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Mizeur calls for changes after disabled man dies in police custody

ANNAPOLIS — A Maryland lawmaker on Tuesday called for statewide standards related to approaching the disabled, after a man with Down syndrome died when sheriff’s deputies tried to forcibly remove him from a movie theater.

Del. Heather Mizeur asked Gov. Martin O’Malley in a letter to launch an investigation under the state’s health department. Mizeur, a Montgomery County Democrat who is running for governor, requested a commission be formed to design statewide standards for workforce training.

“There is still far too little awareness among our public safety officials and the general public about how to approach these situations and how best to protect the safety of some of our most vulnerable citizens,” Mizeur wrote.

In January, 26-year-old Robert Ethan Saylor died of asphyxia after sheriff’s deputies tried to forcibly remove him for a Frederick movie theater after he reportedly tried to stay for a second movie without paying.

A caretaker had warned the deputies that her client would “freak out” if they touched or spoke to him, records show. Despite her pleading, one deputy told Saylor he was going to jail and then hauled him from his seat with help from two other deputies, witnesses said. Saylor died shortly after the three deputies handcuffed the flailing, 294-pound man as he screamed, cursed and cried for his mother.

Takirra Winfield, a spokeswoman for O’Malley, said the administration was working with advocates for the disabled and discussing measures.

“We have been working with disability advocates to determine what additional steps the state can take to prevent a tragedy like this from ever happening again, including additional training for local and state law enforcement and a review of statewide policies,” Winfield said. “We welcome Delegate Mizeur’s input into this process.”

Critics have called for an independent investigation of the three deputies’ actions in the case. A grand jury decided in March not to indict them. The U.S. Department of Justice is investigating the death.