It has been 19 months since the death of my son, Ethan Saylor, at the Regal theaters in Frederick at the hands of three off-duty Frederick County sheriff’s deputies. During that time, law enforcement agencies across the country have risen to the challenge to improve relationships with community members with intellectual and developmental challenges.
The Maryland Police and Correctional Training Commissions have embraced the need for change and with others have developed a comprehensive program of training new recruits and in servicing current officers. The city of Frederick, Montgomery, Queen Anne’s, Harford, Caroline, Prince George’s, Howard and Anne Arundel counties, and other municipalities have actively sought out training and activities to improve relationships with community members with disabilities, the goal being safety and positive outcome for all when law enforcement personnel intersect with people with intellectual/developmental disabilities or mental health issues.
The governor of Maryland established the Commission for Effective Community Inclusion of Individuals with Developmental and Intellectual Disabilities. The commission is diligently working with representatives of law enforcement, Maryland State Department of Education, the Maryland emergency medical system, Maryland Public Transportation, self-advocates, the Maryland court system, and state disability organizations and advocates to make systemic change.
The U.S. Department of Justice Civil Rights Division is investigating the circumstances of my son’s death. The Justice Department’s Special Litigation Unit is investigating the policies and practices of the Frederick County Sheriff’s Office.
The U.S. Senate Judiciary Subcommittee on the Constitution, Civil Rights and Human Rights held a hearing on the issue of the safety of people with disabilities interacting with law enforcement. I testified at this hearing along with others committed to this issue.
The International Association of Chiefs of Police reached out to me and other advocates to assist in updating their policies.
The ARC of the United States received a grant from the Justice Department to create the National Center on Criminal Justice and Disability.
These facts bring me to the missed opportunity — all these people and organizations are not blaming the victim. They know changes in policy, practices and training will prevent similar incidents in the future.
Where is Frederick County? Why no representation or participation in moving forward on this issue? Any word from the sheriff’s office or commissioners has been to defend the actions of the officers and cast negative light on the victim. This accomplishes nothing. I understand Sheriff Chuck Jenkins consented to send officers to training conducted by Mount St. Mary’s University. This was done in isolation and only after turning down an offer by a national leader in the field from the University of Niagara. A free train-the-trainer opportunity was turned down! Fact: Frederick County officials have not only not embraced change, they have denied the need for change. Law enforcement officers deserve training to do their job. Citizens deserve understanding of their differences.
In my humble opinion, the county commissioners and Sheriff Jenkins have missed the boat on this national issue.
While I do not expect the current sheriff or anyone else will ever accept responsibility for their part in what happened to my son, I do expect my county to lead the way forward. The rest of the country is watching. Frederick County is missing a great opportunity to shine on the national stage and look informed and proactive.
Disparaging comments about my son or others with similar intellectual challenges only further supports the outdated image of Frederick County citizens as backward, narrow-minded, discriminating, uneducated country folk.
Speak up on Election Day this November! Karl Bickel for sheriff and Jan Gardner for county executive. Please join me in voting for Karl and Jan!
Demand that Frederick County be seen as the diverse and caring community of people we really are.
Patti Saylor writes from Mount Airy.