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Family Seeks Answers in Drowning Death of Miami Beach Employee at Scott Rakow Youth Center

Peniel Janvier, an Army Reserve member and a part-time employee with the City of Miami Beach, died on Friday, August 26, 2022, after drowning at the Scott Rakow Youth Center.
Peniel Janvier, an Army Reserve member and a part-time employee with the City of Miami Beach, died on Friday, August 26, 2022, after drowning at the Scott Rakow Youth Center. Screenshot via Facebook
A City of Miami Beach employee died last week after drowning in a public pool on the last day of summer camp, in view of children who gathered for the day's festivities. After taking him off life support following nine days in the hospital, his family wants answers as to the strange circumstances of his death.

Peniel Janvier, 28, was a part-time recreation leader for Miami Beach's Parks and Recreation Department and a coach for one of the city's summer camp programs. On August 16, Janvier was playing with kids at the Scott Rakow Youth Center during an end-of-summer-camp celebration at the center's outdoor pool.

Around 2:30 p.m. on August 16, the Miami Beach Police Department (MBPD) was called to the center after Janvier was observed in distress in the pool. According to an MBPD incident report (embedded at the end of this story), "He was observed in distress and after a while several coaches and lifeguards took him out [of] the pool."

Janvier was rushed to Mt. Sinai Hospital, where he was placed on a ventilator. He spent ten days in critical condition until he was taken off the ventilator and died on Friday, August 26.

Reached by New Times on Tuesday, Marc Brumer, a wrongful death attorney representing Janvier's relatives, says the family has questions as to how long Janvier was underwater before help arrived, given the opinion of a neurologist at Mt. Sinai who performed a CAT scan and found extensive brain damage.

"The neurologist feels that, based on the level of brain damage he had, he had been under there for a relatively long period of time," Brumer asserts.

On Brumer's advice, the family has asked Miami Beach to provide video footage from around the pool, hoping to determine how the young coach ended up drowning, and how and when lifeguards became aware that he needed help.

On a Miami Beach residents' Facebook group, several parents said their children were present at the youth center and witnessed Janvier's drowning.

Though the police report stated that lifeguards took Janvier out of the pool, one parent commented that children including her eldest son had to help pull the young man out of the water; others demanded that the city investigate his death.

Brumer says answers have been too slow in coming.

"Eventually we'll get the video and the witness statements. But, I mean — how can this happen in today's day and age on the last day of summer camp?" the attorney wonders.

During the nine days Janvier was on life support and for some time thereafter, neither the City of Miami Beach nor the youth center issued a statement to the general public about the incident. The city's first public statement came in response to a Channel 10 News story on August 29.

"PJ was an outstanding employee who truly left a lasting impact on everyone he worked with. His smile was contagious, and he cared deeply for the youth in our recreation programs. Miami Beach Police are actively investigating the events that led up to the drowning. In reviewing the circumstances with the Miami-Dade State Attorney’s Office, no criminal charges are expected," the city told Channel 10 News.

City of Miami Beach spokesperson Melissa Berthier clarifies to New Times that parents of children at the summer camp were notified that a team member was being sent to the hospital on the day of the incident, and a message was sent directly to parents and Parks and Recreation staff when Janvier died.

"We also immediately made counseling services available to both our campers and employees, which continues to be ongoing," Berthier says.

Asked about the Facebook comments that children had to pull the coach out of the pool and how long Janvier was left unattended in the water, Berthier said police are still investigating the incident. The mention of "no criminal charges," she clarifies, came in response to a Channel 10 reporter's specific inquiry.

On an online fundraising page created to support Peniel Janvier's family, loved ones and acquaintances left messages of condolence and shared their personal experiences with Janvier as a comrade in arms and a camp coach for their children.

"This really saddens me, Janvier was one of my Soldiers in the Army, he was a talented young man full of promise. I wish I could do more to help and I pray his family continually finds the strength to honor his memory. Rest In Peace little brother," wrote Simon Gill.

"Pj had been a real role model for my 2 sons at summer camp. I heard about him only positive things and he will be deeply missed," wrote Marion Khalifa.

On Facebook, Iglesia Virtud in West Little River, where Peniel's brother Daniel Janvier is a minister, posted its own message.

"Peniel was a loving brother, son, soldier and friend to many. His love was grand and was felt by everyone around him," the church wrote.
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Joshua Ceballos is staff writer for Miami New Times. He is a Florida International University alum and a born-and-bred Miami boy.
Contact: Joshua Ceballos