Robert Ethan Saylor, a 24-year-old man with Down syndrome, from New Market, Maryland, died while in police custody in what’s now being ruled a homicide. On Jan. 14, Saylor was arrested by local police officers after he refused to leave or buy a new ticket to see another movie at Regal Cinemas Westview Stadium 16 in Frederick, Maryland.
Saylor resisted deputies and became aggressive before he was handcuffed by the officers. Lt. Scott Jewell, Sgt. Rich Rochford, and Deputy First Class James Harris were identified as the three responding officers. After they handcuffed Saylor, he began having “health issues.” They removed the handcuffs and called emergency medical personnel.
According to the Office of the Chief Medical Examiner, Saylor’s official cause of death was asphyxiation. It’s being reported that Saylor’s head was put to the ground when the officers were handcuffing him, which may have been the main cause of asphyxiation.
Positional asphyxia is typically the result of an intense struggle and often involves a person who is handcuffed and lying on their stomach after the struggle. Kirkham said people often panic and can’t catch their breath. People with larger stomachs are particularly vulnerable, he said, because their bellies will push into their sternums, making breathing even more difficult.
The three officers involved with Saylor’s arrest are still on duty during the ongoing investigation.