Civil Liberties

Lawsuit Filed Over Off-Duty Sheriff's Deputies' Killing of Down's Syndrome Man at Movie Theater

Autopsy ruled the death a homicide by asphyxiation


no charges in death by asphyxiation
family photo

Robert Saylor, who had Down's Syndrome, died in January when three off-duty sheriff's deputies working mall security in Frederick County, Maryland tried to pull the 290-pound-man out of a movie theater, tackling him. An aide had warned the cops that touching Saylor, who had returned to see "Zero Dark Thirty" he liked a second time without buying a second ticket, would cause him to "freak out." The coroner ruled his death homicide by asphyxiation, concluding he wouldn't have died if the off-duty deputies hadn't intervened. Nevertheless, a grand jury declined to indict them.

Now, Saylor's family is suing the movie theater and the deputies, claiming their son "died a violent, terrifying, and painful death" because of their negligence. The lawsuit also targets the sheriff's office, which was accused of stonewalling the investigation into Saylor's killing, and Frederick County. An attorney for the sheriff's office insists Saylor's death was an "accident" and suggested damage to his Adam's apple may have been caused by paramedics trying to insert a breathing tube, not by the off-duty cops.

The Department of Justice was looking into the killing as early as March, and reportedly informed the sheriff's office over the summer that it was opening a civil rights investigation into Saylor's killing, but has not made a more recent announcement about the case.