(NaturalNews) To say he was killed over a movie ticket is startling enough, but when you know 26-year-old Robert Ethan Saylor, who suffered from Down Syndrome, likely died at the hands of police is, frankly, disheartening.
According to reports, Saylor, of New Market, MD., died in January after officers forcibly removed him from a theater for refusing to leave after he had already watched a movie. Initially, the death was ruled as accidental but now, following an autopsy by the Chief Medical Examiner's Office in Baltimore that revealed he was asphyxiated, authorities have changed his death to a homicide.
Cpl. Jennifer Bailey, a spokeswoman for the Frederick County Sheriff's Office, said the circumstances of Saylor's death, which occurred while he was in the custody of off-duty sheriff's deputies, is still under investigation.
What's more clear; however, are the circumstances that led to his apparent strangulation.
"Saylor died Jan. 12 after he was forcibly removed from the Regal Cinemas Westview Stadium 16 when employees said he refused to either leave the theater or buy another ticket after having already seen a movie," the Frederick News Post reported.
The paper said Saylor resisted deputies and was briefly handcuffed, according to reports from the sheriff's office, which had described circumstances leading to Saylor's death as a medical emergency.
Deputies, according to reports, removed the handcuffs from Saylor as emergency medical personnel responded. The Down Syndrome sufferer was taken to a local hospital where he was pronounced dead.
The deputies who were with Saylor at the time of his death, Lt. Scott Jewell, Sgt. Rich Rochford and Deputy First Class James Harris, are presently working their normal assignments as the case is investigated. The deputies were working a second job with Hill Management at the theater complex.
The paper said former law enforcement officer Dr. George Kirkham, who is currently a professor of criminology at Florida State University, said it appears as though Saylor might have suffered from a phenomenon known as "positional asphyxia:"
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.
"People get into almost like a drowning swimmer panic, and they're just fighting for their lives," Kirkham said. "Their cardiovascular system is just going wild."
The expert also told the paper the phenomenon is well known to police and that those who are on drugs or who otherwise have mental issues could be more susceptible to it. Bailey, the department's spokeswoman, said deputies are trained to deal with positional asphyxia.
In an ironic twist, according to Saylor's obituary, the deceased had a strong interest in learning about police and security agencies.
"More than anything, Ethan loved his family, his friends, his loyal and caring staff, and his cat Gracie (Fireball)," the obituary read. "Ethan was a loved and cherished member of Damascus Road Community Church, where he participated in the men's Choir. Ethan was known by the congregation as 'the best hugger' and was warmly embraced by all."
'They could eventually be placed on administrative leave'
The deputies have claimed their rights under the Law Enforcement Officer's Bill of Rights and have not made statements in the case, according to Bailey.
She added that the decision to keep the deputies in their current duty status comes from confusion surrounding Saylor's death. She said the case is significantly different from an officer-involved shooting, in which the connection between deputies' actions and the end result is much clearer.
"In this case, the investigators are still working to determine what caused Mr. Saylor's death," Bailey said, adding that eventually the deputies could be placed on administrative leave.