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


Robert Ethan Saylor is seen in this undated family photo. (Family Photo)

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.

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.”

Theresa Vargas is a reporter for the Post’s local enterprise team.
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