The mother of an 8-year-old Hephzibah boy who drowned in April has hired an Atlanta law firm, possibly to sue the Richmond County Sheriff’s Office and have a “higher agency” reopen the investigation.
Renee Little, a lawyer at Forrest B. Johnson & Associates, confirmed Friday that Jeannette Stevens has retained the firm to represent her “in regards to the loss of her son,” Jon Stevens.She declined to elaborate.
Stevens said she hopes to get 1,000 people to sign an online petition and possibly challenge the case in civil court.
“I had no other choice. This investigation is no longer a criminal case,” Stevens said. “I want to know what happened to my child.”
Richmond County Sheriff Richard Roundtree upheld his office’s decision to close its investigation after the state medical examiner ruled the boy died as a result of an accidental drowning.
Neighbors of the Stevens family had written him to express concerns about the “many inconsistencies” surrounding the collection of evidence and credibility of witness statements.
“I have confidence in my investigators and I, too, have reviewed the case and have spoken to Ms. Stevens on several occasions and none of the information you have provided is significantly new and cannot be considered evidence of a criminal act,” Roundtree wrote in response. “I realize that (many people) may have (their) own theories that there is some sort of foul play involved, but there is no evidence to support that and please be open to the
possibility that you may been wrong and allow Ms. Stevens to grieve properly and find peace in her own way.”
Maynard Eaton, a spokesman for the Southern Christian Leadership Conference, which threatened to bring a “national movement” to Augusta if the sheriff’s office did not conduct a thorough investigation, said Thursday that the civil rights organization met with Roundtree on May 21 and is “no longer involved in the case.”
For much of the past week, Stevens and her lawyers have been compiling a civil case against Roundtree, obtaining 80 pages of records from the sheriff’s office. The packet includes photographs, autopsy reports, investigative notes, interview worksheets and news articles.
The most recent document added to the file is an autopsy by Jacqueline Martin, the deputy chief medical examiner for the Georgia Bureau of Investigation. She concluded after reviewing the case file and Jon’s family history that the cause of death was accidental drowning.
Jon was last seen between 6:45 and 7:15 p.m. April 13 at his neighbor’s Hunters Mill house helping his 11-year-old best friend and two 16-year-old boys clean its in-ground pool for the summer, according to the final report filed by Investigator Ashley Pletcher, the case’s lead detective.
Pletcher stated that the two teens had been working on the pool for four days to earn an extra $25 while on spring break.
According to police interviews and surveillance footage, one adult was at the home about 5:45 p.m. when Jon entered the residence but left at 6:36 p.m. to do some bookkeeping at work. He reportedly reminded Jon and his 11-year-old child that they were not allowed in the pool and were to disturb the older boys from cleaning
only if they needed something.
In a deposition, the 11-year-old friend said he and Jon grew bored and decided to see how the cleaning was going and get into the pool if the teenagers did not object.
The friend got into the pool to help clean and told Jon – known to be a nonswimmer – that he could get in if he stayed in the shallow end, which was 4 feet deep.
The friend went underwater several times before moving toward the 10-foot-deep end – described as cold, muddy and difficult for breathing – to help the older boys clean.
The 11-year-old said that during the first of four dives he made to the bottom of the deep end to vacuum debris he saw Jon still standing near the stairs. On his last dive, the boy said, he heard a noise that sounded like the latch of a metal gate.
After he surfaced, he and the older boys, who were also diving to the bottom, noticed Jon was gone and thought he had gone home, according to the deposition.
The three children remained in the pool for 30 to 45 minutes more and got out about 8 p.m.
Jeannette Stevens reported her son missing at 9:35 p.m. The Richmond County Dive Team was called at 11:30 p.m. and entered the “murky” pool at 1 a.m., unable to see more than an inch in front of them, according to investigator’s reports.
Jon was found 20 minutes later in the center of the deep end, with no pulse or injuries, the report said.