DEDHAM - A retired State Police captain and his wife were arraigned Tuesday on charges of child endangerment and furnishing alcohol to a minor in connection with the June death of 17-year-old Alonzo J. Polk IV, who was pulled from a pool at their Dedham home during a high school graduation party and succumbed to his injuries days later.
James F. Coughlin, 55, and Leslie Coughlin, 54, appeared together in Dedham District Court. Pleas of not guilty were entered for each of them on counts of reckless endangerment of a child and providing alcohol to a person under the age of 21, both misdemeanors, legal filings show.
They were released on personal recognizance. Their lawyer, Brian Kelly, told reporters afterward that Polk’s death was a “terrible accident and a terrible tragedy,” while asserting that medical records showed Polk had no alcohol in his system at the time of his death and that he had asthma and had been pushed into the Coughlins’ pool by a friend. Kelly didn’t name the friend.
“As we said from the outset, this is a terrible tragedy but not every accident is a crime,” Kelly, a partner at Nixon Peabody, said in a follow-up e-mail message. “The recently disclosed medical records confirm that Alonzo was not drinking at this party and the Coughlins did not furnish him any alcohol.”
The Coughlins left court without speaking to reporters. Their next court day is Nov. 3, records show.
A large contingent of Polk’s relatives, some wearing shirts adorned with his photo, streamed out of the courthouse, chanting “We want justice for who? Alonso.”
Roshawn Drane, Polk’s brother, said he couldn’t fathom why the Coughlins were released without having to pay bail.
“My brother is no longer here,” Drane said. “He’s no longer walking this earth, but for these people to walk out of this courtroom without even a bail or anything set is beyond us.”
Greg Henning, a lawyer for Polk’s family, said the late teen’s relatives want accountability for everyone involved in his death.
“When they say ‘justice for Alonso,’ what they mean is they want each and every person who had anything to do with causing or creating the circumstances that led to his death to be held accountable,” Henning said. “Each and every person.”
The charges stem from a June 6 party at the Coughlin residence on Netta Road.
A police report filed in court said that around 12:30 a.m. that day, one of the responding officers saw “several obviously intoxicated high school age individuals as well as many empty beer cans.”
Police identified four teenagers by name who told investigators “they were permitted to consume alcohol on the premises.” The police report said that “James and Leslie Coughlin would have reasonably known that many of the guests were not of age to consume alcohol.’’
To further support the request that both Coughlins face charges of providing alcohol to minors, police said they reviewed photographs taken during the party, “including one that depicts the 17-year-old drowning victim [Polk] sitting at a table with several empty alcohol containers in front of him.”
Police said the basis for charging the Coughlins with child endangerment was tied to the lack of underwater lighting in the deep end of the in-ground pool. The light, according to police, was still connected to the pool, but was lying on a towel alongside the pool.
“The pool area [was] dimly lit,” according to the police report. “The adults that had previously been outside in the yard/pool area relocated to the interior of the home, thereby leaving a number of underage drinkers unattended at the pool.”
Polk was pulled from the pool around midnight, given CPR at the scene, and taken to a Boston hospital. He died June 10. Kelly, the Coughlins’ lawyer, has said previously that James Coughlin provided the CPR.
Kelly also has asserted in prior court proceedings that Polk was a non-swimmer who was knocked into the pool by the friend, who was unaware the teenager could not swim. Kelly also insisted that there were adults still in the backyard when the teenager landed in the pool and that since Polk would have turned 18 on June 17, he could not reasonably be considered a child.
“Alonzo was certainly an outstanding young man, and he was a welcome and invited guest to the Coughlins’ home,” Kelly said in July. But “this wasn’t a situation where he was a toddler left unsupervised near a pool.”
The family of Polk, who was honored with the Anne S. Corcoran Scholarship during high school graduation ceremonies and was a varsity athlete on multiple teams, has previously said the two criminal complaints mark the first step in obtaining justice for the teenager.
“We’re here only for justice for Alonzo. We appreciate what happened here today,” said Drane, following a July court hearing to determine whether the Coughlins would face charges. “It’s one step of a long road, and I want to make sure in this long road that there’s justice for Alonzo.”
Travis Andersen can be reached at email@example.com.