Nationwide outrage following the failure of grand juries to indict police officials for killing civilians in the cases of Michael Brown and Eric Garner has highlighted the flaws in the grand jury system.
Specifically, the conflict of interest inherent in tasking a public prosecutor with investigating his colleagues in the police department, upon whom he is reliant in every other case.
One such case has returned to public attention thanks to grizzly similarities with the choking death of Eric Garner by NYPD officers. On January 12, 2013, Frederick County sheriff’s deputies killed Ethan Saylor, a 5-foot 6-inch tall, 26-year-old man with Down Syndrome. Like Eric Garner, he died of asphyxia.
On that day, Ethan had gone to Westview Cinemas in Frederick, Maryland, to watch Zero Dark Thirty with his 18-year-old caregiver. After watching the movie, Ethan, who had the mental capacity of a small child, wandered back into the theater to watch the movie again.
The manager told Ethan and his caregiver to buy a ticket or leave, but Ethan, in a fit of childlike stubbornness, didn’t want to stand up. His caregiver told the manager, “Yes, we are having a little issue, I’ll handle it. We just have to be patient.”
But the manager called mall security to have Ethan removed by force. Frederick county sheriff’s deputies Lieutenant Scott Jewell, Sergeant Rich Rochford and Deputy First Class James Harris, who were moonlighting at the theater, grabbed Ethan out of his chair. The aide implored the deputies not to touch him, but they ignored her.
The deputies put three pairs of handcuffs on Ethan and frog-marched him toward the exit ramp. On the ramp, Ethan and the deputies fell down, one of them on top of Ethan. One deputy had his knee in Ethan’s back. His last words were “Mommy, it hurt!”.
At some point, the deputies crushed Ethan’s larynx, causing him to asphyxiate.
A grand just announced on Friday that they will not indict a Maryland police officer who killed an unarmed man who had Down Syndrome
“They felt no further investigation was necessary,” Frederick County State’s Attorney J. Charles Smith, said about the death of Robert Ethan Saylor, 26. Smith explained at a news conference just outside of the county courthouse, that “no crime had been committed.”
Police justified their killing by explaining that Saylor, who has Down Syndrome, verbally and physically resisted their attempts to remove him from the theater, and because of his large size, the officers say they had to use three sets of handcuffs on him and placed him on his stomach for “one to two minutes.” When he showed signs of distress, officers said they administered CPR and other First Aid. However, back in February, the Chief Medical Examiner’s Office in Baltimore said that Saylor’s death was a homicide resulting from asphyxia.
The State’s Attorney concluded obesity and heart disease made Ethan “susceptible to death,”but neglected to explain how Ethan’s heart disease crushed his larynx.
As with Eric Garner, the medical examiner ruled Ethan Saylor’s death a homicide, and like Eric Garner, his killers were cleared of wrongdoing by a grand jury headed by their colleague, the public prosecutor.