Justice for Ethan
A young man killed by the authorities hired to “serve and protect”
Have you heard of Robert Ethan Saylor? The man who died this year in January at the hands of three off duty police officers working as mall security guards?
- Ethan, a 26 year old man with Down syndrome, re-entered a movie theater to see the movie “Zero Dark Thirty” for a second time while his care-giver retrieved the car.
- A worker at the theater, not knowing that Ethan had a legal right to be there, asked him to leave or buy a new ticket. When Ethan did not leave, the theater worker called security.
- Three off duty police officers in plain clothes (moonlighting) forced Ethan from the seat when he did not comply with their demands.
- He was pushed or fell to the ground and was handcuffed.
- Ethan struggled. Witness statements relate that he seemed confused, frightened, he cried out that it hurt and called out for his mother.
- Ethan’s mother was on her way. By the time she arrived her son lay dead on the theater floor.
- Forensic evidence showed asphyxiation as the cause of death. His airway was crushed.
- His death was ruled a homicide because he would not be dead if not for the men involved.
- In March, a closed Grand Jury proceeding handled within the Sheriff’s department, where all three men work, reviewed the witness statements (no witness’ were actually called to the proceedings) and determined that no corrective action or charges were warranted.
- Finally in July, six months after Ethan’s death, the report that included witness statements and many disturbing details of the night’s events was released.
What has not happened:
- The release of information in a transparent and timely manner
- An independent investigation
Where is the outrage?
It seems only a few voices are calling for justice and only a few media outlets are listening. Why is this? My speculation:
- There are cries for justice within the “Down syndrome community,” with most of the articles/blogs and information from this group. But not everyone is pounding the drums and making noise, perhaps they are 1) too afraid to face this, 2) too busy fighting their own battles, 3) putting their head in the sand in the hopes it won’t happen again, or 4) already feel defeated.
- Outside the “Down syndrome community” people 1) don’t know anything about this case due to lack of coverage, 2) feel Ethan somehow deserved to die for the price of a movie ticket, 3) actually believe someone can die of Down syndrome (A person does not die of Down syndrome but a person can definitely die from a crushed trachea), or worst of all, 4) feel that people with developmental disabilities do not deserve to be allowed in public places. (I wish I haven’t seen the comments to this point under the few and far between articles distributed on-line about this tragedy.)
What were these officers thinking?
- At best, accidental use of too much force, out of…habit? Were they hoping to teach this “kid” a lesson to listen to authority? (A sad irony since he idolized the police.)
- At worst, a hate crime against a person who could not communicate well, articulate his needs, or understand quickly enough their intentions and was treated as sub-human to be herded from a public place.
What Needs to Happen:
- Governor Martin O’Malley needs to call for an independent investigation into the actions that led to Ethan’s death, both for the accountability of the men involved and their department, as well as to determine any way to prevent further tragedies of this nature.
- Some advocates believe better training of our First Responders is necessary. Another point of change is the subject of moonlighting of police officers. Both cans I will not open for you now, we can come back to these.
What you can do:
- Please, interact and share this and every piece you run across about Ethan Saylor. Media that gets attention will drive attention.
- Sign this petition asking for an independent investigation.
- Ask questions in your own community: How do the police respond to those with disabilities in your area? How can we make our communities safe for people of all abilities? What kind of world are we building when use of force is the first reaction?
- If you’re feeling ambitious: write, call, or email Governor O’Malley and personally ask for an independent investigation.