Investigation into disabled man’s homicide turned over to prosecutors -- Gazette.Net


This story was updated on Feb. 20, 2013.

The results of an investigation into the death of a developmentally disabled New Market man who died after being forcibly removed from a mall movie theater by off-duty Frederick County sheriff’s deputies on Jan. 12 has been turned over to prosecutors, according to authorities.

A probe by the Frederick County Bureau of Investigations into the death of Robert E. Saylor was completed Tuesday and sent to the Frederick County State’s Attorney’s Office, said Cpl. Jennifer Bailey, a spokeswoman for the Frederick County Sheriff’s Office.

The case has attracted national attention after the Office of Chief Medical Examiner in Baltimore determined last week that Saylor, who had Down syndrome, died of asphyxia following his removal from the theater by Lt. Scott Jewell, Sgt. Rich Rochford and Deputy 1st Class James Harris.

The three deputies were placed on paid administrative leave Monday pending the outcome of the FCBI probe and an internal investigation by the sheriff’s office into their actions, Bailey said.

The state’s attorney’s office, which was unavailable for immediate comment Wednesday morning, will determine if any criminal action should be taken in the case.

“Procedurally, [placing the deputies on leave] was the appropriate decision ONLY after this agency received the manner of death of Mr. Saylor from the Office of the Chief Medical Examiner,” Sheriff Chuck Jenkins said in a letter released Monday. “Please allow myself and this agency the opportunity to complete the investigations necessary to collect all the facts regarding this case, before judgment is passed on involved deputies of the Frederick County Sheriff’s Office.”

Joseph Espo, a lawyer representing Saylor’s family, said that the family is concerned about how their 26-year-old son was handled by the deputies.

“[Saylor] was gentle; he was not a threat to anybody,” Espo said. “The family is still waiting for answers.”

Each year deputies are required to attend training on the use of force, Bailey said. In 2011, all sworn and civilian members of the sheriff’s office attended a four-hour training session on how to deal with people with mental health issues held by the Frederick County Health Department, she said. Espo said that deputies should have also receive training in dealing with those with other disabilities.

“The sheriff’s office had consistently said that the deputies get training on how to handle people who are mentally ill,” Espo said. “That misses the mark; [Saylor] wasn’t mentally ill, he was developmentally disabled.”

Although the 2011 training mostly discussed mental health issues, Bailey said that the session also covered the differences between the mentally ill and developmentally disabled.

While working second jobs for Hill Management at the Westview Promenade in Frederick, the three deputies were approached at 11 p.m. on Jan. 12 by a Regal Cinemas Westview Stadium 16 employee, who reported that a man had refused to leave the cinema, a sheriff’s office news release said.

The employee told them that Saylor had already watched the movie in the cinema but would not leave. The employee told Saylor that he would either have to leave or pay for a new ticket.

Deputies tried to convince Saylor to leave, but he refused and cursed at the deputies, the release said.

Saylor continued to resist as deputies removed him from his seat and escorted him out of the theater. Saylor was briefly handcuffed, the release said.

Before leaving the theater, Saylor began having a “medical emergency,” the release said. Deputies then removed the handcuffs and called emergency medical services.

Saylor was taken to Frederick Memorial Hospital, where he was later pronounced dead, the sheriff’s office said.

While the medical examiner’s office cannot comment on the Saylor case, Bruce Goldfarb, a spokesman for the office, said that, in general, a homicide classification in a case merely means that the death of the person examined was a result of another person.

“Homicide is defined as being killed by another person; it does not necessitate murder,” Bailey said.

Initially, after the medical examiner’s findings were announced, the deputies involved were “continuing with their normal assignments” during the investigation, according to a news release issued Friday.

Since the medical examiner’s ruling, the sheriff’s office has received numerous calls from the public concerning Saylor’s manner of death, prompting officials to consider setting up a call center to handle the volume, Bailey said.

“We want to make sure that we are trying to provide as much information as possible [to the public] so that they know that we are taking this seriously ...” Bailey said. “We’re just going to set up a system for anyone who wants to speak to us directly.”

She estimated that between 35 and 50 calls were forwarded to her and Jenkins about the Saylor case on Monday..

As of 10 a.m. Wedesday, a Facebook post on the sheriff’s office profile that included Jenkins’ Feb. 18 letter had 985 comments. It had also been shared 62 times.