Two years ago a parent of a child with a disability received the phone call that devastated their world. Her son had been murdered by three off duty police officers. Not because he committed a crime. Not because he was did anything wrong.
He died over the cost of a movie ticket.
Ethan was killed he did not understand that he couldn’t stay in the movie theater. His paid companion had left him alone for a few minutes while she went to get the car to drive him home. He reentered the movie theater. The manager informed Ethan he had to purchase a ticket or leave. Like Bridget, Ethan did not understand the concept of money or payment.
Despite pleas by Ethan’s companion to help diffuse the situation, Mall Security tried to forcibly remove Ethan from his seat. A struggle occurred. The mall security, THREE off-duty officers wrested Ethan to the floor causing a medical emergency.
Ethan was heard crying, “Mommy it hurts“.
These were not untrained, minimum wage security guards. These men work as Sheriff’s deputies and should have known how to alleviate the situation without resulting in force. I have the utmost respect for our men and women in uniform. I count them among my friends. I have to ask, how could these off-duty police officers not realize Ethan had Down Syndrome?
Selfishly I worry. I worry that I might be the mom who gets a phone call that my child died because she didn’t understand. I do not care that Ethan was a big boy. I do not care that the police felt he was a threat. That Ethan’s companion was there and the officers ignored her attempts to intervene is unforgivable.
I care that those three police were exonerated of any guilt. The State Medical Examiner found Ethan died of asphyxia and ruled it a homicide. Another homicide not indicted by the Grand Jury. No offense to those in Ferguson and NYC but in Ethan’s case there is a Medical Examiner that ruled his death a homicide.
No riots. Very little news attention. No outcry.
The officers returned to duty. It took six months of Ethan’s sister’s advocacy for the Governor to create a commission to “make sure nothing like this ever happened again”. A Federal Judge has decided that the Saylor’s can pursue a civil rights case against the County. I
“Were it not for the intervention of the deputies, there is no reason to believe he would not have remained sitting quietly in his seat. Mr. Saylor died as a direct result of the course of events set into motion by the deputies.” Federal Court Judge Nickerson (Frederickson News-Post)
Police officers are our first line of defense. They care about their community. They work long, difficult hours I cannot imagine. They are assaulted, they are fighting for their lives and they face the worst of humanity. They also encounter people with intellectual disabilities. It is wrong that they are not given proper training. They get drug training, sexual assault training and physical training. They are trained to give Narcan for drug overdoses. Why not training for those with disabilities? Situations will escalate, our children are strong. They are willful. They are stubborn. They don’t understand. The police should. The police have to understand and be trained. They also have to be held accountable when that training fails.
Tomorrow night there will be a candlelight vigil in memory of Ethan. Online and in person (if you are in the Frederickson, VA area click here for the details). Please light a candle for Ethan. For all persons with intellectual disabilities.
No one should die because “of the cost of a movie ticket”. (Washington Post)