Personal Injury Blog

Judge Rules Police Brutality Case That Led to Death of Man With Down Syndrome Can Proceed to Trial

By: Matthew Tievsky

In January of 2013, 26 year-old Robert Ethan Saylor was attending a showing of “Zero Dark Thirty” at a mall near Frederick, Maryland. Saylor suffered from Down syndrome which caused him mental disabilities; as a result, when Saylor went to the movie, he was accompanied by an aide. When the movie ended, Saylor stayed in the theater because he wanted to watch the movie again.

Three off-duty Frederick County sheriff’s deputies were working a security job at the shopping center where the movie theater was located. When they approached Saylor in an attempt to remove him from the theater, a violent encounter ensued. In the course of this encounter, Saylor was restrained with handcuffs, ended up on the ground, and his larynx was crushed. Saylor died of asphyxiation.

An internal police investigation exonerated the deputies, and a grand jury declined to criminally indict the deputies for killing Saylor. However, Saylor’s family has brought a federal wrongful death lawsuit against the three deputies, the shopping center, and the State of Maryland.

The presiding judge recently denied the defendants’ motion to dismiss the case. Police officers generally enjoy certain special immunities that ordinary citizens do not enjoy, in lawsuits arising out of violent encounters. In this case, however, the judge found sufficient evidence for the case to proceed to trial. Unless the parties settle the case, a jury will determine whether the deputies acted wrongfully. If so, they will not go to jail, because this is a civil suit, but Saylor’s family may be compensated with an award of money for their loss.

As we have seen from events in the last few years, obtaining justice for police brutality in the criminal justice system can be exceedingly hard. Fortunately, the burden of proving a police brutality case is lower in a civil lawsuit, which many times may prove to be the only avenue for victims to obtain justice. If you or anyone you know has been wrongfully hurt by the police, you should contact Chaikin, Sherman, Cammarata & Siegel, P.C., for a free consultation.