September 7, 2013

MARYLAND Gov. Martin O’Malley (D) has been doubtful about the need for independent state review of the death of a young man with Down syndrome while in the custody of Frederick County sheriff’s deputies. Mr. O’Malley pointed to two previous investigations and noted that a third, by the U.S. Justice Department, is now underway. But since another young man was killed under still-unexplained circumstances by this same department, we hope the governor uses his powers to shed more light on its workings.

Mr. O’Malley met Thursday with the family of Robert Ethan Saylor, the 26-year-old who died of asphyxia in a scuffle with three off-duty deputies on Jan. 12 after he refused to leave the second showing of a movie he hadn’t paid for. How a dispute over a $12 movie ticket resulted in the death of this young man after the deputies didn’t heed the advice of the caretaker who accompanied him put a damning light on the department, which apparently is ignorant of how to deal with people with disabilities. A grand jury determined no criminal charges were warranted and an internal investigation concluded the officers acted appropriately. The private attorney for the department told us that it was a terrible incident but ultimately an accident for which Mr. Saylor’s family bears some responsibility.

Preventing future tragedies is correctly the focus of Mr. O’Malley, who has signalled his intention to appoint a commission that would study these issues and establish standards for law enforcement officers and first responders on how to interact with people who have disabilities. As he gives what he promises will be serious consideration to the family’s request for a state probe, Mr. O’Malley should take note of the death of Daniel Vail, 19, on Jan. 10, two days before the incident with Mr. Saylor. Mr. Vail was fatally shot by Frederick deputies attempting to execute a no-knock search warrant in a home invasion investigation in which Mr. Vail was a suspect. Sheriff’s officials said he was shot after he pointed a shotgun at authorities. But eight months later, unanswered questions remain and plans for a grand jury to hear the case have apparently yet to materialize.

No one — not the families nor Frederick residents nor sheriff department officials themselves — are well-served by the concerns that linger over these cases. That’s why Mr. O’Malley should request a review by the attorney general.