Grand jury rejects criminal charges in death of Robert Saylor, man with Down syndrome


(WASHINGTON POST)   Less than five miles from the theater where a man with Down syndrome died at the hands of the law enforcement officials he idolized, a grand jury on Friday heard the details of the case and decided that no crime had been committed.

“They felt no further investigation was necessary,” Frederick County State’s Attorney J. Charles Smith said at a news conference outside the county’s courthouse.

Grand jury proceedings are secretive in Maryland, but Smith said that his office presented the jury with 17 witness statements and that three deputies involved in the death — Lt. Scott Jewell, Sgt. Rich Rochford and Deputy First Class James Harris — all testified.

Robert Ethan Saylor is seen in this undated family photo.

An attorney for the parents of Robert Ethan Saylor, who died at the age of 26, described their reaction as “extremely disappointed and saddened and concerned.”

“This is a really hard day for them,” attorney Sharon Krevor-Weisbaum said. “They’re going to have to digest this unsettling news and determine their next step.”

Nationally, the case has drawn wide attention from parents of children with Down syndrome and advocacy groups. More than 1,000 angry messages also fill the Facebook page of the Frederick County Sheriff’s Office.

Saylor was known for his hugs and was so fascinated with the police that he would sometimes call 911 just to ask a question.

In January, he and an aide watched “Zero Dark Thirty” at a Frederick movie theater. As soon as it ended, Saylor wanted to watch it again and would not leave the theater.

Officials say this is what happened next: The aide, an 18-year-old woman, was getting the car when a theater employee called the three off-duty officers, who were working security at the Westview Promenade shopping center, and told them that Saylor needed to buy another ticket or leave.

Smith, who would not go into great detail about the investigation, said that when the deputies confronted Saylor, he verbally and physically resisted their attempts to remove him. He said they restrained him using three sets of handcuffs because of his large size. Smith said that when the deputies placed Smith on his stomach, it was for “one to two minutes” and that once Saylor began showing signs of distress, the deputies removed the handcuffs, called for help and administered CPR.

Krevor-Weisbaum said that a witness heard Saylor cry out for his mother, who even though he didn’t know it, wasn’t far away. Alerted by someone to what was happening, Patti Saylor was on her way to the theater and was almost there, Krevor-Weisbaum said.

In February, the Chief Medical Examiner’s Office in Baltimore ruled Saylor’s death a homicide as a result of asphyxia. On Friday, Smith said that the report indicated that Down syndrome and obesity made Saylor more susceptible to breathing problems.

Krevor-Weisbaum said that Saylor had no ongoing health problems. She added that his parents had not seen the autopsy report, although they have requested it, along with all the files from the investigation. She said the family has been concerned that the investigation was handled by the same sheriff’s office that employs the deputies.

Since February, the deputies have been on paid administrative leave. An attorney for them said Friday that they welcomed the chance to testify and did so voluntarily.

“They’ve stood by patiently waiting for this day to come,” attorney Patrick J. McAndrew said. “This was an unfortunate set of circumstances. Each of these professionals, devoted law enforcement officers, did what was necessary under the circumstances, and they did what their training dictated that they do.”

30 Responses to Grand jury rejects criminal charges in death of Robert Saylor, man with Down syndrome

  • The officers did it wrong! They can´t handle someone with Down syndrome as a common person. In fact they should have called someone to take responsability over Saylor.

  • There was no crime being committed that warranted anything other than waiting until the man’s responsible party could attend to him. A $8 movie ticket? Interruption/delay of the next showing?
    Police officers need training in dealing with people with disabilities and mental illness to reduce the likelihood of these tragic occurrences.
    The militarization of our police training has alot to do with this.

  • The family should identify the ‘theater employee’ and sue him/her for the wrongful death of their son. That employee should have learned a very valuable lesson here in that don’t ever call the police for anything short of fear of serious bodily injury. Anything less than that can be handled by responsible adults.

  • This man did not deserve to die. He did not threaten anyone, much less the law enforcement people who WERE RESPONSIBLE FOR LAW & ORDER. Why couldn’t they get someone who has experience with Down Syndrome behavior to help them out? Why the violence against Mr. Saylor? Can anybody answer the questions put forth here by the other readers and commentators?

