A prosecutor said Monday he would seek criminal complaints against a current and a former state manager for allowing a murky public swimming pool to remain open for two days while the body of a woman who drowned lay unnoticed at the bottom of it.
Bristol District Attorney Samuel Sutter cited what he called a "systemic failure" in the operation of the pool in Fall River, 50 miles south of Boston.
Sutter said Brian Shanahan, regional director of the Department of Conservation and Recreation, and Jeff Carter, the department's SouthCoast district manager, wouldn't be charged in connection with the death of Marie Joseph, a Newport, R.I., hotel housekeeper from Haiti. But he said state police would seek complaints from a court charging Shanahan and Carter with reckless endangerment of a child for allowing swimmers _ including children _ to use the pool when it should have been closed because the water was too cloudy.
The prosecutor's announcement followed a more than three-month investigation by the district attorney into the June 26 accidental drowning of Joseph at the Vietnam Veterans Memorial Pool.
"A series of poor decisions, with errors compounding errors, a disregard for regulatory requirements and a disregard for the proper standard for operating the pool pervaded multiple levels of DCR supervision and management," Sutter wrote in a 20-page report.
He said the investigation revealed "a repeated willingness to diminish minimum safety standards by re-interpreting the applicable regulation and substituting self-generated standards."
The prosecutor said witnesses told investigators that Carter, the district manager, had told pool employees that he wanted to save money by not chlorinating and filtering the pool well before June 25, the day the pool was scheduled to open for the season. The decision resulted in the buildup of algae in the pool, the report said.
The staff was told by the district manager not to begin chlorinating and filtering the pool until June 22, but he later agreed to move the process up a couple of days after a maintenance supervisor complained about "pea-soup green" water in the pool, the investigation found.
When interviewed by investigators, Carter acknowledged telling staff not to chlorinate or filter the water, but he denied that the decision was made to save money, Sutter said.
In a statement, DCR Commissioner Edward Lambert said the agency was reviewing the report and would use the prosecutor's findings when crafting future safety measures. He said DCR had already ordered a number of changes after the drowning, including enhancement of "pool safety protocols regarding water clarity."
Lambert said he requested and received Shanahan's resignation following the discovery of the woman's body, while Carter was placed on leave.
Phone numbers for Shanahan and Carter could not immediately be located Monday, and it was unknown if they had hired attorneys.
Investigators have said Joseph, a mother of five, drowned after going down a water slide in the pool's deep end.
A review of surveillance video showed that Joseph surfaced briefly after going down the slide, bumped into a child and then went under with no signs of a struggle. Her body was discovered on the evening of June 28 after it floated to the surface.
State investigators previously said that the pool should not have opened on the day Joseph drowned because the water was too murky and that the water clarity also prevented lifeguards from being alerted to the drowning and from noticing the body at the bottom of the pool.
Sutter, who said Joseph apparently was unable to swim, ruled the death unintentional.
The pool was drained after the body was discovered and did not reopen during the summer.
Sutter said one day after the discovery of the body, state police divers went to the bottom of the pool and found considerable debris, including hair and hair ribbons, jewelry, coins, leaves and dirt. Staff later told investigators that the pool was never vacuumed before opening for the season because the available vacuum wasn't working.
The district attorney's probe appeared to exonerate lifeguards at the pool of any wrongdoing in connection with Joseph's death.
The 9-year-old boy who Joseph bumped into after going down the slide told police that he had informed two lifeguards that Joseph had gone under and that the guards didn't take action. But Sutter said the surveillance video didn't corroborate the boy's story.