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Deputies in wrongful-death case dispute autopsy finding that disabled man died from asphyxia

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Three Maryland sheriff's deputies are disputing the official cause of death of a man with Down syndrome who died as they tried to forcibly remove him from a movie theater in 2013.

Robert Ethan Saylor probably died from an underlying medical problem and not from asphyxia, as determined by the Office of the Chief State Medical Examiner, the Frederick County deputies say in a document that was briefly posted by mistake on a federal court website.

Joseph Espo, who represents Saylor's estate in the wrongful death case, said Tuesday that his expert witnesses disagree with almost everything in the defense filing.

The document provides an early peek at arguments the defense may make in the case in U.S. District Court in Baltimore. Saylor's estate and parents are seeking unspecified compensatory and punitive damages. They allege that the deputies, moonlighting as mall security officers, fractured Saylor's larynx during the struggle, making it difficult for the 294-pound New Market man to breathe.

The lawsuit also names the state and the mall management firm as defendants.

The document, meant as a private disclosure between lawyers, was posted Friday on the Public Access to Court Electronic Records, or PACER, website. A link to it was disabled Monday after the error was discovered. Defense attorney Daniel Karp said a secretary in his office filed the document incorrectly.

It says deputies Richard Rochford, Scott Jewell and James Harris plan to call as an expert witness Dr. Jeffrey Fillmore, medical director of the Frederick County Division of Fire and Rescue Services. Fillmore will likely testify that at one point after Saylor became unconscious, his pulse and breathing were normal, the document says.

Fillmore also will likely testify that the cartilage in Saylor's throat was fractured by paramedics trying to insert a breathing tube, and that the injury did not interfere with Saylor's breathing. It says Saylor probably died from one or more underlying medical problems including heart and circulatory problems, probable sleep apnea, obesity and a lung scarred from childhood treatment to remove fluid.

A theater manager asked the officers to remove Saylor from an auditorium on Jan. 12, 2013, because he hadn't purchased a ticket for a second viewing of "Zero Dark Thirty. The medical examiner ruled the death a homicide, but a grand jury declined to indict the officers.

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