The Boathouse and Field Club, a private, members-only club in Katama, pleaded guilty before a superior court judge last Friday to involuntary corporate manslaughter, taking criminal responsibility for the drowning death of a three-year-old boy last summer in the club’s pool.

Field Club general manager Scott Anderson (left) with club attorney David Apfel. — Mark Alan Lovewell

Henry Bowman Backer, age three and a half, was attending the club’s Kids Club program on the morning of July 26, 2021, when he was left unattended in the pool by counselors, according to an agreed-upon statement of facts presented by the Cape and Islands district attorney in the Edgartown courthouse Friday. Henry was found unresponsive in the pool and was airlifted to a Boston hospital, where he was later pronounced dead. The cause of death was drowning.

“There is no sentence that can be imposed that can justify what has happened,” declared the Hon. Mark Gildea, an associate justice of the superior court who presided over the day of wrenching testimony. The unusual court proceeding also marked the first time since the incident that the facts had been reported in the case.

As a result of the plea, The Field Club will be placed on probation for five years, with terms that include a $100,000 payment to Henry Bowman’s parents, who plan to donate the money to the Red Cross for lifeguard training on the Cape and Islands. The club will also be barred from running a camp or program involving water activities for children under the age of six for five years. Other terms include a non-disparagement clause and restriction on any transfer or sale of the club.

On Monday, there was further activity in the case. Cape and Islands district attorney Michael O’Keefe confirmed that an email sent by the Field Club to its members shortly after the court proceeding Friday had triggered a fresh complaint about a possible probation violation.

Field Club directors in the courtroom. — Mark Alan Lovewell

Obtained by the Gazette, the email said in part: “We agreed to plead to this charge in part because our own investigation as well as an investigation conducted by the Cape and Islands district attorney’s office revealed flaws in club procedures related to the Kids’ Club, as well as serious errors by some of our summer staff.”

The email also disclosed that an out-of-court settlement had been made to the Bowman Backer family. “In conjunction with the plea, we have also reached a comprehensive and permanent settlement with Henry’s family . . . This settlement will, hopefully, help Henry’s family as it attempts to heal from this horrific loss, while also doing honor to Henry’s life and memory. As part of the settlement, with the family, no individual associated with the club will face liability related to the tragedy,” the email said. The amount of the settlement was not specified.

Mr. O’Keefe said the complaint and the email had been referred to the court.

“It’s up to the court to decide whether, specifically the probation department, to make a decision as to whether or not they consider that a potential violation of probation. And so that’s a court decision,” Mr. O’Keefe said.

If it is determined that there is a probation violation, a hearing will be held before a judge, Mr. O’Keefe said.

On Thursday a spokesman for Mr. O’Keefe said the matter remains under review by the probation department and the court.

David Meier, attorney for the Bowman Backer family. — Mark Alan Lovewell

Though the drowning was reported at the time, few details were available because the police report and other investigative materials were impounded.

The agreed-upon statement of facts presented in court Friday was the first public description of what took place, And on Monday, additional court documents were released that provided more details not included in the agreed-upon statement. A 37-page search warrant released by the district court, with names redacted, includes exhaustive interviews by state police investigators with numerous people who were on hand at the time of the incident, including counselors, lifeguards and the club recreation director who was in charge of children’s programming. Police also learned through their investigation that the club had been cited on two previous occasions by the Edgartown board of health for safety violations around the free-form family pool. The “violations indicate that a swimmer/non swimmer float line were noted as absent at the pre-opening inspection in 2017 and 2021,” police wrote in part. “. . . this specific violation has been an ongoing issue with the Field Club free form pool.”

Information about the violations was not included in the agreed-on statement of facts.

The court proceeding Friday began in the district court, where the clerk-magistrate found probable cause for involuntary manslaughter against a corporation. Though the charge is seldom used, it is employed where no individuals are singled out for responsibility. Facts in an affidavit which came from state police and the Department of Children and Safety found that Henry had been neglected by the counselors and lifeguards at the club, though none were identified by name.

The case then moved swiftly to a special sitting of the superior court, where first assistant district attorney Mike Trudeau and a colleague presented expanded facts and details surrounding the incident that day.

Reading from the joint statement of facts, the district attorney said that Henry was dropped off at camp by his mother, who brought floatation devices which she clipped to his tote as directed by staff. He was not wearing his floaties when he went into the pool with other children. At one point, a counselor who was with the children left the pool with two girls to get goggles without alerting any of the other counselors.

“The counselors were not assigned to watch a specific child. Each counselor was responsible for watching all the children. Not all counselors were trained in first aid or CPR. The counselors were not all adequately trained to supervise 3-5 year old children in water activities,” according to the joint statement.

Henry Bowman Backer, pictured in family video shown as victim statement. — Mark Alan Lovewell

Questioned later by state police, the counselor said it was Henry’s responsibility to put on his floaties.

The statement indicated that while counselors had warned the children not to cross a white line demarcating the deep end of the pool, it was not being monitored at the time.

Standing for The Field Club, a private corporation, were general manager Scott Anderson and the club attorney David Apfel, a partner with Goodwin Procter in Boston. A large gathering of club directors were also present in the courtroom.

Mr. Anderson waived the right to an indictment and entered a plea of guilty to involuntary manslaughter on behalf of the club.

After answering all the legally required questions from Judge Gildea in connection with waiving the right to an indictment, Mr. Anderson told the judge:

“We had a responsibility to return Henry back to his mother, father and grandparents . . . and we failed on every level, your honor.”

The Bowman Backer family was not present but was represented by their attorney David Meier, a partner with Todd and Weld. A wrenching video prepared by the family was shown as a victim statement.

“This was not a tragic accident . . . our son was killed by the Field Club in the summer of 2021 .. . it was a crime, and the Field Club became a crime scene,” Ellie Bowman Backer said in part in the video. “I thank the state police for uncovering this.”

After the video, Judge Gildea asked everyone in the courtroom to stand for a moment of silence in honor of Henry.

The Boathouse and Field Club was built as a private recreational club in 2008. Addressing club directors sitting in the courtroom, Judge Gildea struck a somber tone.

“I didn’t know anything about the Field Club before this case,” the judge said, noting he had looked up the club’s mission statement.

“It touts exceptional and unparalleled service to its members. That didn’t happen in July 2021.”

Diego Lasarte contributed reporting.