CRIME
08/27/2013 11:25 am ET Updated Aug 27, 2013

Petition For Ethan Saylor, Man Who Died In Police Custody, Calls For Independent Investigation

A little more than a month after a man with Down syndrome died in police custody after a dispute over an unpaid movie ticket, his family is calling for justice.

Ethan Saylor, 26, had a known affinity for police procedural TV series "NCIS" and loved reggae. He was killed during a scuffle with three off-duty Frederick County Sheriff's deputies in Frederick, Md., after seeing the movie "Zero Dark Thirty." His autopsy concluded the death was a homicide.

The cause of death, according to the autopsy, was asphyxiation. The autopsy also said Saylor's larynx had been damaged. A witness said an officer had put his knee on Saylor's lower back while Saylor was on his stomach being handcuffed, according to The Associated Press.

An internal investigation into the incident, conducted by the Sheriff's Office, saw Lt. Scott Jewell, Sgt. Rich Rochford and Deputy First Class James Harris cleared of wrongdoing. An earlier criminal investigation, which was also conducted by the Sheriff's Office, resulted in no charges against the officers.

A petition calling on Maryland Governor Martin O'Malley to conduct an independent investigation into Saylor's death had garnered more than 250,000 signatures as of Tuesday morning, just shy of its 300,000 goal. The petition was created in July by Saylor's sister, Emma.

"There’s always going to be a hole. There’s always going to be a chair here where he won’t be sitting. I will never again have a big brother,” Emma Saylor told CBS Baltimore.

“We are aware of and troubled by the death of Ethan Saylor," Governor O'Malley's office told CBS Baltimore. "We have been working with disability advocates to determine what additional steps the state can take to prevent a tragedy like this from ever happening again, including additional training for local and state law enforcement and a review of statewide policies.”

The incident between Saylor and the three officers, who were moonlighting as security guards at the Westview Promenade mall, occurred in January at a movie theater adjacent to the shopping center. Saylor at the time was with an unnamed 18-year-old caretaker, who asked Saylor when the movie finished if he was ready to go home, according to a statement she made to police, as reported by the AP. Saylor's caretaker said he became upset at the idea of going home and punched a window.

The caretaker explained that she went to get the car to give Saylor time alone to calm down. The caretaker also noted in her statement that Saylor had a history of angry outbursts, including one earlier that day.

When the caretaker returned with the car, she said, Saylor was inside the theater and a manager was asking him to leave because he hadn't paid for a ticket, according to The Washington Post. The manager called over one of the officers to help, but Saylor's caretaker warned the deputy that touching Saylor would only further enrage him.

Saylor resisted officers' attempts to remove him, so the officers handcuffed him and placed him on his stomach for "one to two minutes," according to Frederick County State's Attorney J. Charles Smith. When Saylor started showing signs of distress, the handcuffs were removed and the officers called for help, Smith said, according to the Post.

The autopsy report noted Saylor's developmental disability, obesity, heart disease and a heart abnormality contributed to his death.

Neither the Sheriff's Office nor its lawyer returned requests for comment from The Huffington Post.

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