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February 21, 2013

The Murky Case of the Movie Ticket

Harry M. Covert

Knee-jerk reactions are difficult to overcome particularly when our own children are involved. Above all, when physically and mentally challenged citizens have difficulties, our hearts and minds are wrecked.


The recent tragic death of a 26-year-old New Market man has charged people from all over Frederick County, the state of Maryland and all over the country.


My email inbox and social media sites are flooded with urgent messages, advice and opinions about Robert Ethan Saylor’s death on the night of January 12 at a Frederick movie theater.


Dealing with individuals of limited abilities is probably the most difficult for law enforcement. Any action is often grim.


Like everyone I was angry and appalled at Mr. Saylor’s asphyxiation death at the theater. Three security people, veteran off-duty sheriff’s deputies, were called to force him to leave after the movie, or to buy another $11.50 ticket.


Here’s where the incident becomes murky, fatal for the young man and questionable for the deputies.


Mr. Saylor was a Down Syndrome citizen. His companion/social worker allegedly left him alone to ask theater staff to help remove him. They in turn called on security.


Soon, as the off-duty deputies handcuffed a struggling Mr. Saylor, he suffered a “medical emergency.” A medical examiner ruled the incident homicide.


As with many Down Syndrome men and women – and boys and girls – they are often overweight and can panic easily when frightened. Mr. Saylor was considered obese.


However, to me the question arises why the rush to remove him from the movie? There is no evidence his seat was needed for another customer. Why didn’t officials wait a few minutes, give him an opportunity to relax and possibly change his mind? Why didn’t the theater manager just complement Mr. Saylor another ticket?


Second guessing at this point does no good for anyone, particularly the victim. It remains an infuriating situation.


After agonizing over the incident for a few weeks, Frederick County Sheriff Chuck Jenkins placed the three deputies on administrative leave. Because of the national nature of the case and almost a thousand calls to his office, he had no choice.


“I do understand the negative outcry,” Sheriff Jenkins said. “The death of Mr. Saylor was very tragic.”


So, what happens now?


Certainly an improved sensitivity training is coming. Not only should all sworn law officers be involved in refresher classes, the general public should learn how to better recognize and deal properly with disabled citizens. More often than not, many civilians face delicate situations and don’t know how to react.


Sometimes the most troubling situations can be solved with the simplest methods.


I did notice that theater owners are required to have a million-dollar liability insurance policy. That won’t be a salve to the deceased or to the living.


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