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Family Wants Answers After Developmentally Disabled Son Dies In Police Custody

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Meghan McCorkell joined the Eyewitness News team in July 2011 as a...
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FREDERICK, Md. (WJZ) — A developmentally disabled man died after sheriff’s deputies removed him from a movie theater. Now his death has been ruled a homicide. The case has gotten national attention.

Meghan McCorkell has more on what happened and why.

The incident happened more than a month ago. Now the medical examiner has ruled Ethan Saylor died from asphyxia while in police custody.

Investigators say security was called when 26-year-old Ethan Saylor, who had Down Syndrome, refused to leave a Frederick movie theater.

Off-duty deputies Lt. Scott Jewell, Sgt. Rick Rochford and Deputy First Class James Harris put Saylor in handcuffs, face-down. That’s when police say he suffered a medical emergency and died.

“He has never had anybody put their hands on him before in his life. He would not have been doing anything threatening to anybody,” said Ethan’s mother, Patti Saylor.

The case has sparked outrage, with hundreds commenting on the sheriff’s Facebook page. The sheriff issued a letter, saying in part, “The death of Mr. Saylor was very tragic and I want to assure everyone that a thorough investigation is being conducted.”

The three deputies have been placed on administrative leave pending the results of the investigation. For the past month, they’ve been on the job.

“The family doesn’t and I don’t understand why they were not placed on administrative leave immediately upon the death of someone who was in custody,” said Joseph Espo, the family’s attorney.

Ethan Saylor was a beloved church member. His pastor says he was known for giving hugs to everyone who walked through the door.

“The week after he died, the seat that he sat in was covered in flowers. Dozens of people had brought flowers to remember Ethan,” said Damascus Road Community Church Pastor Richard Fredericks.

Now friends, family and even strangers want answers about what happened.

The sheriff’s office has received so many calls about Ethan Saylor’s death, they are considering setting up a call center just to deal with this case.

The sheriff’s office is conducting the investigation into the death. Their finding will be sent to the state’s attorney, who will determine if charges will be filed against the deputies.

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