Today was a big news day. While most of the country focused on the end of the government shut-down, one family announced the beginning of a new phase of their lives. They did not ask to be in this battle, and by all that is right, they should not be. It was announced this afternoon that the Saylor family has filed a civil suit against those who were involved in the death of their beloved Ethan.
The Saylors are fighting a battle for all of us. Those of us who are parents of children who have Down syndrome see the connection right away. We are all too aware that we could find ourselves in a similar situation at any time. The fact that the incident happened is horrific. The fact that no one in power seems to take it seriously enough to investigate the circumstances fully, or accept responsibility for what happened is a national tragedy. The only way for this family to get the answers they deserve is to do what they did today. A trial means further scrutiny by the public, a greater loss of privacy, and a prolonged grieving period. I can not imagine that they made this decision lightly. Critics will, and have already begun to accuse the family of wanting to profit from their loss. Greed and a desire for popularity seem to be assumed in cases like this. The defendant’s lawyer has already started trying to paint the Saylors less than honorable in today’s Washington Post:
Daniel Karp, a Baltimore-based attorney who is representing the deputies, the sheriff’s office and the county in the case, described the language in the lawsuit as “the familiar hyperbole of a plaintiff that is suing for money.”
“We were under the impression that the family was not interested so much in money as in improving policies, procedures and training,” Karp said. “This lawsuit suggests that our presumptions were incorrect.”
It is an unfortunate fact in this situation that they have asked repeatedly, along with a chorus of supporters, for information about Ethan’s death to no avail. It saddens me that the only way they can get answers is to hire a lawyer and take the case to trial. The events of the past few weeks in terms of the government shut-down serve to underscore the idea that the powerful only understand and respond to a certain type of language. Legal action is part of that language.
Yes, the family has supported a change in policies and training. That seems to be underway with the announcement of the Governor’s commission. They also need and deserve to know what exactly happened that night. We all deserve to know that when tragedy strikes one of us who is deemed by society to be “powerless” and therefore less important, our elected officials will not simply look the other way. We need to know that our voices will be heard and our questions taken seriously.
In situations where the balance of power is completely unequal, the justice system is there to balance the scales (at least in theory, we all know it doesn’t always work the way it’s supposed to). Politics dominated the news for sixteen days while they argued among themselves. Power vs. Power. Now, we'll get to watch while the posturing continues and the blame is spread far and wide. There was no winner in the political crisis of the past few weeks, but both sides were more than willing to talk. The Saylors don't have the power to make anyone talk to them, to tell the truth. Let's hope the courts do.
The lawsuit requests a jury trial, and Patti Saylor said the family hopes to hear from the deputies during the course of it.
“We know it’s going to be a long process, and we’re completely committed to the process so that the truth of whatever occurred that night is known,” Saylor said. “My hope is that we get past all this litigation and the community of Frederick makes significant changes in how we see and act with people with disabilities. I have grand thoughts that Frederick will lead the state and the state will lead the country not only in training but in acceptance of people with disabilities.”