Police Training, Robert Saylor, and Justice… Again.

Well, Latke wrote this hilarious thing (basically making fun of me), and I was all set to post it, but I can’t.  I can’t because I can’t get over what is happening with Robert Saylor’s death.  So I know I wrote about this already.  I also know that maybe it makes people uncomfortable.  I get it.  It makes me uncomfortable as well, for very complicated reasons.  But.  I can’t let it go.

I’ve become bloggy friends with this guy, LBD.  LBD knows another guy, Scott Silverii, who has a kid with Ds and also happens to be in law enforcement.  Together, they are trying to organize an effort to call for greater police training and awareness of Down syndrome.  Guys, I commend what you are doing.

But I still am not sure I agree.

Scott wrote this post, in which he argued for greater police training on disabilities such as Ds.  I commented, part of which was this:

My honest feeling is that those men already had the training they needed, but chose not to utilize it. I just don’t see why putting a man to the ground was an appropriate response, let alone having him face down for so long. I’d love to hear your thoughts.

You can go read his comment in response at his blog, but here are some parts of it:

…restraining, cuffing and leaving him on the ground totally negates the universal use of force continuum. The use of force continuum guides the way officers handle situations….

…officers, having been trained to address DS or similar disabilities, should have backed off. Giving ground is never a bad thing in police matters. Awareness would have cued them into de-escalating the situation through communications or separation. Ethan was not trying to escape, so taking a few steps back would not have threated him or officers. Plus 3 on 1 places everyone at edge….

It seems we are all in agreement that he should have never been on the ground, let alone left there to asphyxiate.  After that is where I logically part ways.

Why would it be necessary for those officers to have had more training about Down syndrome or any other disability in order to have prevented the excess use of force?  What about having Down syndrome is so different that one would need specific training on it?

In my mind, they had all the information they needed to know.  I think it was probably clear from talking to Robert Saylor that he had an intellectual disability and might not understand the situation as the officers did.  It was also not hard to see that Robert was obese.  So what about Down syndrome did those officers need in order to know that laying hands on Robert was probably not the best course of action?  I’m not being flippant here.  Don’t officers get trained on the hazards of putting a man in a prone position?  Scott, help me out here.  When I worked at the group home, we did restraints.  Being held down in a prone position a potentially dangerous for anyone.  Bones and joints are at risk, asphyxiation is possible, a whole host of things.  Being overweight or obese magnifies these risks, sure. I would imagine that police officers get more, not less training than some kid out of college working in a group home. I just don’t see how being trained on Down syndrome’s particularities would make his obesity any more apparent than it already was. They saw him, didn’t they?

Similarly, aren’t officers given any training to take into account the level of understanding being shown by the person in question?  People who don’t understand a situation are very understandably more agitated when you question them, order them around, or touch them.  This seems like common sense to me, and for that reason I cannot understand why those three officers are being supported in their decision to escalate the situation.

I agree, if they had been educated about Down syndrome, exposed to its possibilities, they may not have acted the way they did.  For that, I do support further training. But without that training, could they have been expected to act differently? Absolutely.

You have to look at the greater context of what is happening.  The DA could have charged those three officers with inappropriate use of force and the resulting charge of assault/battery/manslaughter/homicide.  Clearly, they didn’t want to, so instead they went to a grand jury for an indictment.  I think they did this knowing full well that behind closed doors without public scrutiny, they could get a rubber stamp stating that what the officers did was ok, because the guy had Down syndrome, what could they have done, oh, what an unfortunate event, let’s feel badly and all go home.  Huh.

So the NDSS goes into a meeting with the DOJ, and they all come out singing kumbaya, saying they’re going to collaborate on more police training.  Huh.  In the meantime, somehow, someone got the idea that it is ok for the officers to be investigated by their own people.  Huh.

All this attention on police training is the easy out.  Those officers had all the information they needed.  They chose to act in a way that was more convenient for them, fucked it up, and killed a man.  

