The three cops facing a wrongful-death suit in connection with the death of a man with Down syndrome will argue that his death was the result of pre-existing medical conditions, according to filings with the U.S. District Court.
Tell me if you’ve heard this one before.
Police approach an individual regarding an extremely trivial matter. When he doesn’t immediately comply with the commands of law enforcement he’s taken to the ground and roughed up by numerous cops. In the course of the altercation, the man dies from asphyxiation.
Although this sounds very similar to the manner in which Eric Garner was killed by NYPD cops after an altercation about selling single cigarettes, this is actually the case of Ethan Saylor.
Saylor, a 26-year-old with Down syndrome, was at a movie theater with a health care aide watching “Zero Dark Thirty.” The movie had finished, but Ethan didn’t want to leave the theater after the film ended, hoping to watch it again.
The cinema manager, angry that the mentally-handicapped man didn’t quite understand that one ticket is only good for one viewing, called three off-duty-deputies who were moonlighting as security guards. The cops decided to forcibly evict Saylor from the theater, refusing to listen to his aide, who had already contacted Saylor’s mother in an effort to defuse the situation.
Instead, as is all too common the case, the cops got violent, taking Saylor to the ground and piling on top of him as they attempted to handcuff him. In the process, this young man’s trachea was fractured, and he died of asphyxiation.
The autopsy report indicated that Saylor died from asphyxiation, and had sustained a fracture to his larynx, with the coroner listing his cause of death as homicide.
While Saylor’s death was ruled a homicide, an internal “investigation” cleared the three officers, Lt. Scott Jewell, Sgt. Rich Rochford and Deputy First Class James Harris, of any wrongdoing. No charges were brought against any of the officers involved in his death.
Much to the dismay of almost everyone involved in the case, a Frederick County grand jury declined to indict the deputies after their review of the case.
After the failure of the state to hold these officers criminally accountable for Saylor death, as is often the case when law enforcement kills a citizen, the family filed a wrongful-death suit against the deputies.
According to a report in The Frederick News Post:
In the initial complaint, filed in October 2013, Saylor’s family alleged violations of his civil rights and of the Americans with Disabilities Act by the state, county sheriff’s deputies and the companies that employed the men as security guards at the Regal Cinemas Westview Stadium 16 theater.
A year later, a federal judge dismissed all of the claims against the theater company, and also dismissed a simple negligence claim against the deputies and a wrongful-death claim against the state.
Claims that the deputies — Richard Rochford, Scott Jewell and James Harris — were grossly negligent and that the state failed to train them were allowed to go forward.
While the family is certain that the fractured larynx was a result of the violent altercation, defense attorneys for the cops claimed in their latest court filings that the injuries found on Saylor were from the paramedic’s efforts to save his life, and not their brutal attack.
One of the experts identified by the defense was Dr. Jeffrey Fillmore, the emergency department physician who treated Saylor at Frederick Memorial Hospital. According to court filing by the defense, Fillmore would testify that the autopsy and other evidence are not consistent with asphyxia as the cause of Saylor’s death.
On Tuesday, attorney for Saylor’s family, Joseph Espo, told the AP that his expert witnesses disagree with almost everything in the filing by the deputies’ attorneys. Records indicate that those witnesses include a disabilities expert, a police liabilities expert, a pathologist and another medical doctor.
Perhaps one of the most heartbreaking aspects of this case is the fact that Saylor was an avid fan of law enforcement and was reportedly fascinated by police. Some may argue that the cops did not intend to kill Ethan, but the fact that they couldn’t de-escalate a simple situation over a movie ticket, and instead resorted to deadly violence speaks to the corrupting sickness that is prevalent in policing today.
Jay Syrmopoulos is an investigative journalist, free thinker, researcher, and ardent opponent of authoritarianism. He is currently a graduate student at University of Denver pursuing a masters in Global Affairs. Jay’s work has been published on BenSwann’s Truth in Media, Truth-Out, AlterNet, InfoWars, MintPressNews and many other sites. You can follow him on Twitter @sirmetropolis, on Facebook at Sir Metropolis and now on tsu.