Thursday, February 21, 2013

Justice for Robert Ethan Saylor

File Under:  For Great Justice

What could have saved the life of this young man who apparently  just loves books and good movies?

On January 12, Robert Ethan Saylor, 26, was asphyxiated and subsequently died after being handcuffed and placed face-down on the ground by 3 off-duty officers when he refused to leave a movie theater in Frederick, MD.  I've been following this story for several days WAITING to see what the authorities would do.  However seeing the emotion-filled misinformation put forth on the internet, I felt it important to point out several things.  Subsequent to the coroner's findings of homicide (as part of the police investigation the findings of which will be forwarded to the state attorney's office for formal charges) the 3 officers involved have been suspended. [1]  For your own benefit know this: by law police officers are police 24 hours a day, 7 days a week, and 365 days a year.  So long as they've identified themselves to you as police and are acting as police, they have the authority to enforce the law -- including issuing citations or detaining/arresting people.  They have this authority even if they are not on the clock and not in uniform.  The officers in this case were in uniform, had identified themselves as police, and since Mr. Saylor was breaking the law, the police were not acting in a personal capacity or on behalf of their secondary employer.  The fact that they were moonlighting as security guards is immaterial.

The state's attorney would probably have a hard time proving excessive force, unless witness testimony says something to the effect that the victim was slammed or thrown to the ground, and forcefully held there -- or something worse.  It does not seem as if the victim was roughed up.  Subduing, handcuffing, and allowing a suspect to rest in the position that initiated Saylor's respiratory distress is common practice.  Saylor was probably hyperventilating from emotional and physical excitement, and he asphyxiated when his lungs were not able to get air due to his position.  The police did not act with malice or intent to harm Saylor, but there direct actions preceded the event that caused his death.  That leaves the possibility of involuntary manslaughter being leveled against them, and the state would have to prove their actions were reckless, negligent, and/or criminal.  Reckless seeming to us maybe, but I do not believe it rises to the legal definition of the word, nor were their actions criminal as they were acting under the color of law.  That leaves negligent, which possibly could be proven if A ) a reasonable person could foresee their actions resulting in Saylor death or B ) they did not follow established procedure in detaining Saylor or C ) they did not intervene once Saylor began to go into respiratory distress.

Determining the difference between justified and excessive use of force is not always black and white.

I do not see convictions for the officers resulting from this.  At this point I do know if that is the just thing or not.  Suspensions (obviously) possibly without pay, and other disciplinary action probably will occur.  A civil action is unlikely also because that would require the police to be acting outside of their authority by either acting as private citizens or exerting excessive force (voiding police protection).  At most Regal Cinemas and the Police will come forward with very public apologies and large voluntary compensation to the Saylor family.  If one thing absolutely must come out of this, police agencies nationwide must conduct a review of arrest/detention procedures and comprehensive, updated sensitivity training with a focus on the mentally ill and developmentally disabled.  It is time for people to stop dying after the police get involved.

Excessive Use of Force

Criminally Negligent Homicide

We have to allow the authorities to continue their investigation into the facts of the case, though I wish the authorities investigating this young man's death were not the same police that employ the 3 suspended officers.   I am deeply saddened that Robert Saylor is no longer with us, and gone at such a young age.  Until the all the facts are known, and maybe not even then, it is not fair to demonize Regal Cinemas as a whole or the employee as an individual. The man's death is tragic enough as it is without inventing reasons and motivations to make it even more so.  I have to realize in my current condition, the same thing could have happened to me.


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