Chilmark camp incident lawsuit reaches $45,000 settlement

Agreement was reached a day after the lawsuit was filed.

A $45,000 settlement was reached Tuesday between the parents of a child who had a tent strap wrapped around his neck and the Chilmark Town Affairs Council. — Rich Saltzberg

The parents of an 8-year-old Black child who had a tent strap wrapped around his neck by two white children at a Chilmark Community Center summer camp reached a $45,000 settlement agreement with the Chilmark Town Affairs Council, one day after filing a lawsuit.

A complaint filed on Monday in Dukes County Superior Court identifies the plaintiffs with pseudonyms for the child, his parents, and the Chilmark Town Affairs Council, which operates the summer camp.

“The parties have utilized pseudonyms by agreement, in order to protect the privacy of the minor plaintiff and protect the parties from unwelcome public attention,” the complaint reads.

While the complaint does not reference anyone by name or race, the details clearly describe the July 29 incident in which two white boys wrapped a tent strap around the neck of a Black boy.

The highly publicized incident was covered by national news outlets such as the Washington Post, the Boston Globe, and others. An internal investigation from the Chilmark Town Affairs Council found no evidence of racism, but the Martha’s Vineyard Chapter of the NAACP released a 129-page report on the incident deeming the incident “racially insensitive.” That report also stressed that it could not reach conclusions about racial motivation because the NAACP was unable to interview key witnesses.

Additionally, a petition was created by a group of Island activists, calling for a new and more transparent investigation into the incident.

Last week, the Town Affairs Council presented a plan to prevent a similar incident from happening again to the Chilmark select board.

In the complaint, the parents, referred to as Illinois residents James and Jane Doe, do not refer to the race of any of the children, but instead say another child enrolled in the camp “engaged in rough physical play” with their son, referred to as John Doe, “causing him to sustain personal injury and harm.”

The complaint further alleges that employees of the camp, referred to as ABC Corporation, and another camp attendee “failed to prevent the rough physical play” within a reasonable time, and that the boy “sustained additional injury loss and harm” due to the camp’s subsequent actions.

The complaint was filed by Boston-based Lawyers for Civil Rights attorney Oren Sellstrom.

A separate civil action cover sheet filed by Sellstrom claims $500,000 in damages, and says the child sustained “mental and emotional distress” due to a “neck injury.”

On Tuesday, the two parties filed a petition for the court to approve a $45,000 settlement. Of the settlement money, $11,250 will be used for attorney costs and fees, and the remaining $33,750 will be put into a Uniform Transfers to Minors Act (UTMA) Custodial Account for the boy’s benefit.

The petition states the ABC Corporation “denies that the injury, loss and harm that [plaintiffs] allege was caused by the negligence and wrongdoing of the Defendant.” 

“The settlement of this case constitutes a compromised settlement of disputed legal and factual claims,” the petition reads.

The petition must still be approved by a Superior Court judge.


  1. Back when I was 5 years old, my parents told never to point a weapon at another if the intent wasn’t to use it. Not even if the weapon was a toy.

    No child should wrap anything around the neck of another. Acts like this are why POC do not trust white people.

    • Neil, as the majority of comments on this matter have shown us since this racial incident occurred, the systemic racism, so deeply ingrained in our white community, will not allow this to be anything beyond children playing a bit too roughly. Even after reading the 3 reports and not allowing the white children to be interviewed, the white system has decided.

      I’m glad the Times followed up with links to the reports throughout.

      You can bring a horse to water….

  2. And until the white system drink the racial waters……nothing will change. They will keep drowning us in it!

  3. No where in this story was there any indication the kids were acting out some racial motivation. The racist adults just couldn’t pass up a juicy story to back up their racial insecurities. Shame on the adults in this story and shame on the parents cashing in financially on an event that has been proven to be non-racial.

    • John, ever stop to think maybe the parents didn’t sue because of race but because their child wasn’t kept safe? I have no children, but if I did and this type of event involved my child, my bigger concern would be the overall safety of my child, not the race of the other children involved.

    • I knew there would be at least one uninformed white person who would declare exactly what Axel has wrong-headedly decided in his own mind.

      Axel, it’s obvious you did not read even one of the reports or listen to the select board meeting on the matter, yet you speak about racist decisions without informing yourself of the facts and witnesses not allowed . The evidence and purposely withheld evidence says you are wrong, but don’t let that interfere with a while privilege that refuses to even want to stop systemic racism, let alone admit it exists.

      8-9 year olds are fully capable and do act out racist behaviors, even if they have not been specifically introduced to racism at home. Studies prove this. That’s the reality. Children even younger display racial preferences and dislikes. When something looks, smells, feels, walks and talks like a duck, it’s because they’re a duck. I suggest you go back to reread the Times article interviewing the white father of one of the abusers. White peoples can and do allow themselves the privilege of making themselves the victim, blaming and lashing out without an ounce of concern for the actual victim and what was done to him.

