A young man with Down syndrome was killed by sheriff's deputies over the price of a movie ticket more than six months ago. We must demand an independent investigation and accountability for his death.

Robert Ethan Saylor had Down syndrome and had attended a movie with a caretaker. At the age of 26, he died of asphyxia minutes after three Frederick County (Maryland) Sheriff's deputies restrained him with handcuffs on his stomach because he had not purchased a ticket to see the movie Zero Dark Thirty a second time.

New details emerged this week from a lengthy incident report that includes written statements from 22 witnesses — statements the Saylor family hadn't seen until now.

Why this matters to me

My son, Charlie, for whom this column is named, has Down syndrome. While he is only 3 years old and we have no idea the extent to which he may live an independent life, that is our long-term goal. I dream of Charlie being able to attend a movie and return from that movie safely.

What happened that night?

The facts as we know them are difficult. A caretaker was with Ethan (what his family calls him) when he became upset that he couldn't see the movie again. The caretaker called Ethan's mother, Patti Saylor, who advised her to be patient and let him cool off. When the caretaker then called a former caretaker of Ethan's, that person recommended letting Ethan cool off while she retrieved their car.

By the time the caretaker returned, Ethan had re-entered the theater and the theater manager had contacted the off-duty deputies, who were moonlighting as theater security.

Caretaker's warnings ignored

She warned the deputies that Ethan would "freak out" if they talked to him or touched him. She advised she was handling the situation, which just called for patience.

According to the caretaker's statements, she warned the deputies that Ethan would "freak out" if they talked to him or touched him. She advised she was handling the situation, which just called for patience. She had called Ethan's mother, Patti Saylor, who advised the same thing.

The deputies approached Ethan anyway, apparently at the manager's behest to remove him from the theater.

Moments later, Ethan was dead. Over the price of a movie ticket.

Ethan's mother speaks out

"We are outraged at the behavior of the movie theater manager and the off-duty officers," Ethan's mother, Patti, told allParenting. "They all had ample opportunity to make better choices and seek alternative solutions. They chose to initiate and provoke actions that led to Ethan's death."

They all had ample opportunity to make better choices and seek alternative solutions. They chose to initiate and provoke actions that led to Ethan's death.

We can ask plenty of questions. We can second-guess every step that led to Ethan's death. We can consider Ethan's size (nearly 300 pounds) and whether anyone felt threatened. But based on the caretaker's report, what led the deputies to ignore her advice and approach Ethan anyway? Did common sense prevail?

Independent investigation needed

The investigation that prompted a grand jury to decline to indict the deputies involved was conducted by the deputies' own department. An independent investigation could shed light on these and many other questions.

Tragic accidents occur daily, but when an unarmed person dies at the hands of a first responder who exists to protect us, we must ask the tough questions and push until we get answers even if we don't like them.

Until that occurs, we should not accept a lack of answers or accountability. Tragic accidents occur daily, but when an unarmed person dies at the hands of a first responder who exists to protect us, we must ask the tough questions and push until we get answers — even if we don't like them.

The Saylor family is finally hearing witness accounts for the first time, meaning their hearts are breaking anew six months after Ethan's death. But still, no answers.

Not good enough.

Family questions medical care

In fact, the report has raised questions about the emergency care Ethan received before EMS arrived. "Why was only compression CPR done by professionals and why was there no AED?" asks his mother, Patti. "Why did they stop CPR when he had agonal breathing only? I teach this stuff!"

As a mother, I want answers, action plans and assurances for all our children's safety.

As a citizen, I want an independent investigation.

Justice for Ethan logo

As a human, I want justice for Ethan.

Why leave any stone unturned when a young man died needlessly — over the price of a movie ticket?


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To learn more about Ethan Saylor's life and death, please visit the Justice for Ethan Facebook page. You can also follow and participate in the #justiceforethan campaign on Twitter.

Read more about Down syndrome advocacy

Down syndrome organizations: Unite! We need you!
One mother's plea to stop use of the R word
Why Ann Coulter doesn't matter, but words do

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