Mother of Man With Down Syndrome Who Died While Handcuffed Testifies on Capitol Hill

The mother of a man with Down syndrome who died after being removed from a Frederick movie theater last year testified on Capitol Hill Tuesday, speaking out about her son's death and advocating for better police training.

Robert "Ethan" Saylor, 26, died of asphyxiation in January 2013 after off-duty sheriff's deputies handcuffed and restrained him in an attempt to remove him from the theater. He had refused to leave after a movie had ended.  

His mother, Patti Saylor, spoke during a hearing on law enforcement responses to disabled Americans before the Senate Judiciary Subcommittee on the Constitution, Civil Rights and Human Rights.

Since her son's death, Saylor has fought for changes in police response to those with disabilities, and was named an Advocate of the Year by the National Down Syndrome Society (NDSS).

"I really just want people to get rid of those assumptions and treat people with disabilities with respect," Patti Saylor told News4's Mark Segraves. 

During Tuesday's hearing, she sat next to an enlarged photograph of her son in a graduation gown and mortarboard.

"I am confident that this hearing will help save the lives of individuals with intellectual and development disabilities in the future," she said in a statement released by the NDSS. "I look forward to sharing Ethan's story and ensuring his legacy lives on for others with Down syndrome and other disabilities."

Last fall, Patti Saylor and her husband, Ronald, filed a lawsuit against the Frederick County Sheriff's Office and the owners of the movie theater.

Saylor's 18-year-old caregiver said she had warned the deputies, who were moonlighting as mall security guards, not to touch or speak to Saylor because he would "freak out." Saylor had wanted to stay for a second showing of "Zero Dark Thirty" but didn't have a ticket, and a deputy insisted that he had to leave, the caregiver said.

The Sheriff's Office said Saylor resisted arrest and was handcuffed as he was led out of the theater. Saylor then began having what officials described as a medical emergency. He was taken to a hospital, where he died.

His death was ruled a homicide, but a Frederick County grand jury refused to indict the deputies.

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