The Intercept released “Drowning by Sunrise,” a short documentary focused on an investigation into the death of 16-year-old Damain Martin in Broward County, Florida.
Damain drowned in a canal on March 8, 2019, while trying to escape police who spotted him and a group of friends in a car that was reported stolen. The film was directed by filmmakers Jason Fitzroy Jeffers and Jess Swanson and based on a research by The Intercept and the Florida Center for Investigative Reporting.
When Sunrise Police officers pulled up to the reported stolen car, all of the teenagers inside, including Martin, fled. Martin ran the fastest and farthest, leading officers on a foot pursuit through a residential community. During the chase, a police officer deployed his Taser as Martin entered a shallow canal. An hour later, divers retrieved the teenager’s body and pronounced him dead. He was unarmed, with just reading glasses and a $2 bill in his pocket.
Jess Swanson and Jason Fitzroy Jeffers sought to answer the central question about Martin’s drowning: If the Taser didn’t strike Martin, an athlete and a skilled swimmer, how could he have drowned? The resulting film documents the police’s actions leading up to Damain’s death and provides information that challenges the autopsy report.
The Broward Medical Examiner’s Office and the police ruled the death an accidental drowning and reported that there was no evidence of the police Taser making contact with Martin. But in reviewing autopsy photographs, Swanson and Jeffers discovered that the medical examiner had dismissed as “faint” and “superficial” a wound on Martin’s right arm that is a candidate for a Taser strike wound. Moreover, a biomedical and forensic anthropologist at the John Jay College of Criminal Justice confirmed in the film that the wound is precisely the type she’d look for in investigating whether a Taser strike had occurred.
“Drowning by Sunrise” also taps into larger national questions about the treatment of young black men by police and law enforcement’s frequent use of Tasers, which killed at least 49 people in 2018.