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An Appeal For Better Training For First Responders

An Appeal For Better Training For First Responders

The mother of Ethan Saylor took part in a webinar on Thursday about better training for first responders. Patti Saylor says she and her family have to deal with the painful memory of Ethan's passing. He died in January, 2013, a few days after his birthday, after a struggle with sheriff's deputies in a movie theater at the Westview Promenade. He had Down syndrome.

"Our family continues to grieve terribly. Our days are mixed with joy and profound sadness," said Patti Saylor. "And yes, it may be prolonged by reliving the circumstances of his death every single day as we advocate for justice and change," she said.

Ethan Saylor, 26, had just seen a movie at the theater, and had left, but returned because he wanted to see it again. Theater management wanted Mr. Saylor leave, or to purchase another ticket. The management contacted three sheriff's deputies who were working security at the Westview Promenade during their off-duty hours. Authorities claimed Saylor refused to leave and started cursing and swearing at the deputies. Ethan Saylor was handcuffed following the struggle, but stopped breathing, and died from a lack of oxygen. The State Medical Examiner's Office ruled the death a homicide, that is at the hands of another person.

The three deputies involved were placed on administrative leave pending the outcome of an investigation. A Grand Jury looked into the case, and decided not to indict the three.

Patti Saylor has called for an independent investigation of this incident. "Where does that leave us? It leaves us with a lot of unanswered questions, and a very clear understanding that the people that responded to remove Ethan from the theater certainly need to be held responsible."

The webinar was organized by Down syndrome organizations, which are calling for better training for police officers, medics and other first responders in dealing with individuals with disabilities.

Mrs. Saylor says that's a good idea, but more needs to be done. "There are many people who don't have any idea how to approach a person who may act, or communicate, or think or look different from them," she says. "Training is not the only answer, obviously, but it's a place we must start as we also try to shift attitudes of individuals."

Also speaking at the webinar was David Whalen, State Project Coordinator, First Responder Disability Awareness Training, Niagara University, New York. He recently received a $193,270 grant from the New York State Developmental Disabilities Planning Council to develop and conduct a statewide disability awareness and sensibility curriculum. He said this type of training and awareness is necessary because sometimes a police officer is one of the first persons to encounter an individual with disabilities who has been the victim of a crime. "Sometimes there crimes are {committed by} service providers. Sometimes it's even family members," he says. "Often the first person to defuse the situation is the officer, but then we also have 'how do we address the victim side of this.'"

Whalen says he has taught this program at 53 police departments in New York State, reaching 102 officers.

Sergeant A.D. Paul with the Plano, Texas, Police Department, also participated. He has built and maintained training for several jurisdictions in Texas. He urged the organizations who want better training for police and other first responders not to lose heart. "Don't give up, no matter if you have some doors shut on you, or if you have some chiefs or departments that are not very receptive to your training to your suggestion," he says. "Most modern law enforcement agencies are responsive to their communities, and that's really what it's all about." If you're not getting anywhere with a chief, Sergeant Paul says go the city's or town's mayor or council for help.

Governor Martin O'Malley announced last week that Maryland would create a commission to improve first-responder training in the state. Whalen says Maryland could "jump-start" training for the rest of the country.


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