  • I would say that mother has the responsibility too, to look after him and be with him everywhere he goes.

  • All the comments i’ve seen are on it. Why call the police? Why did the police handle it as if the man was a terrorist or criminal? Why are the police all over the country militarised? What is this grand jury process that regularly justifies police murder? The police murdered that man and should be sued for wrongful death although with the american people being brainwashed as they are, the police probably don’t have anything to worry about.

  • The police are always correct.


  • As "M in Oregon" said, the police need to be trained in dealing with people with disabilities & mental illness. They should know that putting a large-size person on his stomach involves a risk of asphyxiation.
    When I was a child, it was okay to stay and watch repeated showings of a movie, once you have paid. There would have been no harm in letting him watch the movie again. It was not necessary for the theater employee to involve the three off-duty officers.

    In San Diego, years ago, the police shot and killed a homeless mentally ill man who was waving a stick at them. Afterwards, there were public demonstrations protesting the killing. And in Fullerton, California, Thomas Kelly, a homeless, mentally ill man, was beaten so badly by police that he died 5 days later. Two of the policemen went on trial–one for manslaughter and one for murder. dangerous criminals, not to kill people who may have some disability or mental illness.

  • In my previous comment,part of a sentence got left out. The last sentence should be:

    "I thought the job of the police department was to protect the public from dangerous criminals, not to kill people who may have some disability or mental illness."

  • This is horrible. The police should be trained in dealing with people with disabilities. Downs Syndrome is a complicated thing that they go through. The theater should have called his parents and they would have been able to get him removed from the theater. This should never have resulted in him dying. People with Down Syndrome are children and not "normal" like regular people. They need kindness and patience not treated like this. I feel so bad for his parents. This should never had happened.

  • They didn’t call the police. Read the article people. The deputies that were on hand in the theater were off duty officers working as security in the shopping center where the movie theater is. With a mentally ill individual having shot up the theater in Colorado just a few months earlier, and another mentally ill individual killing all those people in the Newtown School shootings they did what they saw fit in restraining the guy. The person that should be held responsible is the aide that left him alone in the theater.

  • This is a sad story but you have to look at it both ways. the police didn’t just walk up to him and slap the handcuffs on him! I’m pretty sure the guy didn’t have a sign around his neck saying he had Down syndrome. How was the officers supposed to know he had Down syndrome they probally thought he was high on something. Again this is a sad story but you have to look at it from both point of views

  • Nothing we say is going to bring this man back, but I have to comment on Glenn westfall’s post. It’s pretty ignorant to think that anyone wouldn’t know the difference between a person with Downs and a person "high on something ".

  • Glen Westfall, people with Down Syndrome don’t need a sign around their necks. It’s obvious. You can tell from looking at them that they have Down Syndrome. They have a different type of face than other people and they all look similar to each other. This man is no different. He looks like he has Down Syndrome just as any other person I’ve seen with Down Syndrome. You just have to have seen someone with Down Syndrome or seen a movie or picture to know that someone has Down’s just from looking at them. No sign required.

    Glade, he was at the theater with an aide. AN AIDE. Hence the lack of need for his mother to be with him. His aide should not have left him alone in the theater while she got the car. That was a mistake on her part but the mother was not at fault in this case. She was nearby and he was with his aide, who is supposed to take care of him and protect him.

  • Wow! You bleeding hearts make me sick. Those cops were doing their job. Don’t cry about special treatment and equal rights in the same breath. He was the size of an adult male, so that was how they treated him. It’s not up to them to treat him differently. They did nothing wrong, and it’s pathetic of you people to blame the cops in this instance.

  • @Glen westfall- Are you some type of moron. You can tell by looking at him. "they probally thought he was high on something." What have you been smoking Jerk?

    I’m writing the officers names on my white board, and when I see their names come up in the news saying, they died either off duty or in the line of duty- I will do the Happy Dance for them…

    They need to take this to a higher court!

    Grand Juries are Bogus IMO- Here’s why below

    Q:Does anyone screen grand jurors for biases or other improper factors?

    A: No. Unlike potential jurors in regular trials, grand jurors are not screened for biases or other improper factors.

