Frederick County grand jury won't charge deputies in death -- Gazette.Net


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A Frederick County grand jury has found insufficient evidence to bring any criminal charges against three Frederick County Sheriff's Office deputies in the death of a developmentally disabled New Market man they forcibly removed from a mall movie theater in January, according to the county prosecutor.

The grand jury has decided to discontinue its investigation into the death of Robert E. Saylor, 26, county State's Attorney Charlie Smith announced Friday during a news conference in front of the county courthouse in downtown Frederick.

The sheriff's office came under fire after the state Office of the Chief Medical Examiner in Baltimore determined last month that Saylor, who had Down syndrome, died of asphyxia following his removal on Jan. 12 from the Regal Cinemas Westview Stadium 16 by Lt. Scott Jewell, Sgt. Rich Rochford and Deputy 1st Class James Harris, who were off-duty and employed by the mall.

“The grand jury decision in this particular case was that they felt no further investigation was necessary to make a decision on the criminality of the deputies' conduct. Therefore, they are choosing not to continue their investigation,” Smith said.

A probe by the Frederick County Bureau of Investigation into Saylor's death was completed Feb. 12 and sent to the county prosecutor for review. Along with Smith, two assistant prosecutors and the head of the Violent Crimes Division reviewed the findings and turned the case over to the county grand jury for consideration.

The findings included 17 eyewitness statements, one of which was from Saylor's 18-year-old aide who had accompanied him to the theater that night.

“[The family] is disappointed, frustrated, saddened by the grand jury's decision,” said Sharron Krevor-Weisbaum, an attorney representing the family. “It was a tragedy and a death that should have never happened.”

The family has not yet filed a civil lawsuit in the case, Krevor-Weisbaum said.

“[The family] wants the sheriff's office to release its file and the medical examiner to release its full report [on this case],” she said. “[The family] has to digest this kind of news today, and then they'll decide their next step.”

All three deputies testified before the grand jury, along with the lead investigator in the case and a police training expert, Smith said.

While working second jobs for Hill Management at the Westview Promenade in Frederick, the 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, the sheriff's office has said.

The employee told them that Saylor had already watched the movie “Zero Dark Thirty” in the cinema but would not leave. He said Saylor was told 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 sheriff's office has said.

Saylor continued to resist as deputies removed him from his seat and escorted him out of the theater. Saylor was briefly handcuffed, using three linked cuffs, Smith said.

“[The deputies] did employ police procedures as pursuant to their training as provided by the Frederick County Sheriff's Office,” Smith said. “At no point in time did our investigation indicate that the deputies hit or kicked Mr. Saylor in any way.”

Before leaving the theater, Saylor began having a “medical emergency,” the sheriff's office has said. Deputies then removed the handcuffs and called emergency medical services.

Saylor was taken to Frederick Memorial Hospital, where he was later pronounced dead.

Initially, after the medical examiner's findings were announced Feb. 15, the three deputies involved were “continuing with their normal assignments” during the investigation, the sheriff's office said at the time.

They were placed on administrative leave on Feb. 18, pending the outcome of the FCBI probe and an internal investigation by the sheriff's office into their actions.

Smith said that the report from the medical examiner's office concluded that Saylor's death was due, in part, to his disability.

“The individual was already compromised by his Down syndrome, obesity, body habitus, heart disease, making him more susceptible to sudden death at the present conditions, which would compromise his breathing,” Smith said, reading the report during the news conference.

He continued that Saylor had been placed on his stomach for between one and two minutes, Smith said.

Patrick McAndrew, a Greenbelt attorney representing the three deputies, said that the trio — which has about 63 years of combined law-enforcement experience — voluntarily testified before the grand jury.

“They did not invoke their Fifth Amendment rights, they were not subpoenaed to be here today, they weren't in anyway compelled to report to the grand jury,” McAndrew said. “They wanted the citizens of Frederick County in that grand jury to hear from them first-hand the true facts of this case.”

After the medical examiner's findings were released, the sheriff's office received numerous calls from the public about the case, Cpl. Jennifer Bailey, a spokeswoman for the sheriff's office, said last month.

Bailey said that county deputies are required to attend training on the use of force every year. In 2011, all sworn and civilian members of the 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.

Joseph Espo, another lawyer representing Saylor's family, said last month that deputies should also have received training in how to deal with people with other disabilities.

“This was an unfortunate set of circumstance,” McAndrew said Friday. “Each of these professional law-enforcement officers did what was necessary under the circumstances, and they did what their training dictated for them to do,”

Since the incident began attracting national attention, two advocacy groups for the developmentally disabled have called for increased training of police in the county.

“Sadly, this tragedy could have been prevented,” Kate Fialkowski, executive director of The Arc, a statewide advocacy group for people who suffer from developmental disabilities, said last month. “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.”

F.R.I.E.N.D.S. of Frederick County — the Family Resource Information and Education Network for Down Syndrome — said in February that the group continues to be “strong supporters” of the sheriff's office.

But they encouraged law-enforcement agencies to consider further training in dealing with individuals with developmental disabilities.

“No one should ever die under such circumstances,” Joanna Pierson, executive director of the Arc of Frederick County, said last month.

myoung@gazette.net