A new state commission — formed after the death in Frederick of a man with Down syndrome last year — said law enforcement officers need better training in handling people with intellectual or developmental disabilities.
The commission presented its initial findings and received community feedback in Silver Spring on Thursday.
This was the first of four meetings the commission is holding across Maryland.
The highly publicized death of Robert “Ethan” Saylor, a 26-year-old Frederick man, sparked the formation of the committee.
Saylor died from asphyxiation after an altercation involving Frederick County sheriff’s deputies moonlighting as mall security officers. The deputies apprehended Saylor when he refused to leave a theater after the movie he watched — “Zero Dark Thirty” — ended and the next screening was beginning.
A grand jury cleared the deputies of any wrongdoing.
At the first meeting of the commission’s “listening tour” in Silver Spring Thursday evening, Timothy Shriver, the chair of the commission, presented the body’s findings, which highlighted the paucity of legislation and standards for how to deal with people with intellectual or developmental disabilities.
The commission found that training for law enforcement personnel in Maryland when dealing with people who have intellectual or developmental disabilities is not comprehensive or consistent. The effectiveness of the training that happens has not been documented either, according to Shriver.
Additionally, there doesn’t appear to be adequate training curriculum or legislation for first responders in situations involving people with intellectual or developmental disabilities.
Shriver said the commission hopes to spearhead development of recommendations for law enforcement, other first responders and other public sectors, like courts and hospitals.
“We’ve got a really big challenge,” Shriver said in an interview.
That challenge is trying to find recommendations to address the “vast middle” of people with disabilities, on issues that span those disabilities, he said. Originally, he wondered if the commission should only focus on law enforcement, but it was clear that recommendations also were needed for caregivers in school or similar settings, he said.
In presenting the commission’s findings, Shriver said it was important to make sure people with intellectual and developmental disabilities are safe, understood, and included.
Mary Ann Dawedeit attended the meeting with her son Eli Lewis, who has Down syndrome and works at the National Institutes of Health. Dawedeit said the commission could learn from organizations like Washington Metropolitan Area Transit Authority, and how it helped Eli use Metro. A man in a wheelchair taught him how to use the transit system, she said.
The experience “made things so much clearer to my son,” she said.
One person at the meeting stressed the need for law enforcement to listen to caregivers with specific knowledge of a person, so as not to further exacerbate already tense situations.
In Saylor’s death, deputies ignored entreaties from an 18-year-old aide who advised them not to touch Saylor.
“We value listening to family members and caregivers,” said Teri Sparks of the Maryland Disability Law Center.
The commission three other meetings will be in Catonsville on Jan. 28, in Talbot County on Feb. 10 and in Frederick on Feb. 22.