    Its funny how the opposite happened in a theater. A young guy shoots innocent people, the cops see him outside, yet they don’t kill him, and now the state has enacted one of the toughest gun laws. But, in Maryland the "Cops" are cleared of any wrong doing for causing the death of a handicapped child/man, and have no remorse… Police officers have way to much protection. I smell corruption!

  • To Glen westfall, you stated above: "…I’m pretty sure the guy didn’t have a sign around his neck saying he had Down syndrome."
    Ummm, it’s obvious from your comment you never met a person with down syndrome before. Anyone who knows or met an individual with down syndrome knows it doesn’t take a genius to identify one with down syndrome. It’s pretty obvious from their physical and facial traits. The cops/security guards would have known that he had downs shortly after encountering him. People who have posted above are comparing Saylor to those with mental illness. It’s not the same thing. It’s not as if Saylor was some psychopath. Those with down syndrome have an intellectual disability (aka mental retardation). So although he was a grown man, mentally he was like a young child (who has a fit when he doesn’t get what he wants) and didn’t understand why he was being forced to leave when all he wanted to do was watch the movie again.
    This is such a sad situation that should have never occurred. The officers could have dealt with it much differently seeing that they were dealing with someone who did not have the intellectual capacity of an adult.

  • I grew up with children with Down Syndrome. They can be very stubborn when they decide they want something. Didn’t they realize he could not have been alone? For $8.00, someone had to die? All they had to do was wait on his friend. The theater manager was first at fault. The police were second at fault and the handler should not have left him there. She should have never walked away from him; if she could not handle him then she should not have been taking care of him. You know, as moms, we make the best decisions at the time. The mom is not to blame. She probably is kicking herself enough already. She has lost a son. I would sue the theater manager, the care-taker if she was being paid, not a volunteer, and then I would go after the police officers, in that order.

  • Perhaps it’s time for some vigilante justice

  • this is an outrage the police should have taken into consideration the fact that the boy had down syndrome and could not tell that he was doing anything wrong….or they knew and didn’t care!!! The police are supposed to be there to protect us especially those of us that have a disability.

  • His aide should have stayed with him instead of going to get the car.

  • As a caregiver of a Downs young man I’m not surprised at this outcome. There’s a lot of PRIDE in these officers. Not the kind to be proud of though!! People who have no contact with or knowledge of Downs, can’t know how to respond to them. How can they possibly determine to know this man’s motive and reluctance to leave? He didn’t deserve the treatment he was given!! Downs people can be very stubborn. But usually not with ulterior motives. They live in the moment and at that moment he wanted another movie. It can take quite a while to change their mind about something. I’m extremely angry that these people presumed to know how to make this young man obey them!! The same way they might any criminal!! Bullies!! His care-giver should never ever have left him though. There is blame all around here!! I am so saddened by this tragedy!!

  • I wonder if the off duty officers where in plain cloths or had on a security uniform. Is it possible Robert was confused and was not sure if the officers were just bad people?

  • Judith you are a f@ckstick. Bleeding hearts? The guy was mentally retarded. I hope you get tazed to death.

  • Judith,this is a serious event in the lives of real people,so please take your trolling comments elsewhere where they belong,like maybe your messed up of a life FB?

  • Kathy would understand the grave mistake made by this vunerable adult’s caregiver. If she had stayed by his side and protected him (her job), this would not have happened. Why blame officers doing their best when the real culprit is right there?

  • Amazing! So, no one was willing to part with $8 to allow this kid to see a film? That’s not shocking given the state of affairs in our nation. My nephew has down syndrome and although he is going to be a very large man he needs far more protection from people than they need from him. Injustice doesn’t quite describe this situation.

  • When you or I murder people, it’s called murder, and we go to prison.

    When cops murder people, it’s perfectly fine. Hell- it’s commendable! And we should just all worship government and cops.
    And we also owe our freedom to police- who fought the British red coats dressed in their patriotic police uniforms. lol

  • Heya this is kinda of off topic but I was wondering if blogs use WYSIWYG editors or if you have to manually code
    with HTML. I’m starting a blog soon but have no
    coding skills so I wanted to get guidance from someone with experience.

    Any help would be greatly appreciated!

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