WINCHESTER, Tenn. — The family of a 24-year-old is grieving after their loved one drowned last week, and they say officers didn’t do enough to help.
The family of J.J. Baldwin, who was originally from Warrenville, said he had just moved down to Tennessee two months ago to start a new life. He had had some trouble with the law, and didn’t have a driver’s license, which is why his uncle said he was scared and fled from police four days ago. Body cam footage captured what happened.
Early Thursday morning in Winchester, Tennessee, about an hour west of Chattanooga, police approached the banks of the Boiling Fork Creek. Officers said Baldwin was driving erratically. They tried to pull him over, but a police report shows he fled on foot, and then police said he fell in the water, swimming away from shore.
For several minutes, body cam footage shows an officer, and a sergeant talking with Baldwin, telling him to swim back.
It seems Baldwin was struggling, and at one point, the officer closest to the water appears to want to help him.
“Hold my radio. No don’t get in. Get out of the water. Don’t get in there. He’s going under. Don’t go in there with him, he’s going to pull you down,” one of the officers is heard saying.
The two officers continue to stand there — the sergeant saying he thinks Baldwin is pretending to drown.
“He’s going under acting like he’s drowning or something. He’s under. He’s doing it on purpose,” an officer is heard saying.
Elba Rivera, Baldwin’s step-mother, said she doesn’t understand how the officers did not help.
“He asked three times help me help me they just let him go like that I don’t. Understand how can you be a cop and not save someone,” she said.
The attorneys representing Baldwin’s family issued a statement saying in part that the officers called Baldwin a “f-cking stupid-ass idiot,” laughed at him and made a “calculated decision to let him die.”
“The police body camera video shared on social media depicting Johnny’s death is nothing short of revolting in its display of utter indifference on the part of these officers to a drowning man. It illustrates how even well-intentioned officers can be the catalyst for tragedy when they fail to act,” the statement said.
According to a police report, the officers had called for a rescue squad and dive team, which was en route as they stood by.
That team eventually found Baldwin’s body, near the area where he went under water.
According to the Herald Chronicle newspaper in Tennessee, the Winchester police chief said the conditions were dark, the depth of the water was unknown and Baldwin greatly outweighed the officers. Officials added that the sergeant didn’t know how to swim, and wouldn’t have been able to help his partner if he had struggled.
The chief added his officers aren’t “trained to do that” when it comes to water rescues.
“They didn’t help him,” Cassidy Baldwin, Baldwin’s sister, said. “They literally just watched somebody in a lake. If it was their family member, or a little kid they would have done something.”
Baldwin’s family members in Tennessee are calling for the firing of this officer and sergeant.
WGN has reached out to the Winchester police department in Tennessee for comment, but they have not responded yet.
NOTE: The following statement contains profanity