A Long Road Seeking Justice For Ethan Saylor Finally Ends

It’s been a long time. I first blogged about this case in August 2013, and have been following it.  Now, four years later, Ethan Saylor’s family has received some closure.

Ethan Saylor

On January 12, 2013 in Frederick, Maryland, 26-year-old Robert Ethan Saylor went to see the movie “Zero Dark Thirty” in a theater inside a mall.  He went by his middle name “Ethan.”  Ethan was accompanied by a caretaker who, after the movie, went to get the car while Ethan waited at the door.  Ethan however, wanted to see the movie again and walked back inside.  He was approached by staff and told that he needed to by another ticket.

Ethan had Down syndrome, a genetic condition that impairs physical growth and intelligence.  Ethan didn’t carry cash.  Ethan’s IQ was 40. He had an IPhone.  Because his mom later saw four, 411 calls on his IPhone, she believes that he was using it to try to get information on how to purchase another movie ticket.

The manager called security.  Working security that evening were three off-duty deputies.  They would not allow Ethan’s caretaker to come back inside the theater. She called Ethan’s mother.

In spite of the caretaker’s pleas that they wait because his mom was coming, the three off-duty deputies decided to physically remove Ethan from the theater.  As he cried out “Help” and “I need help, Mommy,” the deputies placed him in handcuffs and a choke hold.

Ethan’s mom was 5 minutes away from the theater when she received a call diverting her to the hospital. An autopsy showed that Ethan’s larynx had been crushed and he died by suffocation.  The medical examiner ruled Ethan’s death a homicide.

A grand jury convened.  Based on a comment to this blog by someone familiar with the case, witnesses were asked if they saw the choke hold and if so, if they could identity the deputy applying it.  All three deputies piled on Ethan’s body in a closed space.  The grand jury did not indict.  An internal investigation cleared the deputies of wrongdoing.

Ethan’s family did not lose hope.   They went to Martin O’Malley, then Governor of Maryland.  Through their advocacy, Governor O’Malley created a commission to develop statewide training standards for law enforcement officers and first responders in how to interact with people with disabilities. Timothy Shriver, chairman of the Special Olympics (and nephew of President John F. Kennedy), led the effort.

Pattie didn’t stop there.  She went before the Maryland Senate Finance Committee in favor of the Ethan Saylor Center for Self-Advocates as Educators, a program created in Ethan’s memory to teach people with disabilities to serve as educators in law enforcement training.

In October 2013, Ethan’s family filed a lawsuit against the three Frederick County sheriff’s deputies.  A year later, they were still waiting on the court’s decision as to whether the lawsuit could move forward.  On Sept. 9, 2016, U.S. District Judge William Nickerson allowed the lawsuit against Richard Rochford, Scott Jewell and James Harris to move forward.

The attorney for Ethan’s Estate, Jean Zachariasiewicz, argued that Ethan’s injuries were  sufficient evidence of excessive force to merit bringing the case before a jury.

On Sept. 9, 2016, U.S. District Judge William Nickerson allowed the lawsuit against Richard Rochford, Scott Jewell and James Harris to move forward.  The deputies appealed the ruling.

In January 2017, Stephanie Holland, a friend of Ethan’s mom, organized the Ethan Saylor Memorial Film Festival. It featured works created by or about those with Down syndrome. The film festival featured 11 films, one a feature-length documentary called “Ethan’s Law,” directed by Edward Rhodes.  The film is about Saylor’s death and how his family worked for reforms to prevent future incidents.

During the discovery process, it was discovered that Ethan’s caretaker, who had purchased a movie ticket, did not have to under the ADA.  Her ticket purchase could have applied as a second ticket for Ethan.

On April 25, 2018, Ethan’s family reached a settlement of $1.9 million with the State of Maryland, the three deputies and the management company of the shopping center where the theater, where Ethan was killed, is located.

The Baltimore Sun reports that 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.

Ethan’s mom, Pattie Saylor said;

 “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. 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.”

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.”

It’s been a very long road for Pattie Saylor.

Personally, I’m still unsure if I can watch Zero Dark Thirty without thinking about Ethan’s last moments.

Patti Saylor testified before the Maryland Senate Finance Committee in favor of a Bill to create the Ethan Saylor Center for Self-Advocates as Educators. She is at the lower, left-hand corner of the video.


Posted on 04/26/2018, in Cases, Ethan Saylor and tagged , , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink. 6 Comments.

  1. Well before the police assaulted him, everyone involved had already violated Ethan’s civil rights under the Americans with Disabilities Act. It requires reasonable accommodations for disabled people. Ethan’s disability was obvious, so his need/right to be dealt with in a way he understood was also obvious.
    Police violence is not improving. It’s getting worse.
    Thanks for posting this info.

    Liked by 3 people

    • Claire,
      That is true. When the court decided the lawsuit could go on, the deputies were deposed and admitted that they recognized Ethan as Down Syndrome. They didn’t care. They wanted complete and immediate obedience.

      Liked by 3 people

  2. Like

  3. There is a meanness in some folks these days. I hate it when our LEO’s reveal theirs.


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