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Down syndrome advocacy groups call for investigation into Frederick County man's death

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National advocacy groups for people with Down syndrome are seeking an independent investigation into the January death of a Frederick County man after off-duty sheriff's deputies tried to remove him from a movie theater.

Robert Ethan Saylor, 25, suffocated on Jan. 12 after three Frederick County sheriff's deputies attempted to remove him from the Theater 9 Westview Cinemas in Frederick. He died later at a local hospital.

"We want to just find out more information to see if Ethan's rights as an individual with a disability were violated. We still don't have all of the specifics from the investigation," said Sara Weir, vice president of advocacy and affiliate relations for the National Down Syndrome Society.

The National Down Syndrome Society is joining with the National Down Syndrome Congress and the local group F.R.I.E.N.D.S. in calling on the U.S. Department of Justice to launch an independent investigation into Saylor's death.

The organizations, along with Saylor's parents, have had multiple meetings with the Department of Justice since the man's death.

Weir said the Department of Justice could investigate under the auspices of either the Americans with Disabilities Act or the Civil Rights Act.

Saylor and a caregiver had gone to the theater to see "Zero Dark Thirty," the sheriff's office said. After the film ended, he wanted to stay and watch it again. Deputies who were working as security guards tried to remove Saylor and handcuffed him.

Saylor was on his stomach when he suffered a medical emergency. The deputies removed the handcuffs, attempted CPR and called for emergency workers, the sheriff's office said.

The medical examiner found Saylor died of asphyxia, with Down syndrome and other health problems contributing to his death.

A grand jury declined to indict the deputies in March.

The organizations also are working with the Department of Justice to increase training for police and first responders so that they can deal with people with developmental disabilities more appropriately. They want to prevent similar incidents from happening.

"Our families, our parents ... anybody that loves somebody with Down syndrome are frightened," Weir said. "It's tragic and horrible what happened with Ethan that evening, when he was trying to watch a movie and be part of the local community."

pwood@baltsun.com

Copyright © 2014, The Baltimore Sun
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