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Parents sue deputies in death of man with Down syndrome at Maryland movie theater

Robert Ethan Saylor, in an undated family photo, asphyxiated Jan. 12 after a confrontation with Frederick County, Md., sheriff's deputies. Saylor Family via AP

The parents of a man with Down syndrome on Thursday filed suit against three Maryland sheriff's deputies for causing his "violent, terrifying, and painful death" as they tried to remove him from a movie theater early this year.

Robert Ethan Saylor, 26, of New Market, Md., asphyxiated on Jan. 12 after the three Frederick County deputies, who were moonlighting as mall security officers, dragged him out of the theater in handcuffs and restraints.

The deputies had been called in because Saylor went back into the Westview Regal Cinema in Frederick, northwest of Baltimore, without a ticket to watch the Osama bin Laden raid movie "Zero Dark Thirty" for a second time. 

Saylor's full-time aide told investigators that she warned the deputies that the 294-pound Saylor, who used a wheelchair, would "freak out" if they touched him.

Witnesses said he was screaming, "Mommy! Mommy! It hurts!" as he was forcibly removed.

In the suit (.pdf), filed in U.S. District Court in Baltimore, Saylor's parents, Ronald and Patricia Saylor, allege that their son ended up on the floor with one of the deputies on top of him. 

"As the deputies manhandled Mr. Saylor, they fractured his larynx, making it difficult for him to breathe," the suit charges. "Because this was apparent, the deputies rolled him to his side, removed his handcuffs, and called emergency medical technicians. It was too late — Mr. Saylor suffocated."

But Daniel Karp, an attorney for the sheriff's office, disputed that account, telling The Associated Press that Saylor's Adam's apple could have been damaged when paramedics inserted a breathing tube. He said there was no evidence that the deputies applied force to Saylor's neck.

Besides the deputies — Richard Rochford, Scott Jewell and James Harris — the suit names the theater's parent company, the property manager and Frederick County as defendants. It seeks unspecified damages under the Americans With Disabilities Act.

Although the state medical examiner declared Saylor's death a homicide, a Frederick County grand jury declined to return indictments in March. The deputies were never charged, and they have returned to duty.

The decision not to prosecute drew national attention, leading to a civil rights investigation by the U.S. Justice Department, which continues. 

Separately, Maryland Gov. Martin O'Malley created a commission to set new guidelines for emergency crews in incidents involving people with developmental disabilities.

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