Teenager who drowned while in state custody shouldn’t have been allowed in water, records show

BOSTON — The signs on the bridge warn against it. Yet, 15-year-old Monrius Rendon jumped off the side of the Highbank Bridge and into the Bass River in Dennis where there was no lifeguard on duty, according to police reports exclusively obtained by 25 Investigates.

The teen, who was in the custody of the Massachusetts Department of Children and Families (DCF), drowned May 30 while on a fishing outing with five other teen residents and two staff members of the Cape Cod Adolescent Treatment Center in Yarmouth.

25 Investigates reviewed the reports filed by state and local police officers who responded the night of the incident. According to the police reports, there is no indication that foul play is suspected but the documents raise questions about the decisions made by those supervising the group of teens that day.

On Saturday, May 30, at 7:48 p.m., Dennis police got a call for a “water rescue for possible child drowning who jumped off the Highbank Bridge,” per audio recordings of police scanner traffic on Broadcastify.com.

Within minutes, first responders were at the Bass River and a dive team was activated. Witnesses told them Monrius had jumped into the chilly water below.

After a three-hour search, a dive team recovered the 15-year-old’s body.

Monrius was in the care of the Cape Cod Adolescent Treatment Center, a DCF-contracted group home. The group, according to the documents, ended up at the bridge after a day of fishing. Reportedly, the group stopped there while on their way back to the group home.

One of the reports indicates one of the staff members told police “one of the kids said they wanted to go swimming, which prompted all the kids to start removing the outer layers of clothing down to just shorts.” A couple of the kids had already jumped in and were taking turns going in the water. After Monrius jumped, according to the staffer’s account, he “had drifted past the first dock into the middle of the channel…he observed Monrius start to panic as he was drifting farther away.”

There are signs on each side of the bridge that read: “Jumping from bridge prohibited.”

But when asked about that, the same staffer told police they “did not see the posted signs on both sides of the bridge,” the report indicates.

In that same report, a woman identified as the group home’s program director told police “she was not aware the youths would be swimming, and explained her program’s policy with respect to swimming is that it is prohibited unless a lifeguard is present.”

The documents also show police tried to question the second staff member supervising the teens that day but he “left the scene without [the reporting officer’s] knowledge prior to having a chance to speak with him....as of this day (6/3/20), [the staff member] has not returned any phone calls made to him from investigators.”

25 Investigates found an online Change.org petition “Justice for Monrius Rendon,” which appears to have been set up by a family friend. It claims “Monrius was a 15-year-old boy from Norwood, Massachusetts who supposedly ‘drowned’…Monrius doesn’t swim nor does he know how to swim.”

We contacted the group home, which is operated by the Boston-based Robert F. Kennedy Children’s Action Corps. By email, the agency’s chief executive officer Robert Watson said, “we will have no comment at this time.”

We also reached out the DCF, the Cape and Islands District Attorney’s office and the Department of Early Education and Care (EEC), the agency that oversees group homes in Massachusetts, to ask about Monrius’s case. All declined to comment citing an open investigation into the incident.

Monrius’s mother initially agreed to speak with 25 Investigates but recently stopped returning our calls. We have learned the family has retained legal counsel.

The teenager’s death comes at a time when regulations for state-licensed residential programs are temporarily suspended due to the COVID-19 state of emergency declared by Gov. Charlie Baker, per a policy notice on EEC’s website. The regulations apply to the oversight of programs that house children in state custody.

According to the notice “While Residential Licensing regulations at 606 CMR 3.00 et seq. are suspended and for the duration of the Executive Order, all licensed residential programs and all Approved Temporary Emergency Residential Sites shall be subject to the minimum requirements.”

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