Again, if all this leads to more training, great.  Problem is, when large bodies wielding power screw up the response is… more training. I don’t want to discount the value of training, but I don’t think it is the cops’ job to have encyclopedic knowledge of every disability or every condition that might make a person different. It is their job to use their training to treat every person humanely and with respect as an equal.  Let’s just be careful. I don’t want the cops trained to treat my son as being Down syndrome. I want them to treat him as a human being, who might have an intellectual disability, who might have a differently shaped body. What I’m afraid is, that with all this talk of training, we are collectively closing our eyes to an ugly truth.  It is easier to hold hands and make promises about the future instead of learning some hard lessons from the past.

Robert Saylor was brutalized over the cost of a movie ticket because he had Down syndrome and was valued as less of a human being. After he died, the blame was placed on the fact that he had an extra chromosome.

Let’s acknowledge this ugly truth, put the blame on those officers where it belongs, and then talk about how to train our police forces.

Ok.  I’m done now.  I know the three people who read this blog are mostly interested in our family and cute pictures of the Taters, but I hope you guys can see why Robert Saylor’s death hurts me so much.

LBD and Scott, I will help you in any way that I can.  Police training, thumbs up.  Independent inquiry, thumbs up.  Justice, thumbs up.

39 Comments on “Police Training, Robert Saylor, and Justice… Again.”

  1. Great post & I was looking forward to this perspective. You are correct that agencies toss out the “T” word to pacify the public. It seldom gets done. The end-users really never get the Training the bosses mention on tv with such determination & compassion.

    Ethan having DS has zero to do with the way these officers responded. Had it been last year’s Hawaii Ironman champion, that was the wrong way of handling the “movie ticket massacre”

    Immediate escalation of force, followed by failure to monitor the person in their custody and care (DS or Not) shows negligence not lack of DS knowledge.

    LBD & I are not the DA in that county but if so, I’m sure a grand jury would have decided differently. You can indict an empty soda can in grand jury if you really want to. The accused have no representation. It’s only what you present to them.

    What we, & you are is much more important. We are parents. Since we do not hand over indictments we can present information. That is powerful.

    Stay furious, stay focused,

    • jisun says:

      The grand jury thing really angers me. As if that is some kind of “official” proof that nothing went wrong, when it was a tactical effort to make the whole thing go away.

      Thank you for validating my thoughts, Scott. It means a lot that someone in law enforcement agrees that Saylor died of improper policing. Wish there were more of you around the country.

    • Thank you, Scott for being brave enough to reply to this. There has been overwhelming silence from the police community on this, other than official bullshit statements. Definitely staying furious and fighting for Ethan’s voice to be heard.

      • jisun says:

        Thank you for commenting, Amy. I wish there was more voice from the police community on this as well. I get the idea that you don’t want to turn on your own, but a group is only as good as their weakest. The actions of those men will only tarnish all law enforcement in the future if it isn’t dealth with honestly.

  2. TUC says:

    “All this attention on police training is the easy out”
    Exactly. It is a pacification crumb, and has nothing to do with truth and justice which Ethan is entitled to.

  3. Latke says:

    I’ve also been re-focusing lately on the fact that these guys were OFF DUTY. They were private citizens employed by the mall (or some security company) to enforce the theater’s property rights.

    At our house we have a little Laotian grandma who comes up our driveway occasionally to go through our recycling for extra pocket change. What if I ask her to leave one day, and she declines? What if it’s obvious that we’re perceiving the situation completely differently, due to language issues or whatever else? Would I be within my rights to handcuff her and throw her face down on the driveway to get her off my property? Even if I had a legal to do so, would it be reasonable for me to act that way? If I hurt or killed her in the process, should I be held responsible for my actions? The answers to these questions are so obvious it’s disgusting that we even have to have this conversation.

    • jisun says:

      Good analogy, husband.

