1 fired, another resigns amid City Park drowning investigation

Ja-mir Ma'Kenzi Stewart (family photo)
Ja-mir Ma'Kenzi Stewart (family photo)

WARWICK, R.I. (WPRI) — An investigation into the death of a 6-year old boy at Warwick City Park last month revealed several procedures and protocols were not followed at the beach.

Mayor Scott Avedisian and Police Chief Stephen McCartney revealed the preliminary findings of the investigation – which they said is still ongoing – during a late Thursday morning news conference at police headquarters.

Ja-Mir Ma’Kenzi Stewart was swimming with family Aug. 14 at the City Park Beach when he was reported missing. He was found unconscious in the water and later pronounced dead at Kent Hospital.

Avedisian said investigators reconstructed the timeline of events that lead up to the boy’s death.

(Family photo)
(Family photo)

Ja-Mir’s aunt said she instructed the boy to go back to shore to his mother. About three minutes later, the aunt said she became uncertain as to Ja-Mir’s whereabouts and contacted one of the lifeguards on duty to report the boy missing.

Avedisian said the lifeguard and aunt then conducted a shore and water observation, but did not locate the boy. At that point, lifeguards reportedly cleared the water, and called a supervisor and 911.

Shortly after police and fire crews arrived on scene, Avedisian said a human-chain of citizens searching the water found the child.

No foul play has been suspected in Stewart’s death, but immediately following the incident some family members questioned whether the two lifeguards on duty did everything they could to save the boy.

“My grandson is not here anymore because people decided not to do their job,” said Ja-Mir’s grandmother, Deirdre Isom. “Nothing more, nothing less.”

Avedisian said an administrative investigation revealed problems with the city’s lifeguard program.

“We uncovered certain programmatic issues that exist with the training and staffing of lifeguards at our beaches,” Avedisian said.

He said there were two lifeguards on duty the day Ja-Mir died, not three as required by the state Department of Environmental Management.

In addition, the investigation revealed some of the city’s lifeguards lacked certain certifications and some were not wearing appropriate attire. He said of the two lifeguards on duty the day of the drowning, one had beach training, the other only was certified for pools.

As a result of the investigation, Avedisian said the city fired one supervisor with the Parks Department Wednesday. He said another supervisor resigned.

Both Avedesian and McCartney declined to name the city employees involved in the investigation, citing safety reasons.

McCartney said as emergency workers tended to Ja-Mir, one of the lifeguards on duty that day was assaulted.

McCartney and Avedisian said the lifeguard understood the intense emotions surrounding the situation and declined to file charges.

However, the mayor said the following day lifeguards did not show up for work because they feared retaliation.

Avedisian said in the aftermath of the Ja-Mir’s death, the city plans to work with the DEM and the Red Cross and announce a whole series of programs and changes before the beaches reopen next year.

He also said the city has reached out to the Boys and Girls Club about developing a swim program and has contacted the Michael Phelps Foundation to secure funding for it.

According to Isom, the family was not contacted by the city with an update on the investigation.

“No one – I mean no one – has done anything to help my family,” said Isom.

She said the family is not interested in retaliation. When asked if anyone was assaulted, she said “absolutely not.”

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