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Maryland Death Leads to State Task Force

September 19, 2013

ANNAPOLIS, MD (September 19, 2013) -- The death of a man with Down syndrome while in police custody has prompted Maryland Governor Martin O'Malley to create a task force to improve training for law enforcement, paramedics and first responders in dealing with episodes involving individuals with intellectual and developmental disabilities (IDD).

O'Malley created the task force after a grand jury declined to bring charges against three Frederick County sheriff's deputies involved in the January death of Robert Ethan Saylor. Saylor, 26, was handcuffed by the sheriff's officers after Saylor refused to leave his seat in a movie theatre and died of asphyxiation that was found to have been brought on by his Down syndrome. The sheriff's officers were moonlighting as security guards.

"I join the multitude of people in Maryland and across the country who mourn this loss of life and who seek ways to ensure that nothing like this ever happens again,” said O’Malley. “As a State, we know that there is still progress to be made to ensure that the dignity of every individual is protected.”

O'Malley's move prompted The New York Times to editorialize how Saylor's death "has exposed gaping deficiencies in law-enforcement training, which often fails to distinguish between mental illness and mental disability. Mr. Saylor might have been stubborn and argumentative, but he was not mentally ill or a criminal. Those who know him insist that the encounter could have been defused with patience and sensitivity."

By Executive Order, O'Malley created the Maryland Commission for Effective Community Inclusion of Individuals with Intellectual and Developmental Disabilities. Dr. Timothy P. Shriver, chairman & CEO of the Special Olympics, was named as chair.

The commission is required to submit an initial report, addressing statewide law enforcement guidelines and statewide training standards, by January 9, 2014, which would have been Saylor’s 27th birthday. The commission is charged with recommending statewide policies or best practices regarding law enforcement and first responders’ responses to situations involving individuals with IDD; and developing a strategy to ensure enhanced responses to such situations, such as expanding Crisis Intervention Teams and Mobile Crisis Teams.

Over 90,000 Marylanders have intellectual or developmental disabilities, such as autism.