      • Latke says:

        That’s why this situation is much closer to George Zimmerman than Johannes Mehserle. Our society entrusts sworn peace officers with the awesome power to use force against other human beings. The law gives on-duty officers a lot of leeway to make reasonable mistakes in difficult situations, and there are good reasons for that. But at the end of the day, even the authority to police comes with a heavy responsibility to use force lawfully and properly, which is where training comes in, and why even Mehserle, who was acting in his official capacity when he killed Oscar Grant, now finds himself in prison.

        But the threshold for error by private citizens is much lower, and for obvious reasons. We—like the security guards in this situation—are simply not permitted go around killing each other, acidentally or not, over innocuous transgressions like failing to pay for a movie ticket.

        From this point on, I will never again refer to these individuals as “officers” or “cops,” because that is not what they were when they killed Robert Ethan Saylor over a $10 ticket.

  4. Holly F. says:

    I read and agree. It is becoming clear that because he had Ds, no one except the community even cares that he is dead. With our largest national support group burying their head, I’m afraid Ethan will never receive justice.

  5. When I was a brand new Lieutenant in the Army, a Special Forces NCO told me something that has stuck with me: “Amateurs train until they get it right; professionals train until they can’t get it wrong.”

    More training is not just a good thing, it’s a great thing.

    So while I totally get where everyone is coming from on the “pacification” angle, keep in mind that Scott and I are not the NDSS and not NDSC….only the IDSC has lent its support for our work so far ….we are parents (and parents of DS children) that want law enforcement to work better and smarter for our children.

    Training is “pacification” only if the community is pacified by it.

    Are we pacified? Do we recognize that more can be done? Do we accept it as the “only” solution?

    If our answers are No, Yes, and No, then it is not pacification.

    There is more that can – and should – be done.For example,

    * The FBI can, and should, investigate the police brutality angle of this. But I’m one person, and I’m going to focus first on a piece that can have an immediate impact going forward. Then I will turn my determination to accountability.

    * The Maryland Attorney General should independently investigate those at the Frederick County Sheriff that conducted the initial investigation

    * The Maryland Bar Association should look into the prosecutorial conviction (or lack thereof) with which the DA in that community represented the public interest.

    * Regal Movie Theaters should be called into the public spotlight not only for failing to properly train and supervise its employees, but also for lying about what happened that night.

    * The 3 individuals that are responsible for Ethan’s death should be called to task – criminally if possible, but absolutely in the civil courts.

    * Much, much more can and should be done.

    There are so many pieces of the “Movie Ticket Massacre” that need to be addressed: off-duty police brutality, movie theater over-reaction, failure to listen to medical professionals on site, creating fear in the general public, etc.

    The good news is that we are many, and those who would placate us are few. If others in our community can step up to help fill those other gaps, we will have our opponents on their heels very quickly.


    • jisun says:

      I know you’re not the NDSS, and I think what you’re doing is important. But I do think that the first priority should be holding those men criminally liable for what they did. Period.

      I’m not sure if we are many, LBD. The NDSS clearly has lent its voice to helping pacify the community. I am willing to accept that a loud few can do something, however.

  6. You are making it hard for me to leave witty light-hearted comments on you blog Ji.

    I hate this story.

    I’m really glad you’re writing about it.

  7. This just came out in New Orleans media
    Wholly different circumstances but read what the federal judge says about police actions. Sounds like what we discussed.

    • jisun says:

      OK so if I’m reading this right (I’m on my phone), this was not made public, and a judge agreed at the time that this was appropriate use of force? Am I confused here? How is this possibly right???

      • Judge dismisses use of force because subject had knife but she criticizes officers to rushing in to confront him instead of keeping distance and de escalating situation.
        Contain, Control, De-escalate.

        • jisun says:

          OK. The knife. I need to take a deep breath over this. Scott, do you think that your voice could lend support to the need for an independent investigation? It makes me sick to my stomach to think that Saylor’s death is going to be rubber stamped because of a DA who doesn’t care. I really think you have the potential to shift momentum there. Success there would make further training more likely as well.

