Town documented missing float line at club

A layout and materials plan of the Field Club's free form pool that's on file with the Edgartown Building Department. — courtesy Town of Edgartown

The Field Club pool where 3-year old Henry Bowman Backer drowned was twice found by the Edgartown Board of Health to be missing a required float line. The Field Club pleaded guilty to involuntary manslaughter on Friday in Dukes County Superior Court for what Judge Mark Gildea described as “wanton or reckless conduct” that led to the child’s death. Among the Field Club’s criminal transgressions, as outlined by the prosecution, was the absence of a float line in the pool where Henry drowned. The Field Club instead relied on a “white line,” according to an agreed statement of facts. The line marked the boundary between shallow water little kids were allowed to be in and deeper water they were not. A search warrant affidavit described it as “a thin white line, in the bottom of the pool, at the approximate 2 foot water depth mark…”

According to the affidavit, Massachusetts State Police Trooper Dustin Shaw interviewed Edgartown Health Agent Matt Poole about inspections of the Field Club’s “free form” pool or “free form family pool.” This was the pool Henry was in. 

After reviewing past inspection reports, Poole explained that he “discovered two separate inspection violations that indicate that a swimmer/non-swimmer float line were noted absent at the preopening inspection in 2017 and 2021,” an affidavit states. Poole went on to tell Trooper Shaw, according to an affidavit, that in addition to notations on reports, “a verbal explanation” was given to the Field Club’s pool operator “to install the float line prior to opening.”

Unlike the float line absence itself, board of health violations specific to a float line weren’t mentioned in court and do not appear in the statement of agreed upon facts Cape and Islands District Attorney’s Office ADA Michael Trudeau and club lawyer David Apfel each signed. Inspection forms show the Field Club’s free form pool was inspected by the Edgartown Board of Health on June 26, 2021, a month before Henry was discovered floating face down across the white line — the far side of where a float line would have been. Two handwritten words discernible on a page of the June inspection form with the heading “HEALTH and SAFETY VIOLATIONS/GENERAL SANITATION VIOLATIONS” are “Buoy-Rope.” Records from the Massachusetts Department of Public Health’s Community Sanitation Program show a state inspector visited the Field Club on Aug. 4, 2021 in response to Henry’s death. The inspector found two dozen violations in and around Field Club pools, including the free form pool. Among the violations were trip hazards, “incomplete record keeping” via a log book, an unlocked door behind which pool chemicals were stored, obstructed walkways, and noncompliant chlorine levels.