In January 2013, Robert Saylor, a 26 year old man with Down Syndrome, went to see “Zero Dark Thirty” with his health aide at the Regal Cinema in Frederick, Maryland. Robert apparently liked the movie so much that he decided to sit through the next showing. When a manager of the Regal Cinema asked Robert to leave, he refused to get out of his seat. The manager of the cinema then called three off duty Frederick County police officers, Lt. Scott Jewell, Sgt. Rich Rochford and Deputy First Class James Harris, who were working security for the theater at the time.

 

According to reports, when the officers/security guards asked Robert to leave, he “mouthed off” at them and “resisted arrest.” Rather than allowing him to stay and deal with the situation later with his parents and the health aide present, the officers forcibly picked Robert up out of his seat and handcuffed him.

 

According to a law enforcement source familiar with the case, the officers placed Robert face down on the ground. It was at this point Robert began to asphyxiate, which resulted in his death.

According to Dr. George Kirkham, a criminologist and former law enforcement officer, Robert’s death was caused by “positional asphyxia.” The Chief Medical Examiner concurred and ruled Robert’s death a homicide.

 

“Positional asphyxia” is typically the result of an intense struggle and often involves a person who is handcuffed and lying on their stomach after the struggle.

Clearly, whatever training this manager and these officers received in the area of tolerance, which should include seeing the perspective of others and diffusing rather than escalating situations, was not effective. Too many times, our tolerance programs are seen as just a “nice” thing to do without any real business application. However, being able to see the world through someone else’s eyes is a critical skill in today’s world. Actually, our ability to apply this skill is so lacking that people with disabilities are now the most discriminated against group of people in America. 70% to 80% of all people with disabilities who could work if given the chance are unemployed.

 

The cost of admission at the Regal Cinema is $11.00. Robert, whose mental disability was readily apparent, was wrestled to the ground and choked to death for $11.00.

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Scott Warrick
JD, MLHR, CEQC, SCP
(614) 738-8317
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