Special Olympics chairman to lead Md. commission on people with disabilities


Photographs of Robert Ethan Saylor as he was growing up adorn a side table in the dining room of Patti Saylor's home. (Katherine Frey/The Washington Post)
September 17, 2013

Gov. Martin O’Malley on Tuesday tapped Timothy P. Shriver, chairman and chief executive of the Special Olympics, to lead a new commission on how Maryland law enforcement handles situations involving people with disabilities.

The commission, established by executive order, comes in response to the case of Robert Ethan Saylor, a man with Down syndrome who died in the custody of Frederick County sheriff’s deputies in January.

“Mr. Saylor’s death is tragic,” O’Malley (D) said in a statement. “I join the multitude of people in Maryland and across the country who mourn this loss of life and who seek ways to ensure that nothing like this ever happens again.”

O’Malley pledged to set up the commission during a meeting at the State House earlier this month with members of Saylor’s family.

Among other things, O’Malley has asked the commission to issue recommendations about statewide training standards for law enforcement and other first responders who interact with people with intellectual and developmental disabilities.

The commission is expected to submit an initial report by Jan. 9, which would have been Saylor’s 27th birthday.

Shriver, a Maryland resident, is the son of Sargent Shriver, the Democratic Party’s vice presidential candidate in 1972, and Eunice Kennedy Shriver, founder of Special Olympics. He has been with the Special Olympics since 1995.

Saylor died after three off-duty deputies attempted to remove him from a theater when he tried to watch a second showing of a movie without buying another ticket.

The chief medical examiner’s office in Baltimore ruled Saylor’s death a homicide as a result of asphyxia, but a Frederick County grand jury determined in March that no charges were warranted against the deputies. The U.S. Department of Justice is investigating whether Saylor’s civil rights were violated.

Saylor’s family members delivered what they said were more than 340,000 petition signatures to O’Malley this month calling on him to launch a state-level investigation, a move he said he would consider.

In recent days, dozens of people who signed the petition have posted comments on O’Malley’s Facebook page urging an investigation.

Del. Heather R. Mizeur (D-Montgomery), who has been pushing O’Malley to develop training standards for law enforcement, called the announcement of the commission a positive development.

“This is what can happen when activists engage, educate, prod and even demand that injustices be addressed,” said Mizeur, who is seeking the Democratic nomination for governor next year. “It’s been a long nine months of silence since Ethan’s death, but today we know that his loss will not be in vain.

John Wagner has covered Maryland government and politics for The Post since 2004.
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