Early on June 4, while police officers watched from shore, Johnny “JJ” Baldwin drowned in Winchester, Tennessee, 90 miles south of Nashville. The Winchester Police Department released the body camera video of the incident, which shows officers failing to act and even taunting Baldwin, to Baldwin’s family, who Heavy has learned released the video to ABC News.
The 24-year-old Illinois man, who was in Tennessee visiting family, jumped into Tims Ford Boiling Fork Creek after fleeing from police over a minor traffic violation, Winchester Police Chief Richard Lewis told ABC News. Now, Baldwin’s family is calling for the officers to be fired and charged.
The video is available through ABC News here.
The tragic series of events started early on the morning of June 4, when Decherd, Tennessee, police officers chased Baldwin in a vehicle pursuit over a minor traffic violation, Lewis said. Baldwin drove down a dead-end road, at which point Winchester police joined the Decherd officers, according to the police incident report provided to Heavy.
The Bodycam Video Shows Officers Failing to Jump in to Help Baldwin, Calling Him ‘Dumb’
The Winchester police department told Heavy that they are not releasing the body camera footage to the general public, and the footage in circulation was released to Baldwin’s family. In the video, Baldwin can be heard calling for help on three different occasions. After one plea for help, an officer is heard replying: “Well then, swim. Your dumb a** jumped in the river.”
When one of the police officers on the scene decided to jump in and help Baldwin, a sergeant stopped him, the police report indicated. In the video, the sergeant is heard saying: “Don’t go in there with him, he’s going to pull you in.”
The Winchester Police Department also emailed Heavy a statement from Lewis that states that “Officers are not trained in water rescue” and they do not have the necessary gear. It also states that they were on an embankment in a wooded area with no lights and no idea how deep the water was.
The Winchester Police Chief & the Police Report Outlined the Events Leading to Baldwin’s Death
Heavy obtained the police incident report and statement, which provide a more general view of what happened without the details from the body camera footage. The officer writing the police report stated: “when I got to the edge of the lake I could see a white male about half way across the lake. I gave him orders to stop and swim back towards us, which he did.” However, when Baldwin was about 10 feet away from the bank, “he stopped coming closer and just floated there for a second.”
The officer also wrote that Baldwin went “under water and [popped] back up several times but would never proceed to the edge where we could get him. [He] went under water one last time and never came back up.” The officer wrote that there was already a dive team and rescue squad en route and when they arrived “they did successfully recover the body at around the same spot he went under.”
Lewis told ABC News, “He ends up drowning, which is an extremely sad situation. We have released our body camera and we have caught absolute hell for it.”
Baldwin’s Family Is Demanding That the Officers Are Fired & Face Charges
Baldwin’s family is outraged at the situation, especially in light of the video footage of his drowning. A Facebook page titled “Justice for JJ” states: “The police are in arms reach of JJ and don’t try to help him . in fact they accuse him of ‘faking.'” Another post reads: “This page is created to send light on this young man’s situation. These cops who let JJ drown need to be held responsible.”
Baldwin was born on April 18, 1996, in Chicago, Illinois. He grew up in Warrenville, attending Wheaton-Warrenville South High School where he played football. According to a Facebook post, the 24-year-old loved music and sports. “He would never say ‘No’ to a new adventure and never missed an opportunity to travel,” the post reads. “He possessed a contagious smile and was silly, but always lovable and caring.”
Baldwin is survived by his parents, Melissa (Nathaniel) George and Johnny (Elba) Baldwin, his five siblings and many cousins, aunts and uncles.