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Aide to man with Down syndrome who died in theater had warned police, report says

Moments before off-duty Frederick County sheriff's deputies tried to force a young man with Down syndrome out of a movie theater — a move that eventually led to his death — Robert Ethan Saylor's 18-year-old aide warned them that he would "freak out" if they touched him.

"Next thing I know, there are I think three or four cops holding Ethan, trying to put him in handcuffs," the aide told authorities, according to documents from the Frederick County Sheriff's Department obtained Monday by the Associated Press. "I heard Ethan screaming, saying 'ouch,' 'don't touch me,' 'get off' and crying. Next thing I hear is nothing."

The aide's statement about what happened the day Saylor died is among a package of documents released to the Saylor family's attorney and the Associated Press by the sheriff's department detailing its criminal investigation. The 98-page incident report and handwritten statements from 22 witnesses provide the most detailed account yet of how Saylor, 26, went from wanting to watch a movie he liked twice to dead from asphyxiation within minutes.

"I don't understand why it has taken this long to produce," Joseph Espo, an attorney for the family, said of the report Monday night. "We're happy that we finally have it."

Before the documents were released, only the most basic details of what happened that January day were known.

The three deputies — Lt. Scott Jewell, Sgt. Rich Rochford and Deputy 1st Class James Harris — were working off-duty security jobs at the Westview Promenade shopping center when they were called to the theater.

There, they encountered Saylor, who had just watched "Zero Dark Thirty" with his aide of three months and wanted to watch it again. He loved the movie, the aide told authorities in a written statement: "Ethan even clapped at the end."

The aide, whose name was redacted from the documents, said Saylor had a history of angry outbursts and had lost his temper earlier that evening. As they stood outside the theater after the movie, he began cursing and punched a storefront window, frightening her, she wrote.

Advised over the phone by his mother and another caregiver to give him a few minutes to calm down, the aide went to get the car, leaving him in front of the theater, she told authorities. By the time she returned, Saylor was in the theater, seated, and a manager was telling her that he couldn't watch the movie because he hadn't paid for a ticket.

"I explained, 'Yes, we are having a little issue, I'll handle it. We just have to be patient,' " the aide wrote in her statement. "Then a sheriff came and said, 'Another show is starting. I have to go get him out. I explained Ethan is [sic] Down syndrome."

The aide said she advised the deputy to "wait it out."

"Then the sheriff went in and started talking to Ethan and Ethan was cursing at him," the woman wrote, adding that the officer threatened to arrest Saylor. "I then said, 'Please don't touch him, he will freak out.'"

An autopsy report said that Saylor did not like to be touched and suddenly the deputies had their hands on him. The 294-pound man flailed, cursed and cried for his mother, according to witness accounts.

Copyright © 2014, The Baltimore Sun
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