Police Reviewing Officers’ Actions As Family Seeks Answers About Bethesda Teenager’s Death
State medical examiner on Friday ruled that Navid Sepehri’s death was accidental
Montgomery County Police Chief Tom Manger is reviewing officers’ interactions with a Bethesda teenager and the search for him before he was found dead in a stream Sunday afternoon, County Council President Hans Riemer said.
Sepehri’s family has raised questions about why officers didn’t do more to locate the boy after his father first stopped at the Bethesda police station, seeking help in finding his missing son.
“If the chief feels the case was not handled properly, we’ll rely on him to take action,” Riemer said. “A family is devastated. This is a real tragedy.”
On Friday, the state’s Office of the Chief Medical Examiner ruled that Sepehri, a 17-year-old Walt Whitman student, died from acute alcohol intoxication complicated by drowning and hypothermia. The medical examiner ruled his death as accidental.
Sepehri’s uncle, Jamshid, alleged in a letter to the Montgomery County Council that county police have mishandled the case and an outside agency should take over.
Sepehri’s father, Frank Sepehri, found Navid’s body around 5 p.m. Sunday in a ravine behind the Bannockburn Swimming Club near the 6500 block of Laverock Lane.
Earlier Sunday, around 3:23 a.m., Frank Sepehri went to the Bethesda police station while searching for his son and talked with an officer, according to police. No missing person report was filed at the time.
The Washington Post reported that Navid’s father said he was told by an officer in the parking lot that his son was probably at a friend’s house.
Police took a missing person report at 12:45 p.m. Sunday, but police did not say in a press release who made that report. That’s when police began searching for Navid.
Prior to that, officers encountered Navid Sepehri alive and apparently intoxicated around 10:30 p.m. in the 6500 block of Elgin Lane. Police were responding to a report of underage drinking and disorderly people at a party.
Police said in a press release that when they saw Sepehri, he “may have been under the influence.” Other teens with him reportedly told officers that they would leave with him.
Police have said there were no charges they could have filed against the teens because officers didn’t see them drinking or possessing alcohol, so they let Sepehri and the others go.
The homeowner broke up the party after he determined that uninvited teenagers had brought alcohol, police said.
Police Capt. Paul Starks told WUSA9 that officers should have created a missing person report when Frank Sepehri initially arrived at the Bethesda station.
Police did not immediately respond Friday to questions Bethesda Beat sent them about the case.
In an interview with Bethesda Beat Friday, Jamshid Sepehri said he believes police failed to inform Navid’s parents when they first encountered the teen, then did not adequately assist Navid’s father in the search for the boy.
Jamshid Sepehri on Wednesday sent a letter to the County Council urging them to ask county police to recuse themselves from the case and allow a different police organization to review it.
Jamshid Sepehri said the family wants investigators to determine how Navid obtained a small bottle of vodka that was found in the coat the teen was wearing. They’d also like police to determine if the homeowner knew underage drinking was happening at the party, and if so, hold the homeowner accountable.
In his letter, Jamshid Sepehri wrote that had police told Navid’s father that officers had seen Navid intoxicated earlier that night, his whole extended family would have rushed out to search for the boy.
“My poor brother ran to them and they said go away,” Jamshid Sepehri said. “He was searching for his son by himself.”