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Police Being Trained On How To Deal With People's Disabilities, By People With Disabilities

BALTIMORE (WJZ) — Ethan Saylor loved the movie, "Zero Dark Thirty,". When it ended that January day in 2013 he stayed to see it again, not understanding he needed another ticket.

Ethan Saylor would have turned 32 last month. Instead, he died five years ago during a scuffle with police at a Frederick movie theatre.

Three Frederick County deputies, moonlighting as security, were called to forcibly remove him.

Ethan had Downs-Syndrome, and his death led to a new kind of officer training, where those with disabilities themselves are teaching police how better to deal with people with disabilities.

This program is funded by a grant from the Maryland Department of Disabilities. It's up for renewal in June.

"I hear kicking and screaming and 'Ouch,' Mary, Mom that hurts me get off," said Ethan's caregiver. "All of a sudden they're on the floor and all the noise, it's just completely silent and they have three handcuffs on him,"

Ethan died of asphyxiation, his larynx fractured. The officers were not charged, but his death mobilized a community and his mother fought to create the Ethan Saylor Alliance.

"I have forgiveness in my heart because of who I am and my faith and I know these were three good men who made bad decisions," said Ethan's mom, Patti Saylor.

[WJZ Reporter Denise Koch:] "Ethan was a gentle young man?"

"He was a loving and gentle person. Ethan had difficulty communicating and had difficulty handling his emotions," Saylor said.

Which brings us to a scene being enacted by four young men with disabilities. They are part of a Loyola University's "Lead Program", created by the Ethan Saylor Alliance to better train officers on how to deal with people with intellectual and developmental disabilities.

Loyola, Best Buddies and the Municipal Police Academy together created this program where officers role-play with real people with disabilities.

These actors, or "self-advocate educators", are part of a small group that has role-played with over 100 officers from 15 districts and D.C. since the program began last summer.

"One of the things I preach in class is patience, slow things down because one of the biggest problems, hurdles, is communication," said Percel Alston, director of the Municipal Police Academy.

"The police officers need to learn how to patiently communicate with people so that they can let the individual in question know that they are not going to hurt them," said Patrick Chaney, self-advocate educator.

Officer Burnett has had real-life experience interacting with people with disabilities.

"Because of my approach I've done well in those situations but I could've done better and this training has opened my eyes to that," Burnett said.

Officers who've received this training say acting out helps them retain the lesson on how to effectively communicate with so, if they encounter a witness, suspect or victim who just may have a disability.

"We know from the feedback we've received from the training we've done so far from officers that this has had a real impact on the way that they retain things," said Lisa Schoenbrodt, Phd.

"There are certain things we might do differently but we want to treat everyone with dignity and respect and treat people with disabilities as people first," Burnett said.

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