Police still withholding info about Obama chef's drowning

EXCLUSIVE: Silence over drowning of Obama chef Tafari Campbell sparks conspiracy theories including his relationship with the 26-year-old unidentified woman who witnessed his death

  • Massachusetts State Police are yet to address exactly how Tafari Campbell, an apparently capable swimmer, could have drowned in shallow water last month 
  • Speaking to DailyMail.com, First Amendment advocates criticized authorities for spawning ‘a cottage industry of rumor-making and malign speculation’
  • Now DailyMail.com can reveal that the female with Campbell when he died is a 26-year-old Obama staffer 

Police in Massachusetts are continuing to cover up information about the death of Obama personal chef Tafari Campbell even after declaring the case closed this week, DailyMail.com can reveal. 

The response has prompted an outcry from First Amendment advocates who have been left asking: ‘What do they have to hide?’

And it has also sparked a plethora of conspiracy theories including the role of the former president’s family in the cover-up and Campbell’s relationship with the  unidentified woman who witnessed his death.

Earlier this month state police had withheld information under the guise of an ‘ongoing investigation’, citing a Public Records Law exemption that allows authorities to keep details on grounds that it could jeopardize an active investigation.

But after the 45-year-old’s death was officially ruled an accidental drowning earlier this week, authorities are yet to address how an apparently capable swimmer, paddle boarding near the ex-president’s summer home in Martha’s Vineyard, could have drowned in shallow water.

Details have trickled out from unofficial sources since then, with DailyMail.com exclusively revealing last week that Campbell’s paddle boarding companion was a woman who worked in the Obama household.

Now we can reveal that she is 26 years old. Her identity, however, is still unknown.

The death of former U.S. President Barack Obama’s personal chef Tafari Campbell (center) while paddle boarding in the Massachusetts resort community of Martha’s Vineyard has been officially ruled an accident

Massachusetts State Police are yet to address exactly how Tafari Campbell, an apparently capable swimmer, could have drowned in shallow water last month

The Obama residence is seen at Martha’s Vineyard. Tafari Campbell, 45, visited the resort island in late July and was paddle boarding near the Obamas’ summer home

Releasing the summary conclusion of a report from the chief medical examiner, officials refused to reveal even basic findings, such as whether Campbell suffered a medical episode or was under the influence of drugs or alcohol. 

State police have also warned other law enforcement agencies to not to release information.

With the case now closed, Edgartown police released an incident report Wednesday confirming that it was a Secret Service officer who made the 911 call – as DailyMail.com first reported, but redacted their name, and left out information on the other paddle boarder, who was the sole witness to the drowning.

‘Per the request of the Ma State Police, the names of the witness and reporting USSS agent have been redacted,’ Edgartown police chief Bruce McNamee replied to DailyMail.com when asked for the additional details.

DailyMail.com also put in a renewed request for the 911 call on Tuesday morning with the Dukes County Sheriff’s Office, which fielded the call. 

Susan Schofield, the sheriff’s supervisor of communications, has yet to provide it. 

‘I am waiting for a response from the trooper who is in charge of the investigation,’ Schofield replied to DailyMail.com on Wednesday morning. 

‘Nothing yet,’ she replied Thursday morning to a follow-up inquiry. ‘As soon as I hear, I will get it right out to you.’

Campbell drowned the night of July 23 and was found by a rescue boat with side sonar and pulled from the water the next morning.

Pictured: Edgartown Great Pond.  The scene of the desperate search for Campbell was launched after a paddle boarder went missing in the water off Martha’s Vineyard

Tafari Campbell had been a sous chef at the White House and came to work for the family after Obama completed his second term in 2017

Officials have refused to reveal even basic findings, such as whether Campbell suffered a medical episode or was under the influence of drugs or alcohol

Police declared early on that they believed that this was an accidental drowning, but cited pending toxicology results as a reason for withholding additional information. When the tests were completed they said toxicology report findings are only released to the family.

After 11 days of silence, the head of the region’s First Amendment coalition told DailyMail.com that the state appeared to be violating the Public Records Law.

‘The burden is on law enforcement to show how their investigation may be jeopardized by releasing certain information,’ Justin Silverman, executor director of the New England First Amendment Coalition, said at the time.