      I am so sorry for this young child and his family, and for the truth of what they learned about Chilmark and exactly who many Islanders really are.

      Liz Frith is absolutely correct.

      • Your nonsense is so wrong. I am bi-racial. Neither my dad or my mom held the the moral high ground due to their heredity . We were brought up to believe in what was right regardless of race. Apparently you were not.

        • “In the end we will remember not the words of our enemies but the silence of our friends”~MLKing

          Alex, in case you are seriously unaware of what race baiting is, I will reluctantly dignify your question by reminding you that silence is complicity. My gut tells me though, that being off-topic, inappropriately personal, and this passive aggressive is all that really consumes your thinking on the matter. Anyone is welcome to comment in any manner that does not break the rules, but some off-topic remarks reveal much about the commenter, adding nothing to the actual conversation.

          • Based on your behavior it is a perfectly legitimate question that you’ve answered with your non-answer.

      • Jacqueline, your comment(s) shows a strong bias against people of European heritage. I’m sure you don’t mean to generalize and denigrate entire continents of human beings, but I couldn’t let prejudice go unanswered.

        Prejudice, anywhere, is intolerable. The last generation may have accepted this type of lazy discrimination because you’re a woman assailing a previously dominant subgroup, but mine will not. We embrace people as they are. Perhaps you should try to get informed about the amazingly rich history of European cultures (Portuguese history is important to the island and French, in particular, makes my heart sing) before you comment about just who is “uninformed.”

        • Speaking of uninformed, Cillie, that’s quite the leaping (and wrong) assumption about someone, me, whose background is 100% European. This may come as a shock, but people of European descent can be vehemently opposed to the systemic racism so prevalent in this country and on the Island– and so obvious in many comments under all the MV Times reporting of this racially charged camp incident. Denying it and throwing in the kitchen sink, (what’s next in the systemic racist repertoire, “all lives matter”?) rather than discuss what’s actually going on here, is toxic, crazy-making, and is as fruitless as trying to reason with antivaxers.

    • If you consider a dangerous assault on a child to be juicy, that speaks to your state of mind, no one else’s.

      Yes, shame on the adult(s?) who didn’t sign the report and on the anonymous father of the aggressor who showed no empathy or humility.

      It wasn’t proven to be non-racial by any stretch. The reports were inconclusive because they didn’t have proper access to those involved. The Chilmark report was misleading and glossed over things that the NAACP brought to light. But you’ll keep on ignoring that.

      There was an uninvolved party mentioned in one of the initial articles who I believe witnessed the incident and deemed it racist. We don’t know what that person saw or heard because an interview wasn’t conducted.

      You rage at the parents and at everyone else for taking this seriously but have shown zero concern for a child’s wellbeing. You say this isn’t racist, but at the of the day, we know one thing for certain — a young boy was harmed. Ask yourself why you continue to attack his family without one word of concern.

    • With no mention of racial motivation in the story, two commenters defend racism. No one could see that coming (serious sarcasm font).

    • John, your comment that “The racist adults just couldn’t pass up a juicy story to back up their racial insecurities.” is a typical tact of actual racist to deflect from their own racial insecurities.
      Insinuating that anyone who is concerned about racism is a racist might work on a fox “news” show, but it doesn’t fly here.

  4. If the adults in question want to be taken seriously refuse the money and show these children the truth. $45,000.00 indeed.

    • Read the article. A chunk of it went to legal fees. The rest is being put into an account for the victim. The money isn’t for the parents.

    • Yes, the parents of the child settled for 33,000 from the Town Council who failed so dismally to provide the promised safe camp (after one day and a half million dollar suit). The funds are to go to their child for his suffering. They settled for relative peanuts and did it quickly and made their point. The camp and the town could have been sued to the hilt and should consider themselves lucky this family is gracious and not vindictive. Clearly this family was looking for this to be over but with at least some recompense so they can move on. I wouldn’t blame them one bit if they sue the pants off the parents of the abusers who hurt their child in a system of bullying, taunting, and physical abuse that went on for over a week.

      • Jackie– with all due respect, if my child were being bullied , taunted, and physically abused for over a week, and the councilors were doing nothing about it, I would have taken her out of the program.
        And it wouldn’t care what color anybody was..

    • The adults in question have been taken seriously.
      $45,000 seriously.
      They chose to not drag their kid through 5 years of legal battles to to grab another
      They have made the perps pay, how much is not important as long as it is significant.
      The perps are unlikely to be welcomed back to Chilmark, or anywhere on the Island.

  5. And until it happens to a white child, the white horses will never understand….and only want to be lead to their own white truth. Children learn from adults! They saw it somewhere???

