Dear Governor O’Malley and Attorney General Gansler,
The Down Syndrome Collective is a group of over 2,000 parents, self-advocates, writers, artists, actors, teachers, healthcare professionals, and students who advocate for the full inclusion and human rights of people with Down syndrome. We call on you today to launch an independent investigation into Robert Ethan Saylor’s homicide at the hands of off-duty Frederick County Sheriff’s deputies Lt. Scott Jewell, Sgt. Rich Rochford and Deputy First Class James Harris.
The failure of the local State’s Attorney, Charlie Smith, to prosecute this homicide—instead using the veil of grand jury proceedings—gives rise to the unfortunate appearance of local law enforcement protecting its own. We believe it falls on your offices, whether under Article 5, section 3(a)(2) of the Maryland Constitution or otherwise, to ensure that justice is done by conducting an independent investigation into Saylor’s homicide.
Smith’s statement following the grand jury hearing demonstrates his eagerness to adopt a narrative exonerating his law enforcement colleagues at the expense of a young homicide victim. By inaccurately stating that Saylor was "compromised by his Down's Syndrome [sic]," Smith has shifted the blame for Saylor's death onto his genetic condition rather than the improper restraint technique employed against him. Saylor was left face down and died of positional asphyxia, a known risk to all people. Most importantly, it remains unclear why Saylor was restrained at all over the cost of a movie ticket.
Underscoring the need for an independent investigation is the revelation by local media today that Saylor suffered a fracture to his throat, with bruising indicating he was still alive at the time of the injury. The article goes on to report, "Experts say it's hard to know how it happened without an investigative report to show what came into contact with Saylor's throat." Your offices are the only entities able to conduct an appropriate investigation recommended by these experts.
By way of comparison, when Johannes Mehserle killed Oscar Grant in Oakland, California, the local district attorney had the courage to prosecute the case. When George Zimmerman killed Trayvon Martin in Florida, by contrast, it fell on the governor to appoint a special prosecutor after it became clear that local law enforcement had fallen down on the job.
We ask you, protectors of the public, to hold the Frederick County law enforcement community to a higher standard of conduct. Without your action, an unarmed man will have died in your state over the price of a movie ticket without so much as a meaningful investigation. Please reaffirm the right of every person in Maryland to live. Order an impartial investigation into Robert Ethan Saylor’s homicide.
The Down Syndrome Collective