How not to treat people with disabilities: They may die in custody

The story of Robert Ethan Saylor, an adult with Down Syndrome, may seem a bit afield for EBD Blog, but long-time readers will recognize the theme. It’s about the importance of having police officers prepared to recognize and respond to individuals with disabilities in ways that are different than the modal manner for handling usual law enforcement situations.

According to news reports, in January of 2013, Mr. Saylor saw a movie at a theater. As Washington Post reporter Theresa Vargas described it, when the movie ended Mr. Saylor “wanted to watch it again. When he refused to leave, a theater employee called three off-duty Frederick County sheriff’s deputies who were working a security job at the Westview Promenade shopping center and told them that Saylor either needed to buy another ticket or be removed.”

Mr. Saylor, who according to Ms. Vargas’ report had a special interest in police operations and activities, apparently refused to leave, cursed, and hit and kicked the un-uniformed duputies. They handcuffed him; as pictures show (follow the link at the end), Mr. Saylor is a big man, so reports that they linked three sets of cuffs to hold his hands together are believable. At some point he apparently wound up on the ground where he began to show signs of respiratory distress. Mr. Saylor of New Market (MD) died of asphyxia 12 January 2013.

According to a report in the Washington Post, on 15 February 2013 the Frederick County (MD) Sheriff’s Office ruled that the death of Mr. Saylor while in police custody was a homicide.

I’ve noted these issues in previous posts about individuals with Autism and EBD. We’ve had four police officers in riot gear using a taser on a 1.3 meter 11-year old who was threatening them with a common school compass and an officer shoot and kill a young man with EBD who was threatening him was an antique bayonet. There are plenty of other examples right here on EBD Blog; just type the word “police” in the search box at the top right.

Individuals with disabilities may not respond to some tactics commonly used by law enforcement officials. Special educators learn this pretty quickly. Escalating threats don’t work. They often simply elicit more substantial outbursts. Those outbursts may solicit additional threats of greater consequences. And the spiral rises and intensifies.

Here’s a link to news about the death of Mr. Saylor.

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