The Spin Cycle – How Robert ‘Ethan’ Saylor Killed Himself

I have heard from a couple friends I should ‘write funny’ like I used to. I would love to do that for them and me. I can’t right now. Ethan Saylor’s death and what has transpired since makes ‘funny’ have to wait today.  I am a mother of a child who has Down syndrome.

Robert Ethan Saylor

Robert Ethan Saylor

I have written twice before about Ethan’s death.  In the first I was appalled that prior to the Grand Jury findings several theories were being offered for the death of Mr. Saylor – none of which included he might have been the victim of a violent encounter with three individuals who used excessive and deadly force.

In my second post I wrote about my frustration that a national organization that advocates on behalf of people with Down syndrome had made a preliminary assessment that he may have been compromised by his Down syndrome. (After Trayvon Martin was shot did the N.A.A.C.P. suggest to African-American males to discontinue wearing hoodies while visiting neighborhoods they are not known in?)

Since the Grand Jury findings – numerous news stories and posts have been written. One stands out from the Huffington Post. I can’t tell if it’s straight out victim blaming by the writer David Disneau or poorly written. Disneau seems to be indicating Ethan Saylor was a person whose time had just come. He offers everything but the kitchen sink and a grassy knoll toward that conclusion.

The story suggests Ethan was a fat, angry man with a bad heart and Down syndrome. He caused the four individuals involved (himself and the security personnel) to fall in a heap by resisting. The use of three sets of handcuffs was “to accommodate his girth”.

The Saylor family’s “lawyer Joseph B. Espo has said that Saylor didn’t like being touched, particularly by strangers”. Disneau seems to juxtapose this assessment in a really clunky way with the fact “Saylor’s obituary and acquaintances have portrayed him as a warm, playful person”. Could Ethan have had a fully dimensional personality – meaning he did not like to be touched by strangers and he was a warm, playful person – and nothing he did contributed to his death?

Is there an alternative reason for his death that had nothing to do with Down syndrome, weight, anger issues or a heart condition? There were four people involved in this violent encounter and one is dead. How about some reflection that at least one other analysis of the situation exists?

Has it never been true that individuals who were also police personnel have caused the unnecessary death of a person in their custody? What if these three  men simply went ape shit on a guy? Why are these individuals behavior not questioned? What if they were angry? What if they over-reacted? What if they were so out of control they killed Ethan Saylor?

Ethan is being examined because he is the Other in this situation – the one who was not a security officer; the one who had Down syndrome.

I have heard countless times from strangers, friends, family members, health professionals, teachers, therapists and professionals of all kinds the same stereotypical commentary on our son. Except they don’t described the behavior’s as attributable to Thorin.

Instead they say:

They sure are happy!”

They are stubborn aren’t they?”

Any parent of a child with Down syndrome knows exactly what I am talking about. They will not have to reach into some murky past to figure out the last time they heard those statements. They hear it all the time.

What I want to offer to those of you that are not aware you may even feel this way – Ethan Saylor was not different from us. He was a human being.

I also believe he may very likely be – our Michael Stewart, our Rodney King, and our Amadou Bailo Diallo. The reason I do not know for sure is that the only investigation into Ethan’s death was conducted by the same department that employed the three Frederick County sheriff’s deputies, who were moonlighting as mall security guards on that terrible day.


24 thoughts on “The Spin Cycle – How Robert ‘Ethan’ Saylor Killed Himself

      • I have a 17 year old who was once asked to leave a theatre after he refused to give the police officer on duty his name. His reply “You didn’t ask anyone else going in the theatre for their name” was greeted by an escort out of the building. AND, he is blonde-haired and blue-eyed, the “perfect Aryan” child. Apparently, he “looked like” someone else that had “caused trouble” at the theatre. Oh, yeah, I forgot to mention that he had longish hair (above his shoulders) and doesn’t take bullshit from anyone! That’s one of the many, many reasons I love him. AND, I have an 8 year old daughter with Down syndrome who I am often told (just like you mentioned!) “They sure are happy!”
        “They are stubborn aren’t they?”
        AND, I was once told by a special education teacher “They sure do like to eat a lot” after she stated “She probably has a good appetite!” By the way, not that it matters, but my daughter is within an “appropriate” BMI range.

        It’s all bullshit! My daughter is no less worthy of the same protections as all citizens. This story is making me crazy with RAGE! The “other” classification of humans should NOT be acceptable in our society.

        What are we going to do? Rather than risk imprisonment, I guess I will continue to write my goverment representatives and the local authority involved in the Saylor case to express my frustration and disgust. I THINK it may be time to “march on” somebody, somewhere, but I don’t have a large public form by which to address a national audience. (National Ds Leadership, where are YOU!!!????) I will “share” on FB, but don’t expect too many passionate responses, UNLESS they too have experience with being or having someone in their life or family that is classified as an “other.” Additionally, I will continue to fight like hell for my “other” in hopes that someday everyone can be a “someone!”

  1. Thank you for writing about this. That article made me furious! Like you say, they offer every excuse possible as a “contribution” to his death EXCEPT the three people who actually were a part of the situation.

  2. To paraphrase Reservoir Dogs- “If he hadn’t done what they told him not to do they wouldn’t have had to kill him.”
    Is this really where we are in this country? Security people have a tough job and I empathize with that. I’ll even cut them some slack, but that slack ends when a victim is killed.
    Deescalation training is a must.
    I appreciate your radicalism on this issue, Kari.

