11, and he had his seat right up front,” Foss said. “We miss Ethan.”
Foss said Saylor’s arms were often wrapped around the neck of Senior Pastor Richard Fredericks as Fredericks greeted congregants. He would take advantage of the break between services to go see — and hug — his many friends, as well as enjoy the refreshments served in the lobby, Foss said.
“Ethan loved to eat, and he’d go and get a plate, and if you weren’t watching he’d go and get a second plate,” he said.
Foss views Saylor’s death as a tragedy that could have been avoided.
“Someone with a cooler head should have said, ‘Let’s take a deep breath, and let’s come back to this in 10 minutes,’” he said. “If something could come out of this that can help this not happen in the future, I’m all for that.”
Saylor, a graduate of The Benedictine School in Ridgely, had worked briefly for Goodwill Industries.
Weikert said he was saddened by the tragic irony surrounding Saylor’s death. An enthusiastic supporter of law enforcement, Saylor collected information on different agencies and would call for deputies just so they could come to his house and talk to him.
“The part of society he trusted the most ended up being his worst nightmare,” Weikert said.