    • jisun says:

      I know the circumstances were slightly different, but I actually see more similarity than not. Am I really just misunderstanding this? I’m very perturbed.

      • Latke says:

        There’s an enormous difference between on duty officers responding to a call of a guy barricaded with a knife and three private security guards picking a fight with an obese moviegoer with Down syndrome.

  8. Factual differences aside, Scott makes a great point. The judge’s quote says a lot, to me, particularly in its opening phrase….as a lawyer that handled dozens of civil rights cases. (Reading the quote below, I know exactly what the Judge in this case would say if he/she was ruling on the conduct of Ethan’s killers.)

    “While the bounds of the law dictate this holding, the Court notes its serious concern with the officers’ actions in this incident. The NOPD’s approach to handling a call for medical help was outsized and inappropriate… Instead of tasing Mr. Harris within seconds of entering his bedroom, the officers could have kept a safe distance from him, avoided provocative displays of force, made it clear that they were there to help him, and taken as much time as necessary to talk him into putting down his knife, including waiting for mental health professionals to arrive.”

    In talking with local police, this is how they try to handle any situation with an individual that was seeking medical help. Talk first, attempt to keep the situation calm, reassure. Not rush in, hog-tie/tase.

    • LBD, thanks for clarifying the point of the article. Jisun and I were comms over appropriate police tactics and the use of force continuum officers across the country are required to adhere to.

      I only shared this judge’s admonishment of the NOPD because it is identical to the tactic I told her about called Contain, Control,
      De-escalate. Your mil training would call tactical retreat. No shame in giving ground to explore a better resolution.

      I also fear our conversation about developing training is getting misplaced in the movement. We cannot bring Ethan back, we cannot indict the officers, we cannot force the national orgs to cowboy up (at least not yet).

      We can identify gaps in police response and fill it with a substantial contribution. Ethan was not the first & will not be the last citizen with special needs to be victimized by first responders.

      “Training” might be what the local Sheriff is pacifying his constituents with, but we have no interest in promoting a political agenda. Training is the only thing cop culture responds to.

      http://concavebed.blogspot.com/ – Amy – thank you, but its not courage for speaking out, it’s just the right thing to do. God granted me this position of authority in the policing community & it is my moral obligation to Stand In the Gap. Bless you!

      • jisun says:

        Scott, I somehow missed your comment. I agree that I don’t want to displace important energy in the movement.

        I agree, we cannot bring Ethan back. However, I do think we can pressure for charges, and I do think we can pressure the national organization. At the very least, I think they must be held to the fire of public outrage. I just wish there were more outrage on behalf of this family’s loss.

  9. Scott, you are absolutely right…well said!!!

    Training – professional education – is what helps cops and first responders do their job professionally.

    I’m going to put up a blog post on the importance of training – professional education and development – for any profession, but especially law enforcement and first-responders, and why it is what I chose to focus my energy on first in response to the Ethan Saylor murder.


  10. The Bub says:

    Why not get the whole story, why would his caregiver leave him in the movie when they know the rules–one viewing or pay for another ticket. The caregiver knew of his anger issues etc–when someone disabled or not becames combative they neeed to be restrainted. It is known that the disabled can become unbelieveable strong when they resist. The police officers put their lives on the line everyday when they go to work-before you throw them under the bus read the medical report about Mr. Saylor heart condition, question why he was left in the movie when the caregiver went to get the car. Had he went to car after the show all of this would have been avoided. The officers I’m sure meant no harm to Mr. Saylor and carry the loss of his life in their hearts forever. Be fair in your media coverage –in a report published in the Washington DC newspaper it stated 17 patrons of the movie all gave similar accounts of what happened, and their witnessing of the incident clear the officers of any wrong doing.

