Md. Deputies on Leave in Down Patient's Death
Feb. 20--Frederick County Sheriff Chuck Jenkins has placed three deputies on paid administrative leave pending results of an investigation into the in-custody death of a man with Down syndrome.
Jenkins said he decided over the weekend to place Lt. Scott Jewell, a 23-year veteran of the department, Sgt. Rich Rochford, a 16-year veteran, and Deputy First Class James Harris, a 10-year veteran, on paid leave.
Jenkins said he made the move based on "the totality of the circumstances" after speaking with investigators and meeting with the family of Robert Ethan Saylor, 26, of New Market, who died of asphyxia after being removed from a Frederick movie theater. The Office of the Chief Medical Examiner in Baltimore ruled the death a homicide.
"I looked at what was in the best interest of the public, the family and the deputies," Jenkins said. "I lost a lot of sleep over this."
Saylor died Jan. 12 after he was forcibly removed from the Regal Cinemas Westview Stadium 16. Employees said Saylor refused to either leave the theater or buy another ticket after seeing a movie.
Saylor resisted the deputies and was briefly handcuffed, according to the sheriff's office, which called the circumstances leading up to his death a medical emergency.
The deputies removed the handcuffs from Saylor, and emergency medical personnel were called. Saylor was taken to Frederick Memorial Hospital, where he was pronounced dead.
The deputies were off-duty and working secondary employment for Hill Management. Representatives of Hill Management have not responded to numerous requests for comment.
Jenkins announced the decision to place the deputies on leave in a letter posted on the sheriff's office's Facebook page Monday evening.
"Because of my very serious concerns for the messages posted by the public on Facebook and other social media sites, I feel it is only appropriate as the head of this agency to respond as much and as respectfully as possible to your concerns," the letter states in part. "First, I do understand the negative outcry and frustration by those who have expressed their concerns about the death of Mr. Robert Saylor. The death of Mr. Saylor was very tragic and I want to assure everyone that a thorough investigation is being conducted."
There were 761 comments on the Facebook post containing the letter as of 3:45 p.m. Tuesday. Some expressed support, but the majority criticized the deputies and the sheriff's office.
The sheriff's office has been flooded with phone calls expressing concerns about the in-custody death, as well as some showing support. The volume of calls led to the sheriff's decision to put personnel in place Tuesday to field the inquiries, spokeswoman Cpl. Jennifer Bailey said. Bailey estimated that between 35 and 50 calls came in Monday and an additional 30 as of about 4 p.m. Tuesday.
"We wanted to make sure people who called in with a concern were able to talk to someone," Bailey said. "We want people to know we are taking this very seriously."
Bailey said she and Jenkins have been returning the calls of those who left voice mails containing their phone numbers.
The investigation is "99 percent" complete, with investigators needing to conduct a few follow-up interviews and receive the report from the medical examiner's office, Jenkins said. The results will be forwarded to the Frederick County State's Attorney's Office, which could make the decision on its own whether to pursue charges or take the case to a grand jury.
Jenkins said he would like to see the case go before a grand jury in the interest of transparency.
"I think it's in the best interest of everyone to go ahead and present this to the grand jury," he said. "We want full disclosure."
The deputies were not in uniform, but they were carrying their agency-issued sidearms and radios. Jenkins said deputies working secondary employment assume their duties as law enforcement officers when the situation calls for it, something he said has long been a source of concern for him.
"I'm always worried when deputy sheriffs are out working secondary employment because it has the potential to put them in these types of situations," he said.
Under the Law Enforcement Officers' Bill of Rights, agencies cannot prohibit officers from taking secondary employment, but they can put reasonable regulations in place. The sheriff's office requires Hill Management to carry $1 million in liability coverage.
The sheriff's office, as well as Hill Management and even the state of Maryland, could be liable in the event of a lawsuit filed by Saylor's family, Jenkins said.
"It becomes very complicated when it comes to liability," he said.
Copyright 2013 - The Frederick News-Post, Md.