    • Liz– do you seriously think that no white child has ever been bullied or abused by his peers in a summer program ?

      • Of course they have!
        Do White parents just give counselors a pass on bullying/abuse in the summer program?

      • Not to that extent! They may get their feelings hurt or get overlooked. What happened to this child was Abuse!

        You are suppose to learn from HOME, to keep your hands yourself!

  6. It is tragic this happened to this child. I loved going to this Community Center every day in the summer when I was a kid. Clearly, there was not enough supervision. I agree that kids learn from their parents and I would add the media as well. It would be nice if you could ban children who may misbehave this way in advance of this behavior. Was there constant supposably rough play before this where they should have already been banned from being on the property? I do not know the history. Often kids are allowed to make some mistakes as a learning opportunity. I think some occurances are one strike and you are out.

  7. I do not understand why the Times allows some readers to have an “I never have an unexpressed thought” approach to the comments section. Does the Times feel an obligation of some sort to allow these 3 or 4 people to dominate almost every news story, on almost any topic, with their histrionics and bickering? I used to read the repeaters just for fun. But it isn’t fun anymore. It is as disturbing, or more so, than slowing down for a train wreck.

    Please exercise some editorial judgment. It is not a good look for the paper to give these people an ongoing, permanent platform. It is unprofessional, in my opinion. The irony will be, of course, if you choose not to print this comment.

    • Vicki, I can only speak for myself, but as a frequent commenter on the 3 or 4 topics that I always contribute to, I am sorry that the aguing against things like systemic racism has ruined your fun reading the Times comments. Yes, readers often come for the comments, but did you really expect to have a good time reading the community’s reaction to this incident where a Black child was hurt by 2 white children tying him up with a wide leather strap around his neck, all the while under the supervision of the Chilmark Comunity Center’s day camp? Does that sound like histrionics to you? Some people speak out against things like bullying and coverups and denials of reality. Others sit back and stay absolutely silent, except to kvetch and judge others who don’t stay silent within their community, ignoring the serious topic entirely.

      I hope no one is forcing you read anything, anywhere. Toxicity in comments is a struggle for every online news outlet that allows commenting. The MVTimes has worked hard, literally for years, trying to find a balance between freedom of speech and civility. Ignoring this dedication and effort is unfair and ungracious. This behavior makes you as much a member of the fray as any of us.

  8. This story has been discussed many times since summer. Without fail, animosity and disrespect towards the victims surfaces. Yes, plural. When a child is attacked, a family aches, too. Money wasn’t even in the picture until now. That did nothing to stop the angry, predictably inappropriate replies. So no, if these parents were to walk away from the settlement, it absolutely would not improve the public’s understanding or response. That much has been demonstrated. It is not their job to impress us.

    Commenters routinely pop off based on headlines or assumptions alone, missing vital facts within the articles. What does that say about the motives behind posting? If you cannot be troubled to seek out details, you are not after truth, which is, in my opinion, the main thing we should be trying to suss out of the news. I believe that’s how this started months ago. Some saw ‘racial’ in the original heading and were instantly triggered by its mention, by the mere possibility. After that, they never had any intention of acknowledging the grave harm done. Worse, they decided to compound it by adding insult to injury.

    We were told to reserve judgment at first. Fine. But as further information came to light, each puzzle piece more tragic and disturbing than the last, support actually waned. That tells me the wait-and-see approach was never about fairness. It was a tactic to avoid dealing with the incident. To put off having to care. Apathy is the most destructive force I know of.

    I’m not a betting girl, but I’d stake any amount on the idea that if this happened to a local white child, the responses would be uniformly and wholeheartedly supportive. Intensely so. As well they should be for *every* small person who’s been hurt. Frankly, I don’t think half these comments would be printed in the above scenario.
    We may even see basic decency peek its finicky head out.

    But not here. At least not from everybody. Instead, we have folks searching the ground for real racism, that oft-mentioned, ill-defined, elusive concept we hear about from some crowds. You know what I mean. “There IS real racism in the world, but this [insert blatantly racist event of the day] ain’t it. Stay tuned, we will be sure to react with concern once it has been located!”

    All the while, the real deal flows freely through community reaction, plain as the ocean that surrounds us.

    These observations will likely be written of as dramatic or virtuous. I get it. I know how it sounds when laid out, honestly, but there’s no palatable way to word things. There is truth here, and I suspect we all know as much. Admitting that is the tricky part. I don’t believe in wokeness or superiority. Nobody’s asleep. Nobody’s incapable of grasping this. Some just choose to be cruel for their own reasons. Repeatedly. Then they hide behind free speech. To me, there’s no liberty in being chained to our ugliest impulses. We all make mistakes at times. Some recognize it and actually apologize, but that’s rare. Too rare.

    I’m glad the family was able to settle quickly. They deserve this and more. Much love to them.

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