May 7, 2013
Dear Congressman Van Hollen,
The Down Syndrome Collective, a group of over 2,000 advocates for the full inclusion and human rights of people with Down syndrome, urges you to secure an independent investigation into Robert Ethan Saylor's homicide. Nearly 4 months ago, Robert Ethan Saylor died at the hands of off-duty Frederick County Sheriff's deputies Lt. Scott Jewell, Sgt. Rich Rochford and Deputy First Class James Harris. The local law enforcement community in Frederick has not brought justice to the Saylor family.
The refusal of the local State’s Attorney, Charlie Smith, to prosecute this homicide—instead using the veil of grand jury proceedings—gives rise to the unfortunate appearance of local law enforcement protecting its own. Smith’s statement following the grand jury hearing demonstrates his eagerness to adopt a narrative exonerating his law enforcement colleagues at the expense of a young homicide victim. By inaccurately stating that Saylor was "compromised by his Down's Syndrome [sic]," Smith has shifted the blame for Saylor's death onto his genetic condition rather than the improper restraint technique employed against him. Saylor was left face down and died of positional asphyxia, a known risk to all people. Most importantly, it remains unclear why Saylor was restrained at all over the cost of a movie ticket.
Almost exactly two years ago, you honored the 20th anniversary of the Americans with Disabilities Act, acknowledging the need for such legislation because “Americans with disabilities were too often denied the opportunity to fully participate and integrate into our society due to intolerance and unfair stereotypes.” Allowing blame for Saylor's death to be falsely placed on his genetic condition is an example of the same intolerance and unfair stereotyping you denounced. Only an independent investigation can reaffirm Saylor's equal rights as a human being.
Underscoring the need for an independent investigation is the revelation by local media that Saylor suffered a fracture to his throat, with bruising indicating he was still alive at the time of the injury. The article goes on to report, “Experts say it's hard to know how it happened without an investigative report to show what came into contact with Saylor's throat.” Therefore, an independent investigation is the first step towards ensuring justice for the Saylor family.
We ask you to hold the Frederick County law enforcement community to a higher standard of conduct. Without your action, an unarmed man will have died in Maryland's 8th district over the price of a movie ticket without so much as a meaningful investigation. Please reaffirm the right of every person in Maryland to live. Help secure an impartial investigation into Robert Ethan Saylor’s homicide.
The Down Syndrome Collective