BALTIMORE (WJZ) — A man with Down syndrome who died while being restrained by police four years ago has led to training changes for law enforcement in Maryland.
Alex DeMetrick reports, it’s also prompted training for those with special needs on how to deal with police.
In 2013, 26-year-old Ethan Saylor stopped breathing after Frederick County Sheriff’s Office deputies restrained him in a movie theater, which he refused to leave.
Because of his Down syndrome, Saylor’s behavior was interpreted as aggressive by the deputies.
A video that gives advice like “never try to touch the gun or any other weapon that belongs to a police officer” is part of “Be Safe Training,” which also includes direct interaction between Baltimore County Police and students with special needs at the Hannah More campus is Reisterstown, one of Sheppard Pratt’s 14 special education day schools.
The purpose of this training is to get the groups to get to know each other and learn more about interacting with each other.
“How to stay safe,” says Dr. Chip Maust of the Sheppard Pratt Health System. “Things not to do, and that the officer is always there for support at the end of the day.”
It’s very much a two-way street for students and officers.
“They keep everyone safe, and that’s why today we have the Be Safe Program, I’m guessing,” says student Robbie Whitcomb.
“When we have our encounters in the future with kids or adults with special needs, to better interpret what’s going on and evaluate it and respond more accordingly,” says Lt. Douglas McManus.
For most officers in Maryland, that training takes place in department classrooms.
But Be Safe Training brings face-to-face exposure.
“By having this program, it’s educated the officers not always what we see is exactly what’s occurring,” Douglas says.
And for students to understand it’s important to stay calm and give officers personal space.
“It’s important to know that now instead of later,” Whitcomb says.