MEXIA, Texas -- Three black teenagers arrested at a festival commemorating the freeing of slaves drowned when the boat taking them across a lake capsized, but police Sunday denied reports the youths were handcuffed.
In San Antonio, the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People said that state conference president Rev. A.C. Sutton would head an investigation into the deaths.
The body of Steve Booker, 19, of Dallas was recovered from Lake Mexia Sunday.
The bodies of the two other victims -- Carl Baker, 19, and Anthony Freeman, 18, both of Mexia -- were pulled from the lake Saturday.
A witness said he saw officers remove handcuffs from Baker after his body was pulled ashore, but Limestone County Sheriff Dennis Walker called the report 'completely untrue.'
Walker said, however, a grand jury would be asked to investigate the incident.
The three were arrested on suspicion of smoking marijuana at a Juneteenth festival Friday night commemorating the day Texas blacks received word of the Emancipation Proclamation freeing slaves during the Civil War.
Because a two-lane bridge over Commanche Crossing at Lake Mexia was blocked by 5,000 celebrants on the shore, three officers used a small aluminum fishing boat to transport the prisoners to patrol cars some 200 yards away on the other side of the lake, about 80 miles southeast of Dallas.
Deputy Kenneth Archie said Sunday he removed the youths' handcuffs just before they were placed in the boat. About 40 feet into the lake, he said, the boat began taking on water and was purposely capsized by officers, who swam safely back to shore.
Archie, who is black, said he was most upset by the failure of anyone on shore to offer help.
'Thirty, forty, fifty people or more were there ... but didn'tnone of them move,' he said.
Arthur Beachum Jr., a Mexia resident, said he saw searchers remove handcuffs from Baker's body before bringing it to shore.
'I saw them pull the body from the lake and it still had the handcuffs on it,' Beachum said. 'One officer took them off and put them in his pocket.'
When Freeman's body was discovered, authorities circled it with three boats before pulling it from the water. A Waco, Texas, television reporter said: 'They shielded the body from our cameras on shore. They took a while before they pulled the body out, but we couldn't see what they were doing.'
Justice of the Peace Lester Been refused to discuss the drownings, but said he expected the deaths to be ruled accidental.
Dr. K.P. Whittstruck, who performed autopsies on Freeman and Baker, said they died from drowning. He said there were no cuts, bruises or handcuff marks on the bodies.
Baker's brother, Anthony, said he did not understand how his brother could have drowned.
'My brother could swim,' said Baker, 24, of Houston. 'All three of them had been going to swimming pools together for years.'
He said the sheriff's office refused to allow him to identify the body. He also said his parents were not notified.
Booker's mother, Virginia Nelson, said she went to Mexia after hearing her son was missing, but authorities would tell her nothing.
'They wouldn't even give me any of the officers' names,' she said. 'They're all being hush-mouthed. They should tell us some more. I want to know if they were handcuffed and why they didn't have on life jackets.'
She said, 'They didn't have any business putting them in that boat. They could have walked them around to the car.'
A Dallas resident who attended the festival, Gloria King, said she saw a deputy remove the handcuffs before placing the prisoners in the boat.
'A tall black officer walked up, and he had two of them handcuffed,' said Mrs. King. 'He took them to this boat and he un-handcuffed them and put them in. He took the handcuffs off, but I don't know if he put them back on after they got on the boat. What I really didn't understand was why all of them got in. That boat was overloaded. They should have put life jackets on them.'
Sheriff Walker said no life jackets were in the boat because there was no reason to expect individual arrests to be made at such a large gathering, or that the boat would have to be used.