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Advocacy Groups Want Investigation Into Death Of Man With Down Syndrome

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Robert Ethan Saylor
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Meghan McCorkell joined the Eyewitness News team in July 2011 as a...
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FREDERICK, Md. (WJZ) — It’s a case that made national headlines. A Frederick County man with Down syndrome died in police custody and no charges were filed against the deputies. Now the Department of Justice may step in.

Meghan McCorkell has the latest on a meeting held this week.

National advocacy groups have met twice with the Department of Justice calling for an independent investigation into the death of Ethan Saylor.

The death of Ethan Saylor has sparked nationwide outrage. The 26-year-old, who had Down syndrome, refused to leave a Frederick movie theater in January. Three sheriff’s deputies working as security guards say Saylor was combative so they handcuffed him and put him on the ground.

“He has never had anybody put their hands on him before in his life,” said Ethan’s mother, Patti Saylor.

The deputies claim Saylor was only facedown at the movie theater for about one to two minutes before he started experiencing distress. They started CPR but Saylor died at the hospital. The medical examiner ruled it homicide by asphyxiation, but last month, a grand jury declined to indict the officers.

“They felt that no further investigation was necessary to make a decision on the criminality of the deputies’ conduct,” said Frederick County State’s Attorney J. Charles Smith.

Now advocates for people with developmental disabilities are calling on the Department of Justice to launch an independent investigation.

Sara Weir with the National Down Syndrome Society spoke with WJZ via Skype.

“We felt something obviously went wrong that evening in the movie theater and we need to get to the bottom of this,” Weir said.

Two meetings have been held with DOJ officials. A petition calling for charges in the case has more than 8,500 signatures.

“We just need to ensure that this never happens to a member of the Down syndrome community ever again,” Weir said.

They’re hoping an investigation leads to change.

According to an autopsy report, Saylor did have several health problems–including a heart condition that contributed to his death.

Officials with the Department of Justice say they are gathering information in the Saylor case.

An attorney for the Saylor family did not want to comment on the latest developments.

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