Tennessee police officers stood on the bank of a creek earlier this month, watching a man drown after they had pursued him for a traffic violation, refusing to offer assistance, not even a helping hand.
One Winchester police officer acted as if he wanted to help but was held back by his sergeant who insisted the man in the water was only “acting like he’s drowning.”
Even after Johnny Alexander “J.J.” Baldwin disappeared underwater, the sergeant, described by his department as being “more seasoned,” still refused to believe he had drowned.
“Think he could’ve swim somewhere?” the sergeant asked.
“No, he’s under,” the less-seasoned cop responded.
The incident took place on June 2 after Decherd police chased Baldwin for a traffic violation into Winchester, which is a neighboring town less than three miles away. Winchester police joined in the pursuit, chasing Baldwin down a dead-end road.
The 24-year-old man hopped out of his car and into the creek. It has not been specified what traffic infraction he committed but has been described as “minor.”
Baldwin can be seen near the bank of the creek on the body cam video but several minutes went by as they watched him drown.
According to the Chattanooga Times Free Press:
Baldwin’s family in Warrenville, Illinois, is outraged the officers didn’t try to help, and an attorney representing them claims those officers made a decision to let Baldwin drown.
Lance Northcutt, an attorney with GWC Injury Lawyers representing the family and conducting a private investigation into the death, issued a statement that accuses officers of mocking Baldwin as he struggled and called for help.
“The incredibly difficult job of the vast majority of good police officers is made all the more difficult when a bad few flagrantly breach the public’s trust,” Northcutt said. “Here, a man was helpless and literally begging for his life while police officers calmly ridiculed him as he died.”
(Winchester Police Chief Richard) Lewis said the Winchester police sergeant on the scene can’t swim, and the other Winchester officer was too small and light to attempt the rescue in what the police chief described as deep water with unknown potential hazards. A police report describes Baldwin as 6 feet, 1 inch tall, weighing around 190 pounds.
On department letterhead, Lewis states in a response sent Wednesday night with a copy of the June 4 police report that his officers are not trained in water rescue, and they don’t have rescue equipment. He said the officers were on an embankment in an “overgrown wooded area” at 1:30 a.m. when the area “was pitch black with no lights … “
Northcutt rejected the idea that officers were in fear of their lives in not entering the water to save Baldwin.
“What you hear on the video isn’t the voice of fear from a frightened police officer. You hear childish taunting and ridicule. You don’t stand idly by and mock a dying man because you are afraid, you do it because you are so unmoored from the person’s basic humanity that you don’t care enough to act,” Northcutt said. “Here, any one of these officers could have done something as simple as picking up a branch and extending it toward this drowning man from the safety of [the] riverbank, but instead, they made the calculated decision to let him die.”
What may come as a shock to people is that police have no Constitutional obligation to save people from harm, according to a 2005 U.S. Supreme Court decision.
“From what I have seen — I’ve seen the video just like you have — I can’t say that based on what I’d seen of the case that there was wrongdoing by the police department,” Twelfth Judicial District Attorney General Mike Taylor told local media who added that the names of the cops involved are Sergeant King and Patrolman Womack.
Two days later, another Winchester cop, Dustin Elliott, posted a video to Facebook, announcing his resignation from the department after ten years, exclaiming the pressure has become too much, saying “I just can’t take it anymore. I’m done with it.”
“It’s devastating to be a police officer right now and to know what’s going on and how people feel about you and the things that you do in this job and the sacrifices you make,” he said. “There’s a lot that would rather see you dead just because of the uniform you wear.”
Watch the shortened edited video above or the full unedited video here. Below is the video of the cop announcing his resignation.