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Woman Testifies Before Senators About Son’s Death In Police Custody

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Patti Saylor
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Derek Valcourt began working at WJZ in September 2002. His first major...
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WASHINGTON (WJZ) — A grieving mother turns her pain into advocacy. Tuesday, a Frederick County woman testified on Capitol Hill about the death of her son Ethan–who had Down syndrome–in the custody of Frederick County deputies last year.

Derek Valcourt explains Patti Saylor is hoping to enact changes in how law enforcement responds to disabled Americans.

She stood before members of a Senate subcommittee detailing what happened to her son and asking senators to take a stand for Ethan.

“I want to tell you that I’m here as a grieving mother,” said Patti Saylor.

Saylor took her grief before a Senate Judiciary subcommittee. Her 26-year-old son Ethan–who had Down syndrome–died in January of last year after he refused to leave a Frederick County movie theater, insisting he watch the movie he’d just seen again.

Sheriff’s deputies tried to forcibly remove him from the theater. He stopped breathing as they held him down to the floor to handcuff him.

“Ethan was not escalated. He was not threatening. He was not in crisis. He had a problem that needed solving. `How do I stay and watch the movie when my aide is telling me it’s time to go home?’ I would have solved that problem in literally, absolutely five minutes,” she said.

Saylor’s advocacy in Maryland has already led to the creation of a special commission now forming training guidelines to help law enforcement interact with the developmentally disabled.

“We want to know from people across the state what they believe law enforcement needs to know and what training Maryland should be doing,” said Maryland Disabilities Secretary Catherine Raggio.

In Frederick County, sheriff’s deputies are already undergoing specialized training to help them interact with someone with an intellectual disability.

Patti Saylor told senators that kind of training could save lives across the country.

“And you could be extremely helpful on the federal level,” she said.

While the three deputies have been cleared of criminal liability in Saylor’s death, they have been named in a civil lawsuit filed by the family.

The National Down Syndrome Society recently named Patti Saylor their advocate of the year.

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