  11. Ginger says:

    The Bub, do you become unbelievably strong when angry or that is a super power only the disabled have? Would you get angry if three strange guys put their hands on you? And even if your premise that the disabled become unbelievably strong when angry do you really think it was necessary for THREE grown men to throw this kid on the ground and cuff him three times? Is this really the officers doing their duty to protect the public…well the mall since they were acting as mall cops and not as deputies. Frankly, it’s pretty silly to assume that disabled people somehow transform into the Incredible Hulk when angry. I worked with disabled adults for a portion of my life. I’m 5’4 and at the time weighed about 140lbs. A lot of my clients were bigger than me and they got angry sometimes and scared. When they attacked, I managed to not kill them. And yet here is a man who is clearly NOT attacking the officers. He was swearing and agitated but I don’t see anything about an attack.

    Also did Ethan have a heart attack? I’m pretty sure it’s pretty clear that he died of asphyxiation and that his death was a HOMICIDE. Ethan died because he was restrained incorrectly over a $12 movie ticket.

  12. jisun says:


    My understanding is that Robert was originally outside the theater itself, then re-entered. No one left him in there to knowingly break any rules. I also am of the understanding (according to a statement released by the IDSC) that the caregiver was returning with Saylor’s mother.

    There are people walking around with heart conditions every day. It is part of officer training that they should not leave a person face down on the ground for that VERY reason. This has nothing to do with Saylor, Ds, or a medical condition. It is about following the training they already had.

    “The caregiver knew of his anger issues etc–when someone disabled or not becames combative they neeed to be restrainted. It is known that the disabled can become unbelieveable strong when they resist.”

    This is the most perturbing part of your comment. Saylor neither had anger issues, nor should it have mattered. He was unarmed and confused. There was no reason to touch/restrain him at all; there was no imminent harm to anyone involved. Your statement not only erroneously categorizes a group of people with very different conditions together, but it also perpetuates an idea that they are somehow different from any other human being. ALL people are strong when they struggle in (an unjustified) restraint. This statement of yours offends me.

    Yes, police officers put themselves in harm’s way every day. They are also paid and trained to determine what legitimate harm is, and their primary duty is the safety of ALL people involved. Given that they were privately hired as security guards, I’m not even sure if they even had the legal standing to restrain him at all.

  13. Jennifer Campbell says:

    Bub’s reply only drives home exactly what DOJ wants….so much easier to blame this on DS rather than investigate this as what it is – a clear-cut homicide. But I stand with Jisun with her stance on the training. All due respect to Chief Scott and to Little Bird’s Dad…but even the consistent mentioning of “additional training” only links this further. Had this been just an average Joe (and I mean average – even sadly on the weight deal in today’s society), there might be an attempt to link Positional Asphyxia to the weight…but it is still at the end of the day a homicide where the “officers” (Rent-A-Cops in this case) decided on their own that it was easier for them to completely ignore their existing “day-job” training and completely skip the whole “de-escalation” part of the training. Throw him to the ground, hog-tie him (is this even DONE anymore???) and woops….damn – forgot to make sure he was still able to breathe. It is a complete slap in the face to all of us in the disabilities community and setting a horrible, dangerous precedence…and our nationals are only perpetuating it. The whole “training” part should be an internal affair for Fredrick County in reaction to three of their officers being charged with having committed a homicide.

    • jisun says:

      Thank you, Jennifer. I am truly torn up about this. I keep coming back to the fact that had he not had the face of Ds, I don’t think those men would have treated him this way. Perhaps we need more training after all; anti-discrimination, civil rights training.

      • Jennifer Campbell says:

        Unfortunately there is not enough training out there to combat societies idiotic thinking. For DOJ to underestimate us – that is not surprising…but our own Nationals should know better…there is nobody more fervent than true advocates for people with disabilities than those of us who know and love them. I’ve told people time and time again that I’m pretty sure the “stubborn” gene my son has was not from DS – he comes by it quite naturally :) Don’t dismay and keep up the fight, sister. This ain’t over.

