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Sister Of Disabled Man Who Died In Police Custody Continues Fight For Justice

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Derek Valcourt began working at WJZ in September 2002. His first major...
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FREDERICK, Md. (WJZ) — Renewed calls for an independent investigation regarding a Frederick County man with Down syndrome who died while in police custody.

Derek Valcourt has the latest from the victim’s sister.

Law enforcement officials say Ethan Saylor’s death was a tragic accident, but his family members say they want to see an unbiased, closer look at the case.

Emma Saylor still grieves for the death of her 26-year-old brother with Down syndrome, Ethan Saylor.

“There’s always going to be a chair here where he won’t be sitting. I will never again have a big brother,” she said.

It was January when Ethan tried to watch a movie at a Frederick theater for a second time without paying for a second ticket when three sheriff’s deputies forcibly removed him from the theater. He died as they held him to the ground to handcuff him.

The medical examiner ruled it a homicide by positional asphyxiation. The sheriff says his men did no wrong.

“By all accounts, there was not excessive force,” said Sheriff Charles Jenkins, Frederick County.

“Ethan did not have the ability to give three or four sentences of explanation. He just didn’t have that language ability,” his mother said.

When a grand jury refused to indict the deputies, Emma Saylor launched an online petition, generating 340,000 signatures they delivered to the governor demanding attention to her brother’s case.

Now she’s taking her fight online, talking to activists in radio blogs.

“Ethan didn’t die because he stopped breathing. He died because he had a fractured cartilage in his throat. We want to know how that happened,” Emma Saylor said.

WJZ obtained the lengthy incident report from investigators, detailing what witnesses say they saw in the theater on the day Ethan died. One witness says two officers were holding Ethan to the ground. A third deputy had one knee on Ethan’s lower back.

“His larynx, which is your voice box, was fractured and there was blood found in his throat, in his lungs and his nose. None of that is explained in the report anywhere,” Emma said.

“There needs to be an independent investigation,” said Gail Zahtz, host, Health and Design Today.

Activist Gail Zahtz adding to the growing online “Justice for Ethan” movement.

“This was not even about Down syndrome. This could have been anyone’s child the way it happened,” she said.

So far, Governor O’Malley has agreed better police training is needed to prevent instances like this, but only said he would think about opening an independent investigation.

For more information on Ethan Saylor’s case, click here.

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