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Governor seeks better police training about people with disabilities

Justice SystemExecutive BranchMartin O'MalleyZero Dark Thirty (movie)

Gov. Martin O'Malley wants to improve training for law enforcement and other first responders who encounter people with disabilities, an issue raised by the death of a Frederick County man, aides said.

O'Malley met for about 45 minutes Thursday with the family of Robert "Ethan" Saylor, a man with Down syndrome whose death in police custody sparked a nationwide Internet campaign dubbed "Justice for Ethan."

The governor did not immediately agree to launch the independent investigation the family requested, though a spokeswoman said he is "exploring all options to ensure that this never happens to another Marylander again."

"He is more focused on forward-looking strategies to protect the safety and rights of all people, including those with intellectual or developmental disabilities," O'Malley press secretary Takirra Winfield said. The administration did not provide details of a training initiative.

The death in January of Saylor, 26, rallied his family and advocates for people with disabilities to call for another probe into what happened at a Frederick County movie theater the night Saylor died, as well as demand more training for law enforcement officials.

Saylor's parents and younger siblings on Thursday delivered more than 340,000 petition signatures gathered on change.org to O'Malley.

"This is a first step on the journey in seeking justice for Ethan and everyone who is at risk," said Saylor's mother, Patti Saylor. "He went to a movie and came back dead. … We've got to stop this kind of tragedy from happening."

Investigations into Saylor's death – one by the Frederick County sheriff's office and one by a grand jury probe — have not given his family the details they want about the circumstances surrounding Saylor's death. A third investigation, by the U.S. Department of Justice, is looking at whether the incident violated Saylor's civil rights.

Three off-duty deputy sheriffs, moonlighting as security guards at the Regal Cinemas Westview Stadium, handcuffed Saylor after he became agitated and refused to leave a theater after a showing of "Zero Dark Thirty" ended. Soon after he was handcuffed, Saylor died of what a medical examiner later ruled asphyxia.

Though Saylor's death was initially considered a homicide, the investigations by the sheriff's office and a grand jury cleared the deputies of wrongdoing.

The case has drawn nationwide interest from parents of children with disabilities. On Wednesday, advocates from the National Down Syndrome Society and the National Down Syndrome Congress joined the Saylor family in Annapolis.

ecox@baltsun.com

Twitter.com/ErinatTheSun

Copyright © 2014, The Baltimore Sun
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Justice SystemExecutive BranchMartin O'MalleyZero Dark Thirty (movie)
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