A white 14-year-old was held in juvenile detention on an attempted murder charge after he allegedly called a Black teenager a racial slur and then tried to drown him, according to the Cape & Islands district attorney’s office, but the boy’s lawyer claims the incident was innocent horseplay that “got out of control.”
The defendant, identified as John Sheeran of Chatham in a police report obtained by the Globe, was found dangerous and held without bail by a Barnstable Juvenile Court judge at his arraignment on charges of attempted murder and assault with a dangerous weapon Thursday, a day after a grand jury indictment, District Attorney Robert Galibois’s office said.
The district attorney’s office said prosecutors are charging the 14-year-old as a youthful offender, which means the proceedings are public and the process is similar to that of an adult.
Sheeran is being held in a juvenile detention center in Taunton, according to his attorney, Kevin Reddington, who said he plans to appeal to the Superior Court to get the teen released. Sheeran is due back in court Sept. 13.
The indictment stems from a July 19 incident at Goose Pond in Chatham involving Sheeran, another boy, and the victim, according to the police report. The names of the victim and the other boy were redacted from the report.
The victim told police he was invited to the pond by a friend, according to the report. The victim arrived on his bicycle, which he told Sheeran and the other boy not to touch because he had borrowed it from his older brother, and they allegedly began throwing rocks at him.
The victim said he put on a lifejacket because he cannot swim, and he went into the water as Sheeran allegedly continued to throw stones at him, threatened to beat him up, and called him a racial slur, the report said.
Sheeran and the other boy waded into the pond, and a few minutes later Sheeran allegedly swam to the victim and pulled him underwater by his lifejacket, plunging him under the surface four to five times, according to the police report.
The victim said he yelled for Sheeran to stop because he couldn’t breathe and tried to get away from him while the other boy laughed and called him George Floyd, the report said.
Floyd was the Black man whose murder in May 2020 by Minneapolis police officers spurred protests across the country.
The victim said Sheeran left him alone for about 15 minutes and then returned on a raft with the other boy, paddling toward him. Sheeran then allegedly swam beneath the victim and grabbed his feet as the other boy laughed from the raft, the police report said.
The victim yelled for help, and a bystander on the beach swam out to him and yelled for Sheeran to stop, which he did, according to the police report.
Once he was back on the shore, the victim packed up his belongings and left the pond. The incident was reported two days later at the Chatham Police Department, according to the report.
Reddington, Sheeran’s attorney, said his client’s parents were recently divorced and he was living in Fort Lauderdale, Fla., with his mother and going to school there prior to the indictment. He said Sheeran, the other boy, and the victim were friends prior to the incident.
He said the charges against Sheeran are “over the top.”
“They were in the water horseplaying and it got out of control, clearly,” Reddington said Friday night. “I understand the basis of the judge’s decision, and we are appealing to the Superior Court and hoping to get him back in school.”
Sheeran and the other boy were not students in the Monomoy Regional School District, which includes Chatham and Harwich, Superintendent Scott Carpenter said in a statement.
The district “has been working closely with the Chatham Police Department and our Diversity, Equity, Inclusion, and Belonging Advisory Council to ensure that our schools and our community are prepared to support anyone impacted by this incident,” Carpenter said.
Members of the Chatham Select Board said they were “disturbed and saddened” when they learned of the alleged attack.
“We do not believe that it reflects the true nature of our community, which is diverse and inclusive,” the board said in a statement. “We condemn all acts of violence, particularly those directed at children.”
Sean Cotter of the Globe staff and correspondent Adam Sennott contributed to this report.