Right Versus Easy: #JusticeForEthan

I know I have written about Robert Ethan Saylor’s homicide many, many times.  I’ve written about Ds awareness.  I’ve written about training.  I’ve written about action.  Feels like I’ve hashed and rehashed my feelings on what happened.  Yet.  Somethin’ is a botherin’ me.

There has been no progress on the push for an impartial investigation.  State’s Attorney (SA) Charlie Smith’s “failure” to get a grand jury indictment was a very effective roadblock.

What happens in a grand jury?  A group of citizens sits in a room and listens to the prosecutor’s opinion on whether there is merit to the case.  No media, no lawyers for the witnesses, no lawyers for the accused.  Just Charlie Smith, making his case.  Not only that, grand juries often stay together for months at a time.  They see the same prosecutor(s) over and over again.  Jokes are made.  Familiarity is fostered.  The same prosecutor collaborates with the police, every day, on every case.   You can bet that prosecutors think long and hard before trying to indict a cop of any crime; indicting a cop is not an easy road.

Generally speaking, grand jury indictments are only mandatory in the federal system; in order to pursue criminal charges, Charlie Smith didn’t need the indictment at all.  Charlie Smith threw the game.  Then the Frederick County Sheriff, Chuck Jenkins, said, “Our findings in the internal investigation mirror those of the grand jury.”  Well what a surprise.  Your own investigation into your own men finds no wrongdoing.  What is right?  Submitting to an independent investigation.  What is easy?  Blaming Ds and walking away.

Everybody link arms.  Stick together; this will blow over.

The damage has been done.  In order to push the SA to charge those three men or have the Attorney General Doug Gansler do an independent investigation, our big national Ds organizations would have to expend a fair amount of political capital.  Realistically, who is to say they’d even succeed.

That begs the question, what do the National Down Syndrome Society (NDSS), the National Down Syndrome Congress (NDSC), and F.R.I.E.N.D.S. (the local Frederick affiliate of the NDSS and NDSC) seem to care very much about?  Training.

I’ve especially been scratching my head over the NDSS and NDSC efforts on this case.  Two letters, meetings (from which no action seems to have arisen), and support of two online petitions does not sound like a whole lot to me.  The petitions aren’t even on the front page of NDSS’s webpage; I had to run a search to find them.  The first post on the NDSS’s Facebook page is a plug for its own “My Great Story” contest.  I just cannot swallow the idea that an organization with an operating budget of over $2 million dollars a year couldn’t do more.  Meanwhile, they have had ample time to begin the creation of their own first responder guidelines and training modules before the public even knows the facts surrounding Ethan’s death.  What, if any, “training” would have made a difference that day?

I understand.  Push the investigation, risk making a lot of people upset, and possibly fail anyways.  Talk about prevention and the road forward, however, and then it looks like real work is being done.  Heck, maybe real work is being done, but my point is that it is the wrong work. It is certainly easier to talk about training.

There may even be criminally exonerating findings resulting from an independent investigation could have negative implications for a civil lawsuit on behalf of the Saylor family.  Why expend all that resource for so much risk?  A quick search reveals this case of excessive force awarded $1.2 million for burns resulting from a flash-bang grenade used by on-duty police officers.  Ethan was killed by off-duty officers.  Ethan’s wrongful death could result in a very large monetary payout.  Maybe there’d be a training component in any settlement as well. I must wonder aloud, however, who stands to gain from this money?

Training is big business.  From development, consultation, and delivery, people get paid.  Why do the NDSS, the NDSC, and F.R.I.E.N.D.S seem so intent on getting their training ducks in a row before learning of all the facts?  I fear that even managing and directing the training effort funded by that money is enough to entirely subvert any desire to obtain an independent investigation.  Again.  Right vs. Easy.

Let me be clear: I am not 100% against all training; I am against Down syndrome specific training.  I am against holding out this yet-to-be-explained training to our community’s saddened, scared parents as if it will prevent future tragedy, when we don’t even fully know what happened.  I know it is easier to talk about training.  But it ain’t right.

What’s more, I keep hearing the Saylor name invoked.  The family is working with so and so, such and such group speaks for the family, the family wants this, the family wants that… What is the truth?

I can only write about what I see. Instead of calling out loudly for justice, our leadership seems intent on developing an unspecified training program to prevent a situation in which the details still remain unknown.  The promise of money and image has stacked the deck against seeking truth and justice.  I see our own leadership leaning away from what is right and choosing what is easier.

Please tell me that I’m wrong.  I would like to be wrong.


The NDSS is hosting a town hall style telephone meeting on Tuesday, April 23rd.  Details here.  Call in.  Ask the hard questions.  Ask for more push towards obtaining an independent investigation.  Ask them what they will do to prevent their training from further stigmatizing those with Ds.  Ask for more.  Ask.  Then ask again.

9 Comments on “Right Versus Easy: #JusticeForEthan”

  1. Extranjera says:

    With everything that we do know, there is no way anyone without an agenda could be happy with ‘unspecified training’. It just gets murkier and murkier.

    • jisun says:

      I keep coming back to this. What, for Pete’s sake, are they planning on saying in these trainings? How am I supposed to support something that has yet to be determined?

  2. TUC says:

    Excellent analysis of what possibly happened in this case. Agree with you completely about the training issues. I really wish the #JusticeForEthan would be front and center and then after that we could figure out if there was something that could be fixed with “training”. Right now it feels like this is simply sidetracking a horrible crime to get an agenda through.

  3. Deborah Gunter says:

    Yet another clear and well reasoned response to the DSO org problem. Do they really advocate for citizens with Down syndrome or do they promote their own interests for more money, power, prestige, and contact with celebrities or even just acting gigs for their children, among other interests? I see what minor advocacy they actually perform as being a result of constant, unrelenting pressure from parents who are not interested in the old model of using people with DS as self aggrandizing props but who seek for people with DS to be treated with the same dignity and respect due t every individual. Please keep writing. Please keep advocating. We have to keep fighting.

  4. Crystal S says:

    I feel the same Jisun….that I keep talking about this (with what little extra time I have) but no one is listening! I’m going to try to get in on the phone call on my lunch break today. VERY interested in what’s going to be said.

  5. Crystal S says:

    Ha Jisun–good to hear you today! I only got to stay on the phone for an hour because I had to go back to work. I hate I wasn’t able to stay on the whole time. I’m sure it will get summed up somewhere though.

    • jisun says:

      I’m glad you were on that call, Crystal. I’d be curious to hear what kind of message you heard from that call. I did not hear reassuring things.

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