Attorney questions authority over pool

Says only state can close facility; inspectors missed drowning victim

Multiple agencies are investigating the death of Marie Joseph, who drowned after going down the slide at a state-run pool. Multiple agencies are investigating the death of Marie Joseph, who drowned after going down the slide at a state-run pool. (George Rizer for The Boston Globe)
By Ben Wolford
Globe Correspondent / July 13, 2011

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FALL RIVER - Two municipal sanitary inspectors were not responsible for the state-run swimming pool where a woman drowned last month, their union attorney said yesterday, raising questions about accountability on the day of the victim’s funeral.

The inspectors faced questioning from a city attorney during a closed-door disciplinary hearing. But Jaime DiPaola-Kenny, the attorney who represents the inspectors, said they had no authority to close the pool even though they inspected it and issued a city permit while the woman’s body was still concealed under 12 feet of cloudy water.

Yesterday morning, her family mourned in a private funeral for Marie Joseph, 36, who died June 26 at Vietnam Veterans Memorial Swimming Pool after going down a slide into the deep end.

On June 27, two inspectors visited the pool and scheduled an inspection for the next day. On June 28, one of them inspected it, noted it was “cloudy’’ in the report, and then issued a permit that was never delivered because the body was discovered later that night, after two days in the pool.

“The state has a responsibility to shut down that pool and not the city,’’ DiPaola-Kenny, associate general counsel for the American Federation of State, County, and Municipal Employ ees, said at a press conference.

“Even if the city inspectors wanted to shut down that pool, there was no jurisdiction for them to do so,’’ she said.

Catherine Williams, a spokeswoman for the state Department of Conservation and Recreation, which operates the pool and 32 others statewide, said the department has the sole authority to open and close its pools.

“There is no requirement by the Department of Public Health or by municipal authorities to issue permits in order for DCR to open or close DCR pools,’’ said Williams. “However, it is DCR’s practice that the DPH will inspect DCR pools over the course of the season, and we also welcome local health departments to inspect them if requested by local communities.

“DPH and in some cases municipal authorities routinely conduct inspections after the pools have opened to assess compliance and address any issues relating to health and safety standards.’’

The city hearing is one of three investigations into the incident. The state is reviewing its lifeguards and its decision to open the pool June 25, and the Bristol district attorney’s office is investigating the death.

Officials would not comment on any of the investigations.

Mayor William Flanagan of Fall River called the state’s jurisdiction over certifying the pool “a question of debate’’ and said his office is looking for a memorandum of agreement between Fall River and the state agency.

DiPaola-Kenny would not elaborate on why the inspectors visited the pool if they had no authority over it. She said only that “our inspector was there conducting a voluntary-type inspection.’’

The disciplinary hearing yesterday was a fact-finding session to determine whether the city inspectors violated policies when they issued a permit, said Steven Torres, a city attorney who is also the hearing officer. He will make a recommendation to the mayor regarding disciplinary action.

The two inspectors, whom officials have not named, remain on paid administrative leave.

“We are going to look at this from not simply a jurisdictional [perspective], but what responsibility did we have to the general public and for the general public’s welfare,’’ Torres said.

At a wake Monday at the Silva-Faria Funeral Home in Fall River, friends paid their last respects to Joseph.

“It was pretty much full,’’ said Veronica Reis, 21, a friend and neighbor who attended. “There were a lot of family and friends.’’

She said a funeral yesterday morning was private and attended only by family, including her five children and her brother. Joseph was born in Port-au-Prince, Haiti, and moved to the United States when she was 13.

The short obituary from her services described her as “a humorous and kind-spirited woman who enjoyed spending time with her family dancing, cooking, walking, and making people laugh.’’

Ben Wolford can be reached at