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Parents of man with Down syndrome file wrongful death suit

The parents of a Frederick County man with Down syndrome, who died in January after being restrained by sheriff’s deputies at a movie theater, have filed a wrongful death lawsuit.

Robert Ethan Saylor, 26, suffocated after being handcuffed and put on the floor at the Regal Cinemas at the Westview Promenade Mall by deputies who removed him from a theater for not paying for a ticket.

Saylor, a regular moviegoer, had just seen “Zero Dark Thirty” and re-entered the theater while his aide went to get her car.

“If any of the Defendants had heeded Mr. Saylor’s aide as to how to deal with Mr. Saylor, his tragic and unnecessary death would have been avoided,” the complaint states.

Ronald and Patricia Saylor’s lawsuit, filed Thursday in U.S. District Court in Baltimore, names as defendants Frederick County, the Frederick County Sheriff’s Department and the three sheriff’s deputies, who were working as mall security guards at the time; Regal Cinemas; and Hill Management Services Inc., the mall’s property manager.

The state’s medical examiner ruled Saylor’s death a homicide in February. Three months later, a Frederick County grand jury decided not to indict the deputies in connection with Saylor’s death.

The Saylors are seeking compensatory and punitive damages for negligence, gross negligence and violations of civil rights and the Americans with Disabilities Act. The total amount of damages is not specified.

“They live every day with just an incredible pain in their hearts,” said attorney Sharon Krevor-Weisbaum. She and Joseph B. Espo, both of Brown Goldstein Levy LLP in Baltimore, are representing the family.

Daniel Karp, the lawyer for the deputies, sheriff’s department and Frederick County government, said the plaintiffs have thrown “everything including the kitchen sink into the lawsuit.”

“This was a tragic accident, but there will be no evidence of deliberate misconduct,” said Karp, of Karpinski, Colaresi & Karp P.A. in Baltimore.

Representatives from Regal Cinemas and Hill Management Services did not return requests for comment prior to press time.

Ethan Saylor was well known to many sheriff’s deputies, from having visited department headquarters and helping wash patrol vehicles, according to the lawsuit. His mother had delivered cookies to the department during Christmas to thank deputies for their relationship with him, according to the lawsuit.

Ethan Saylor had also seen “hundreds of movies” at the Frederick movie theater, according to the lawsuit, which is where he went Jan. 12 with his full-time aide.

Saylor, who was 5-foot-6 and weighed almost 300 pounds, became angry when his aide asked if he was ready to go home after the movie, the lawsuit states. The aide called Patricia Saylor for advice and was told to bring the car around and allow Ethan to calm down, the lawsuit states.

When she returned, a theater manager informed her that Saylor had returned to see the movie a second time and would have to purchase a ticket or leave, a point reiterated by one of the deputies, the lawsuit states.

The aide unsuccessfully requested they let Saylor remain in the theater until his mother arrived, the lawsuit states. She also warned he “would ‘freak out’ if he was touched and that he would resist being forcibly rejected,” the lawsuit states.

Witnesses said Saylor was sitting quietly in his seat when the three deputies asked him to leave, according to the lawsuit. When Saylor refused, deputies tried to grab his arm and drag him out of the theater, according to the lawsuit. Deputies handcuffed Saylor in the ensuing scuffle.

Saylor suffered a fractured larynx while being restrained, according to the lawsuit, making it difficult to breathe. Deputies called for emergency medical technicians but Saylor was pronounced dead at Frederick Memorial Hospital.

Gov. Martin O’Malley, after meeting with the Saylor family last month, issued an executive order to create the Maryland Commission for Effective Community Inclusion of Individuals with Intellectual and Developmental Disabilities. The commission, chaired by Special Olympics CEO Timothy Shriver, is required to submit an initial report by Jan. 9, which would have been Ethan Saylor’s 27th birthday.

The Saylors would like to see changes in police training come out of Ethan’s death, Krevor-Weisbaum said.

“From the very first day I met my clients, they were focused on how, if the deputies were trained on dealing with people with mental disabilities, they wouldn’t have done what they did,” she said.

Karp acknowledged the family’s interest in improving training but said the lawsuit contradicts that.

“The way the lawsuit is structured, it suggests they are more interested in money,” he said.