Washington, DC – The Arc is deeply saddened and shocked by the death of Robert Ethan Saylor, a young man with Down syndrome whose death last month was ruled a homicide by a Maryland court late last week. Reports state that when Saylor refused to leave a movie theater, he was pinned face-down on the ground by three off-duty Frederick County sheriff’s deputies who were working security jobs nearby. Shortly after this incident, Saylor was pronounced dead at a local hospital.
The Arc believes that all law enforcement professionals should receive crisis intervention training to help them work with individuals with disabilities who find themselves in highly charged emotional situations like Robert did. There are many ways to help a person with a disability who is upset, scared, anxious, and feeling threatened. Examples include: learning to recognize the signs that the person with the disability is becoming upset; learning how to evaluate the situation and understand what is provoking the person; learning to communicate in a non-threatening way and to talk the person down or “de-escalate” the situation, and learning how to approach a person with a disability in a way that does not further antagonize them. Finally, The Arc believes that all law enforcement personnel must learn that prone restraint, or taking a person to the ground and immobilizing them face down, is a very dangerous technique that can lead to tragic outcomes.
“Sadly, this tragedy could have been prevented. Sometimes there are circumstances that present unique challenges when it comes to dealing with individuals with intellectual and developmental disabilities, especially in high stress situations. With proper training these officers would have realized there was a better way to work with Robert, as opposed to simply using force – an extreme and unnecessary reaction. This is a moment for us not only to mourn, but we must also learn from this tragedy and encourage proper training in our police departments,” said Kate Fialkowski, Executive Director, The Arc of Maryland.
“We would like to extend our deep sympathy to Robert Saylor’s family. No one should ever die under such circumstances. This is particularly true for someone at the start of adulthood, so full of life, and with so much more time ahead of him to experience all the joys of having a full adult life,” said Joanna Pierson, Executive Director, The Arc of Frederick County.