Gov. Martin O’Malley is committed to improving police training for dealing with people with developmental disabilities, his spokeswoman said Thursday after the Democratic governor met with the family of a man with Down syndrome who died in the custody of three Frederick County sheriff’s deputies in January.
O’Malley planned to issue a statement as early as Thursday about his position on training, spokeswoman Takirra Winfield said.
“Since this incident happened, which is very tragic, we’ve been saying the governor would be looking into ways to improve training and that sort of thing. So he’s certainly committed to doing something,” Winfield said in a telephone interview from Annapolis.
But O’Malley hasn’t decided whether to order an independent investigation of Robert Ethan Saylor’s death, as family members have asked, Winfield said.
“We’re looking into everything,” she said.
Saylor’s death on Jan. 12 was ruled a homicide by the state medical examiner’s office. A Frederick County grand jury declined to indict the officers.
O’Malley met earlier Thursday with Saylor’s parents, brother and sister, and a National Down Syndrome Society representative. They delivered a petition, signed by what they said were 340,000 people, seeking an independent investigation and police training.
Saylor’s younger sister Emma said in a telephone interview that O’Malley clearly stated his intention to address police training.
“He used the word, ‘definitely,’ which was reassuring,” she said.
She said O’Malley told the family he would take a couple days to consider whether to order an investigation.
“We’re confident he’ll do the right thing and pursue the truth of what happened,” she said.
Saylor, 26, died of asphyxia as three deputies who were moonlighting as mall security officers tried to remove him from a movie theater because he hadn’t bought a ticket for a repeat viewing of “Zero Dark Thirty.” They wrestled the flailing, cursing and crying 294-pound man out of his seat and down an exit ramp, where they handcuffed him after he fell or was dropped onto his belly, according to police records. Saylor went into cardiac arrest and was briefly revived by the deputies but never regained consciousness before he died, according to the investigative file.
The autopsy found signs of “positional” asphyxia, or having been in a position in which he couldn’t breathe. There was also unexplained damage to Saylor’s larynx — a fractured piece of cartilage attached to the Adam’s apple. The autopsy also found that Saylor’s developmental disability, obesity, atherosclerotic cardiovascular disease and a heart abnormality contributed to the death.
Emma Saylor said the family wants to know how his larynx was damaged.
“You could fall 10 times but you’re not going to crush your larynx,” she said. “We want to know if somebody’s arm was underneath his throat. We want to know how exactly it happened.”