Wednesday, July 10, 2013

What happened to Robert Ethan Saylor?

WITH EVERY passing day, the appearance grows that Frederick County officials, especially the sheriff, Charles Jenkins, have something to hide in the case of a man with Down syndrome who died in a scuffle with law enforcement officers.
The movie-theater confrontation between Robert Ethan Saylor and off-duty sheriff’s deputies over an unpaid $12 movie ticket occurred nearly six months ago. There has still been no adequate public accounting of the events surrounding this senseless incident, which was ruled a homicide resulting from asphyxia.
Mr. Jenkins promised transparency, vowing that “all the facts will be presented when the investigation is complete.” What can he be waiting for?
An editorial on Mr. Saylor’s tragic Jan. 12 death appeared on this page last month. We return to the topic because in the interim, prosecutors in Alexandria have provided a counter-example of transparency and accountability in an incident that took place at about the same time. Mr. Jenkins could glance across the Potomac and take a lesson.In the Alexandria case, city police, responding to a domestic disturbance in February, fired 37 shots, killing Taft Sellers, who apparently pointed a loaded pistol at them. On Monday, the Alexandria commonwealth’s attorney, S. Randolph Sengel, released a 30-page report that provided extensive details, including witness statements and the accounts of seven Alexandria police officers at the scene, in support of the conclusion that the officers’ actions were justified.
Citizens of Alexandria can read Mr. Sengel’s report and reach their own conclusions about the death of Mr. Sellers, a former Marine who had suggested to family and friends that he planned to commit suicide. Citizens of Frederick County deserve the same consideration in the death of Mr. Saylor, 26, who was unarmed at the time of his death and was regarded as harmless by virtually everyone who knew him.
In March, a grand jury determined that no criminal charges against the officers involved in Mr. Saylor’s death were warranted. So why not release the results of the investigation that shed light on the officers’ actions — specifically, the statements of moviegoers who may have witnessed the altercation? For what possible reason do these accounts remain secret? Were they even presented to the grand jury?
Just two days before Mr. Saylor’s death, Frederick County deputies shot to death Daniel Vail, 19, who was a suspect in a home invasion. The sheriff’s office asserts that Mr. Vail pointed a shotgun at deputies when they executed a no-knock warrant at his mother’s home around 1 a.m. on Jan. 10. Mr. Vail’s mother and a lawyer for the family dispute that account. There are reports of a grand jury investigation, but precious little information has been made public.
The use of deadly force is exceedingly rare, even in big-city police departments. Back-to-back fatalities involving sheriff’s deputies in a county the size of Frederick is rarer still. Mr. Jenkins, the public deserves answers.

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