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Ethan's Law Work Group

In January 2013, Robert Ethan Saylor, a 26-year-old man with Down syndrome, died of asphyxiation after being restrained by three off-duty police officers at a Frederick, Maryland movie theater. Ethan wanted to stay and watch another showing of the movie “Zero Dark Thirty” without paying for a ticket. Despite the pleas and advice from his adult support person, the three police officers forced Ethan to the ground of the theater, where he stopped breathing. This event shook the community, the state, and the nation, and has prompted disability advocacy organizations, policy makers, and the public to question how this tragedy could have been avoided.

In March 2013, the MCDD’s Maureen van Stone, Diane Dressler, and legislative extern Lauren Peterson partnered with People On the Go’s Ken Capone and Tami Goldsmith-Becker to attend a meeting with Ethan’s mother, Patti Saylor, and disability advocates throughout Maryland and the District of Columbia. The group discussed the need for comprehensive and mandatory disability awareness training for police officers, firefighters, and other first-responders. Spearheaded by Gail Godwin, the executive director of Shared Support Maryland, the group, referred to as the “Ethan’s Law Work Group,” has expanded to include additional advocates throughout Maryland. When the group first met in March, the ultimate goal was to conduct research and gain enough support to pass “Ethan’s Law” through the Maryland General Assembly’s 2014 session. This law would require disability training for all first-responders in Maryland, including both new recruits and veteran members.

While the work group was brainstorming, researching effective disability awareness trainings, and meeting with stakeholders during the spring and summer of 2013, Ethan’s story continued to receive considerable press, locally and nationally. Maureen van Stone and Patti Saylor, along with other members of the work group, spoke at the National Down Syndrome Congress Annual Convention in Denver, Colorado. On September 17, 2013, Governor Martin O’Malley issued an executive order to create the Maryland Commission for Effective Community Inclusion of Individuals with Intellectual and Developmental Disabilities, the first of its kind in the nation. Chaired by Timothy Shriver, PhD, former United States ambassador and current chairman of the Special Olympics, the commission includes disability advocates, attorneys, and first-responders throughout Maryland. Andy Imparato, the executive director of the Association of University Centers for Disabilities, MCDD’s parent network, is one member of the commission. The goal of the commission is to provide policy recommendations for law enforcement officials, paramedics, and first-responders to the governor. The commission will also discuss statewide training standards. The commission meetings are open to the public and occur monthly in different locations across the state. The commission’s initial report is due in January, 2014.

With advocates sitting on both the work group and the commission, Ethan’s family and disability advocates throughout the state are confident that Maryland is moving toward implementing a statewide standard for first-responder training.

This article was written by Lauren Peterson, a third-year law student at the University of Maryland Francis King Carey School of Law, who has worked for the MCDD for over 400 hours since the spring of 2013. 

For more information about the Ethan’s Law Work Group, please contact Maureen van Stone at 443-923-4416.