Settlement reached in police-custody death of Frederick County man with Down syndrome

A family photo of Robert Ethan Saylor, a man with Down syndrome who died after three off-duty Frederick County sheriff deputies forced him from a movie theater.

The family of Robert Ethan Saylor, a man with Down syndrome who died after three off-duty Frederick County sheriff deputies forced him from a movie theater, have reached a settlement with the State of Maryland, the deputies and the management company of the shopping center where the theater is located.

The $1.9 million settlement which comes more than five years after Saylor's death led to public outrage and a call for better training of law enforcement officials, ends a long-standing lawsuit.


"There's a cliche that you can't assign a dollar amount to a human being's life, but that is our system, that's the only remedy we have for justice in our system," Saylor's mother, Patti Saylor, said Tuesday. "We're not comforted by the money as much as knowing we gave our son everything we could, that we stood up for him until we exhausted all avenues for standing up for him. Because his life mattered. What happened to him should not have happened."

The 26-year-old, who went by his middle name, was obsessed with law enforcement when he and an aide went to watch "Zero Dark Thirty" at the Westview Promenade shopping center on Jan. 12, 2013. After the movie, while his aide went to get the car, Saylor slipped back into the theater for a second showing without paying for a ticket. He refused to leave, and a theater manager called the deputies, who forced him from his seat.


Saylor ended up on the floor and suffered a fractured larynx. His death was ruled a homicide as a result of asphyxia.

A call to the deputies' attorney, Daniel Karp, was not returned Tuesday. The deputies — Lt. Scott Jewell, Sgt. Rich Rochford and Deputy 1st Class James Harris — were cleared of wrongdoing in an internal affairs investigation, and a county grand jury determined that criminal charges were not warranted.

As part of the settlement, the deputies, the state and Hill Management Services "deny liability of any sort."

The settlement was finalized after the Maryland Board of Public Works approved the state's portion of the money, $645,000, at a meeting on April 18. The deputies are to pay $800,000 and Hill Management agreed to pay $455,000.

Joseph B. Espo, an attorney for the Saylor family, said the settlement carried "the message that there are real consequences to failing to treat individuals with disabilities in the manner in which they are entitled."

Saylor's death changed the conversation about how best to protect the rights of people with disabilities in public spaces. After his death, Maryland changed how it trains law enforcement officers. They are now taught in the academy how best to interact with people with intellectual and developmental disabilities, and a program created in Saylor's memory teaches people with disabilities to serve as educators in law enforcement training.

After four years of fighting for her son in court, Patti Saylor said the settlement brings "mixed emotions." She said that she and Ethan's father, Ron, agreed the time was right for them to accept it and "focus on healing."

"It's been four years of gut-wrenching reports and judges' opinions and depositions and defending my son's right to be seen as human, to be seen as valuable," she said. "I'm relieved that it's over. I'm tired. But I really feel like as a mom, I did what I needed to do to do right by my son and see this to the very end."