Robert Ethan Saylor started to lose his balance as off-duty sheriff’s deputies were escorting him from a movie theater and the deputies used that opportunity to take him to the ground and place him in handcuffs, a sergeant wrote in an incident report released this week.
Sgt. Michael W. Easterday wrote that he spoke with Sgt. Rich Rochford, one of the three off-duty deputies involved in Saylor’s in-custody death, at Frederick Memorial Hospital less than an hour after he was taken by ambulance from the Regal Cinemas Westview Stadium 16.
Easterday wrote that after the deputies took Saylor to the floor, they noticed that he was breathing, but not conscious, and called for paramedics.
Cpl. David W. DeWees, who was contacted by Easterday about the death investigation, wrote in his report that Rochford tried to first speak with Saylor at length, knowing that he had Down syndrome.
DeWees wrote that Rochford, who had traveled from the theater in the ambulance with Saylor, was visibly shaken.
“He told me that they did nothing wrong and cannot understand how Mr. Saylor is deceased,” DeWees wrote. “I recognized that Sgt. Rochford was upset and somewhat in shock regarding the events. He needed to be removed from the scene at FMH. I had him sit in my patrol car temporarily.”
The two other deputies involved — Lt. Scott Jewell and Deputy First Class James Harris — remained at the theater until Easterday arrived and took over the scene, according to his report.
A use-of-force report included in the disclosure is incomplete.
The report includes a description of the incident completed by Rochford, but a portion in which supervisors review the actions and determine whether the use of force was reasonable is left blank.
The Frederick County Sheriff’s Office referred calls Tuesday to Daniel Karp, an attorney who handles cases for the agency when there is the possibility of a lawsuit. A woman who answered the phone at his office said he was not available. A message left with her and an email were not returned.
Joe Espo, a Baltimore-based attorney for Saylor’s family, said he doesn’t understand why the incident report of the 26-year-old New Market man’s death wasn’t released until more than three months after an internal affairs investigation ended.
Saylor died Jan. 12.
The last supplements to the 98-page report, which investigated whether the three deputies used excessive force when removing Saylor, were filed April 2. The report is dated April 10.
“I have never understood why it took so long between the completion of the end of the investigation and the announcement by the sheriff on April 12 that the investigation had concluded and the deputies were back to full duty,” Espo said Tuesday.
He said his initial reaction after reading parts of the report were that the entire event didn’t have to take place, Espo said.
“The witness statements make clear that Mr. Saylor’s aide asked both the theater employee and at least one of the sheriff’s deputies to give her enough time to resolve the problem on her own or with Mr. Saylor’s mother, who was only a few minutes away. Instead of allowing that to happen, they pressed on,” he said.
The incident report and attached documents revealed the following additional details:
- Twenty-two written statements were provided to the Frederick County Sheriff’s Office.
- The involved deputies gave first aid to Saylor.
- Paramedics arrived at the theater eight minutes after Rochford called for their assistance.
- One witness said Saylor was given a Miranda warning.
- There were no cameras in the theater that captured the scuffle on the floor.
- In follow-up interviews, no one said they saw the officers grab Saylor in the neck area or in a chokehold.
In the written statements and follow-up interviews, witnesses gave conflicting accounts of the confrontation. When asked, some of the witnesses said they believed the deputies acted professionally; others said they thought the force was excessive.
The theater employee who called deputies to the theater to help remove Saylor after speaking with his caregiver told investigators that Saylor “stiff armed” Rochford, pushing him backward.
The employee said he wasn’t sure how the four men ended up on the floor of the theater, but one of the deputies landed right on top of Saylor.
Some witnesses stated that they heard scuffling but could no longer see it because of a wall along the entrance ramp. After Saylor stopped calling for help, they heard Rochford radio for assistance from paramedics, according to the reports.
The call was made at 10:52 p.m., according to scanner communications obtained by The Frederick News-Post. The paramedic unit radioed that they had reached the scene at 11 p.m.
Before they arrived, the deputies had turned Saylor on his side and he was making snoring sounds. The theater employee reported that they gave Saylor chest compressions, but did not use a CPR mask because he was breathing on his own.
One witness told investigators that he heard Saylor being read his Miranda rights during the scuffle. On Tuesday, Karp told The Associated Press that Saylor was trespassing in the theater when he was approached.
Cameras did not capture the confrontation in the theater, but were installed in the theater’s lobby area.
On Jan. 23, Cpl. Greggory A. Warner asked for supplemental reports from all agency personnel who responded to the theater or the hospital. On Jan. 23 and 25, he asked seven deputies whether they heard that a chokehold had been used. All seven said no. Follow-up interviews with witnesses to ask whether they saw the officers grab Saylor in the neck area were conducted Jan. 28. The three witnesses said they did not see the deputies’ hands or arms in the neck or shoulder area.
Saylor was pronounced dead at Frederick Memorial Hospital. An autopsy revealed that the manner and cause of death was homicide by asphyxiation. The medical examiner said that Saylor’s health problems and his weight contributed to his death.
A grand jury considered the case in March and declined to pursue further investigation.
Espo said he was still reviewing the documents Tuesday afternoon after receiving them Monday, along with the AP.
The Frederick News-Post was not notified of the documents’ release, despite a Public Information Act request filed Jan. 21.
The documents were released to the News-Post on Tuesday, after the paper produced a Feb. 6 response letter from the Frederick County Sheriff’s Office acknowledging the initial request.
Espo said Tuesday that he could not comment about whether the family will file a lawsuit.
Follow Danielle E. Gaines on Twitter: @danielleegaines.