As readers know, this is a topic dear to my heart.
On January 12, 2013, Robert Ethan Saylor, a twenty-six-year-old man living with Down syndrome, went to seeZero Dark Thirty at a local theater in Frederick County, Maryland. He was accompanied by his attendant, Mary Crosby. When the movie ended, Crosby asked him if he was ready to go home. Saylor became angry, and Crosby called Saylorâ€™s mother for advice on managing the situation. Saylorâ€™s mother suggested that Crosby go get the car to give her son an opportunity to calm down.
While Crosby was gone, Saylor decided to go back inside the theater. He sat down in his original seat to watchZero Dark Thirty a second time. Customers arenâ€™t supposed to do this, and he was asked to leave. Against Crosbyâ€™s advice, a theater manager called three off-duty sheriffâ€™s deputies who were working security. Things got loud, and then physical as they grabbed the 300-pound Saylor and tried to drag him out. Saylor ended up on the ground in cuffs. He suffered a fractured larynx, and died. The Baltimore Chief Medical Examinerâ€™s Office ruled his death a homicide as a result of positional asphyxia.
The officers were never indicted. I believe that was the right call. I doubt these three officers had any desire to hurt Mr. Saylor, let alone to cause his death. That is precisely what makes such cases instructive and frightening. Indeed, the deputiesâ€™ legal defense was that they had followed their training in their steady escalation of force.
More from me hereÂ at the Washington Monthly.
By the way, my original conclusion may be found below the fold. My WaMo editors asked for a different conclusion, since this seemed to render a harsh judgment not in keeping with the tone carried in the rest of the piece…
Vincent didnâ€™t pose safety issues in the three years he lived with us; he is blessed with a sweet disposition, and is wonderfully gentle with Veronica and our two young daughters. Still, the possibility of behavioral crisis remains in the back of our minds, in the queue of anxieties and worries. As does our concern about whether it would ever be safe or wise to summon law enforcement help.Veronica and I were sitting at breakfast one morning. She was reading a Tribune story about a mentally ill young man who was shot and killed by police called to the family home. Veronica looked up and calmly stated: â€œI donâ€™t care what Vincent is doing. Never call the police.â€ We have no particular reason to believe weâ€™ll need to make that call. I just wish we had greater confidence in what would happen if we ever did.
Not sure where I land on these matters, to tell you the truth–whether I agree with the editor on the closing paragraphs, or on whether I agree with my wife about making such a call.