Robert Ethan Saylor, a 26-year-old with Down Syndrome, died in a movie theater after a struggle with police.

Police Violence Against People With Disabilities Continues

In recent years, law enforcement across the country has come under fire for incidents of police brutality, but little attention is being paid to the police-related deaths of people with disabilities.


When police officers encounter a person with a disability, they do not have the proper training to handle the situation. According to a database maintained by The Washington Post, in 2018, at least 139 people with mental illness have been shot and killed by cops.

A 2016 report by the Ruderman Family Foundation found that up to half of the people killed by police across the country have a disability.

“Disability is the missing word in media coverage of police violence,” the foundation states.

In April, Saheed Vassell, a bipolar Brooklyn man, was outside waving a metal object at people walking by. Plainclothes anti-crime officers responded to 911 calls that a man was pointing something that looked like a gun. When they arrived, Vassell pointed the pipe at police, who almost instantly shot and killed him. They didn’t give him a chance.

“He didn’t need to be gunned down,” Jay Locke, a co-owner of a health foods store near the shooting, told The New York Times. “The police know he has a mental disability.”

Locals knew Vassell was mentally ill, and so did the regular patrol officers assigned to the area. They often talked with him and sometimes brought him Jamaican food. Had they been the ones who answered the 911 calls, perhaps he would still be alive.

Adam Trammell, age 22, was killed at home by police during a schizophrenic episode. Police were called on May 25, 2017 after a neighbor spotted Trammell walking naked in the corridor talking about the devil. Little did the responding police know Trammell often had delusions and hallucinations.

When police officers broke into Trammell’s home they found him taking a shower. After he splashed water on the officers, which his father claims was to see if they really existed, the officers tasered him 15 times before dragging him naked from his apartment. They then held him down and injected him with sedatives. Moments later, Trammell stopped breathing.

“He was just in his own place, he was not out on the streets, and he didn’t have a weapon. He didn’t even have any clothes on, in his own shower,” Trammell’s mother told the BBC. “Where was the imminent danger There was none. He didn’t deserve it at all.”

On Sept. 19, 2017, Magdiel Sanchez, who was deaf, was on his porch when police suspected him to have a weapon that was actually a pipe. When the 35-year-old did not respond to commands to put the pipe down, an Oklahoma City police officer shot and killed him.

In August 2016, a North Carolina highway patrol trooper Jermaine Saunders fatally shot a deaf driver, Daniel Harris. The Mecklenburg District Attorney did not bring charges against Saunders.

Robert Ethan Saylor, a 26-year-old with Down Syndrome, died in 2013, on a night out at the movies to watch the film “Zero Dark Thirty.” After seeing the film, he left the auditorium, but went back in, while his caregiver went to get the car, because he wanted to see it again.

Three off-duty Frederick County, Md., sheriff deputies working as security staff asked him to leave, but he refused. They forced him from the theater in handcuffs. As he struggled with the deputies, Saylor ended up face down on the floor and suffered a fractured larynx.

In April, his family reached a $1.9 million settlement with the state of Maryland, the deputies and the management company of the shopping center where the theater is located.

“The deputies — Lt. Scott Jewell, Sgt. Rich Rochford and Deputy 1st Class James Harris — were cleared of wrongdoing in an internal affairs investigation, and a county grand jury determined that criminal charges were not warranted,” according to The Washington Post.

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