  3. Apeshit-my exact sentiments-and I am a card carrying conservative Republican who claims Christ as her Savior and King. What were they thinking? I also happen to be the mother of a child who was born with ds. He can will himself to weigh twice as much as he does. Is that going to cost him his life someday? I’ve not been able to put my finger on why it aggravates the you-know-what out of me when others talk to me about Lou and say “They …this and they that…..” Now, I know why it makes me so mad. Nobody likes to be grouped in with a bunch of people and hear sweeping generalizations.I appreciate your clear thinking. From one mom to another, THANKS!

  4. As a friend of Patti’s from our college days, I’ve been following this story from a distance. I never had the opportunity to meet Ethan, but I had enjoyed seeing pictures and mini vignets on facebook. The type of reconnection that I’ve been able to make with many friends. When the story of Ethan’s death, and the horrid circumstances surrounding it, came to light among mutual friends I was distraught. This has morphed into an anger about what happened, and the actions taken since that time. I have prayerd for Patti and her family, for others facing challenges that others will not understand, and for those in power to do the right thing. I will continue to do so, and pass the story along hoping it will open the eyes, and minds of others.

  5. My funny is pretty much on hold at the moment, too. I have been begging, pleading, screaming for people to “get” that this is a human rights issue and not a Down syndrome issue. Most people still don’t get this, but I believe that they will. I have to see the tiny speck of good in that I think the horrible spark that is Ethan’s death is igniting a larger flame. We have to go with it and see that it is never extinguished until we have justice.

  6. It’s shameful that such a tragedy be allowed to happen without investigation by anyone other than the law enforcement department for whom these individuals work. Unfortunately, prejudice is not dead in this country as much as we wish it were or some claim it is. Shameful that these people are not taught to act professionally when “taking down a suspect” or whatever they would like to refer to Ethan as. Prejudice against people with Down Syndrome is one of the most prevelent forms of prejudice there is. It simply doesn’t get the attention that other forms of prejudice do. No one deserves to die the way Ethan did and it is inexcusable that nothing is being done about it by any branch of law enforcement. I don’t have any ready answers save that we keep talking, keep enlightening others to what has happened and question the ways in which it was not handled. Perhaps a sympathetic, reputable politician may be helpful, if one can be found. My sympathies are with Ethan’s family and with the others whose lives he touched. Keep up the good fight, someday it will be won!

  7. This is very sad…..can they sleepat nite ? Bet not,actually I hope they are haunted by this forever Ethan deserved the same respect afforded anyone else. One other commenter said RAGE very well put,that is exactly how I feel.

  8. Two words……. ok three …… Stupid fucking Animals……. To place such stereotypes on any person like that is discrimination in itself. Stubborn? Happy?, hmmm Sounds like an OXY moron to me. The force used on a obvious person with some sort of special needs, is disgusting. The three idiots couldnt come up with a better plan that how they handled the situation? I hope they are charged with hate crimes, murder 1, aggravated battery and assault using deadly force, and never see the light of day again. This is one fucked up world when three supposed “Normal” men, do this to a disabled individual. They don not have to answer to us, but a much higher God, and I hope they get anything and everything that they have coming to them. PIGS,

  9. I too am angry about this. You are right, why is no real attention being given to the fact that excessive force was used which resulted in Robert’s death? End of story. I have had a bit of a look on the Internet and it seems MUCH research has been done about these exact situations, due to previous deaths in custody, which is why MANY Police no longer use hogtie methods of restraint PARTICULARLY in a situation where a persons breathing may already by compromised by the heightened emotion of the situation or an arrest where there may have been a pursuit. Those 3 men are at fault and justice needs to prevail! I will be writing to all the appropriate authorities in the hope to help bring justice for Robert and his family. Although we all know the only real justice would have been for this to have never happened.

  10. Please sign the petition on the White House web page:
    Also, please write to the National Council on Disabilities. Lawrence for the National Council on Disability LCarterLong@NCD.GOV .
    We can not let this stand. We must Stand with Robert now and tomorrow and the day after that.

    The petition:
    we petition the obama administration to:
    Direct the DOJ & FBI to investigate whether civil rights violations & police brutality led to the death of Ethan Saylor.

    Ethan Saylor was a 26 yr old man with Down Syndrome. In Jan 2013, watching a movie, his chaperone told him to wait in the theater while she got the car.

    A theater employee called mall police since Ethan hadn’t bought a 2nd ticket. 3 off-duty sheriffs responded.

    They dragged Ethan from the theater, hog-tied him with 3 sets of handcuffs, held him down with their weight, ignored the health-care worker that told them she had the situation under control, & intimidated others trying to render aid. Ethan suffocated to death. His final words: “I Want my Mommy”.

    We ask you, as our President and as a father, to express your condolences to the Saylor family, and to direct the FBI and DOJ to investigate whether Ethan’s civil rights were violated, & whether police brutality caused his death.

    Do your moral duty for Robert… sign the petition today… now.


  11. i didnt tell anyone .. my child had down Syndrome…. to me it wasnt a requirement … shouldnt be a requirement and didnt want anyone to treat my boy differently.
    All children are individuals. This was just part of his individualism.
    i even had my brothers social services wife get angry at me for doing so. Telling me how she has dealt with many children like my son…Saying am i ashamed of him …
    to which i replied… No I’m ashamed of you! and the numerous others who want to classify my boy in any way other than He is My Boy.
    This story about Ethan is exactly what i fear my boy will experience at some point in his life. I have never seen a clearer case of manslaughter before in my life. They killed a man. Its that simple. they must be held accountable.No parents son should go through that treatment.
    I cant stop crying as i hear those final words “I want my mommy”

    • Ethan Saylor’s death was tragic and painful. I agree heartbreaking. You are right no one wants to hear they should be ashamed of their child.

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