John Sheeran charged in “racially motivated’ attack

John Sheeran leaving court on Monday, Sept. 11, 2023, and the lake where he allegedly tried to drown a Black teen (WFXT screenshots)

A 14-year-old boy in Massachusetts is being accused of carrying out a racially motivated attack in which he allegedly tried to drown a Black teen while calling him racial slurs and referring to him as “George Floyd.”

A grand jury last month indicted John Sheeran, who is white, on one count of attempted murder and one count of assault with a dangerous weapon over the alleged attack, authorities announced.

According to a press release from the Cape & Islands District Attorney’s Office, the incident took place at the Goose Pond in Chatham, Massachusetts, at about 3 p.m. on July 19 and involved Sheeran, another white juvenile, and the victim, who was a Black juvenile male.

Prosecutors said the three boys met at the pond and that upon Sheeran’s arrival, he “picked up a stone, threatened the victim with it and made the racially charged statement, ‘N—–‘ to the victim.”

Before entering the water, prosecutors said the victim put on a life jacket and told Sheeran and the other boy that he did not know how to swim. The three boys then entered the water together, police said.

“Once in the water, the juvenile defendant proceeded to pull on the victim’s life jacket and submerged him underwater 4 to 5 times, causing the victim breathing distress,” prosecutors wrote. “The third juvenile laughed at the victim during the attempted drowning and referred to the victim as ‘George Floyd.’ The attack continued as the juvenile defendant swam underneath the victim and attempted to grab his feet to again pull the victim underwater.”

The victim began yelling for someone on the beach to help him, and the alleged attack ended when a bystander intervened, entering the water and helping the victim ashore.

According to court documents obtained by Nashua, New Hampshire, NBC affiliate WBTS-CD, the individual who intervened on the victim’s behalf was also a juvenile male who provided a statement to police. In that statement, the boy reportedly said that he overheard the victim asking Sheeran to “please not splash or push him because of his inability to swim.” After that, the boy said he witnessed Sheeran “pushing [the victim’s] head under water” while the victim was “screaming for help.” The juvenile reportedly said that when he went to help the victim, Sheeran and the boy he was with “were smirking” at him.

The victim also provided a statement to police, saying that as soon as he got to the pond, Sheeran started calling him racial slurs, throwing rocks at him, and threatening to beat him up, Boston Fox affiliate WFXT reported.

“[Sheeran] held on to my life jacket and pulled me underwater and back up about 4-5 times,” the victim wrote in a statement to authorities. “[W]hile doing it, water got into my mouth and nose, and I could not breathe.”

The victim reportedly added that Sheeran kicked and pushed him under the water while calling him “George Floyd.”

Prosecutors said that at about 8:15 p.m. on the same evening as the alleged attack at the lake, Sheeran also struck an Asian child in the face and called him racial slurs, WFXT reported.

Appearing in Barnstable Juvenile Court on Aug. 31 for a Dangerousness Hearing, Judge Silva Gomes ordered Sheeran to be held without bond until his pretrial conference on Monday. At that proceeding, a judge released Sheeran into the custody of his father under certain conditions, including wearing a GPS monitoring device, remaining confined to his father’s home, and not attempt to contact any potential witnesses in the case.

Sheeran’s attorney, Kevin Reddington, told the Boston Globe that the charges against his client were “over the top.”

“They were in the water horseplaying, and it got out of control, clearly,” Reddington reportedly told the newspaper. “I understand the basis of the judge’s decision, and we are appealing to the Superior Court and hoping to get him back in school.”

Under Massachusetts’ “Youthful Offender” statute, prosecutors can seek adult sentences for juveniles between the ages of 14 and 17 under certain circumstances. Those circumstances require that the juvenile is charged with a felony and is accused of inflicting or threatening serious bodily harm, committed a firearms offense, or has previously been committed to the Department of Youth Services.

Unlike juvenile hearings, the proceedings for individuals prosecuted under the youthful offender statute are open to the public. For sentencing, a youthful offender can be sentenced to the same maximum penalty as an adult, committed to youth services until they reach age 21, or a combination of the two.

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John Sheeran charged in “racially motivated’ attack

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