        • Latke says:

          That’s the training angle that still eludes me— what Ds specific training are we taking about, and how does Saylor teach us it’s needed? Because he was heavy? Welcome to America. Because he didn’t like being touched by rent a cops? Count me in. Because he had cognitive differences? That’s probably the only thing Americans actually know about Ds. I hate to sound like a broken record, but perhaps someone can enlighten me here.

  14. Is “training” the word we want? What about raising the consciousness of the public, including police officers, on or off duty? Wonder what would have happened if the other movie patrons had yelled out that Saylor clearly needed some specialized help, and not to be man-handled? Wonder what would have happened if an ordinary citizen, who also happened to work at or be in the movie theater, had insisted that the caregiver be allowed to come in and direct actions to diffuse the situation?

    • jisun says:

      Yes, I absolutely agree! Thank you for your comment. Unfortunately, I have read quotes from the family’s lawyer in the media staying that the caregiver asked the men to wait to intervene, because Ethan’s mother was on the way to help. I’m not sure any amount of “training” would have stopped these three men from behaving with such an egregious disregard for common sense and compassion for any human being. I couldn’t agree more that our collective consciousness needs to change.

  15. Howard Roll says:

    9/10/13 – I’m late to the discussion but after a third of a million of us signed Emma Saylor’s petition for an independent investigation into her brother’s death it is still a live discussion. Someone posted Sheriff Jenkins’ e-mail on the Frederick Co FB page so I sent him a message. He responded, included a phone# and we eventually talked. I want to share what he told me hoping you and Chief Silverii and Little Bird’s Dad and others who have LE knowledge might have a sense whether it’s a direction toward meaningful change or just more fingerpointing. As he has said before, Sheriff Jenkins told me his deputies were up to date in the latest and greatest LE training. He said training materials are top-down, formulated and approved at the state before going to individual counties. He made it sound like nothing could be done to modify training materials until changes in training were adopted at the state level. To me it seems like the deputies ignored the whole use of force continuum concept once they had Ethan out of sight of the theatergoers, but I wasn’t there. So I’m wondering if advocating for changes to statewide LE training would be another avenue worth pursuing, and if so how to go about it. Cheers.

    • jisun says:

      Howard, I’m glad you commented. For purposes of this post and discussion, the fact that Jenkins is saying they had all the training they needed looks to me like a potential attempt at deflecting responsibility from his department in the case of a lawsuit. I believe that he is trying to assert that they had the right training and followed it, therefore, they did nothing wrong.

      I disagree, of course. As I understand after speaking to more than person in law enforcement, de-escalation is a FOUNDATIONAL tenet of policing. This is why I’m very frustrated at the discussion of disability training. I’ve come to feel that disability training could be very positive, IF done right. However, currently, I believe that it is not the time to discuss it publicly because I see it as coming at the cost of getting that independent investigation. I see that in the way O’Malley is jumping all over the training, but mum on the investigation. It looks as if he is hoping the training will make him look like a disability rights supporter, without having to shed any political blood over the investigation. Problem is, in my mind, the investigation is crucial and morally imperative. Truth and accountability first, and the rest will follow.

  16. howardroll@gmail.com says:

    Hello again, Jisun. Great to see you and LP taking your advocacy skills to DC! I saw your NDSS DC Buddywalk post and wondered if there has been any response yet from the DOJ. Then re-read the comments in this post, and wanted to put out a potentially inflammatory thought I just had about training. .

    Instead of giving LE officers whatever additional training it would require for them to realize that killing people is not an appropriate deescalation technique, might those training dollars be better spent on training the people who HIRE LE officers? What about some H.R. and management training, focused on advanced screening/evaluation methods for LE candidates, more probing psychological evaluations, simulated in situ scenarios. Cost and budget yadayada, certainly. But this kind of “training” might well result in higher-quality hires, and identify problem candidates before they became problem LEOs. If HR/mgt training allowed an agency to avoid even one lawsuit it would probably pay for itself many times over. Chief Silverii, LBD, others who know this arena – does the hiring process go far enough to screen out bad apples?

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