Robert Bertsche, general counsel of the New England Newspaper and Press Association (NENPA), sounded a new alarm on Thursday.

‘The 911 call absolutely should be released,’ Bertsche told DailyMail.com. 

‘So should the other details about the now-completed investigation by state or local authorities. That’s not merely the law – it’s a sound public practice.

‘When the government keeps secrets, the void inevitably gets filled with conspiracy theories, and that leads to suspicion and distrust of government,’ Bertsche added. 

‘That doesn’t serve the legitimate interests of law enforcement – and it certainly doesn’t serve the public, which has a right to know how the police reached their conclusion.

‘By refusing to disclose the investigation details, the police have spawned a cottage industry of rumor-making and malign speculation,’ he said. 

‘It’s natural for members of the public to ask: “What do they have to hide?” ‘

Campbell is seen in the background of an interview the Today Show’s Savannah Guthrie conducted with the former president at the White House

Former President Barack Obama shared a touching tribute to his personal chef earlier this month, weeks after he drowned in a pond near his Martha’s Vineyard estate on July 25

Following the news of Campbell’s untimely passing, his wife Sherise shared this photo on Instagram noting she was ‘heartbroken’

Conspiracy theorists have questioned whether Obama himself has played a role in the alleged coverup.

Tom Fitton, president of Judicial Watch, a conservative activist group that has also filed for information on the case, was quick to pounce on a DailyMail.com report that Campbell was out on the pond with a female Obama staffer.

‘Who was that witness who was paddle boarding with him?’ Fitton asked DailyMail.com Thursday. 

‘Obviously, it wasn’t his wife. So who was it? As of today, we still don’t have a sufficient reason for the withholding of any of this information.

‘We’ll be very interested to learn about communications between the Secret Service and the state and local police,’ Fitton continued. 

‘It’s simple information. What’s the state secret about this other than to protect Obama, to protect him from embarrassment or having to answer questions on this.

‘This is why people don’t trust what they’re told about cases such as these,’ he said.

‘What otherwise looks to be a simple tragic accident becomes something else because the government withholds information improperly to protect a politician.’

Bersche, however, noted that the Massachusetts state police are notoriously secretive when it comes to the media. 

He cited a 2015 survey conducted by the Center for Public Integrity giving the state an ‘F’ for public access to information.

The search for the missing paddle boarder took place near Barack Obama’s estate. The former president bought the mansion, pictured here, in 2019

A helicopter, part of the search mission, is seen flying over the area last month

He pointed out that the Boston Globe had to sue the state police in 2020 for repeatedly violating Public Records Law, including its failure to respond to its request for information on state police officers who left the force during the department’s controversial handling of the arrest of a judge’s daughter. 

The department later folded and produced the records, while the Globe won attorney fees, Bersche said.

‘ “Sunlight is the best disinfectant”,’ Supreme Court Justice Brandeis wrote more than a century ago,’ he said. 

‘Those who are refusing to disclose details of what happened to Tafari Campbell, and how the supposed drowning death of this capable swimmer was investigated, are keeping the skies in Massachusetts cloudy indeed.’ 

And so, predictably, the conspiracists are having a field day. It’s a dumb practice, and a disservice to the public.’

The Edgartown Police Department, which was involved in the initial response but not the follow-up investigation, shared some of its information Wednesday with DailyMail.com.

An incident report confirms a Secret Service agent dialed 911 shortly after Campbell disappeared while paddle boarding on Edgartown Great Pond on July 23.

The witness, whose identity is redacted, contacted authorities at 7:46pm about a ‘possible drowning.’

The call prompted a rapid search operation during which authorities recovered Campbell’s paddle board and clothes within 16 minutes, but still ‘no contact with the missing party.’

The chef would frequent the Edgartown Meat and Fish Market in Martha’s Vineyard. He is pictured here with his family

Tafari knew how to swim as evidenced by a video he’d posted on social media of himself swimming laps

The report, however, did not specify the article of clothing found nor did it provide further information on other witnesses or the second paddle boarder.

It wasn’t until the next morning that the chef’s body was ultimately found in shallow water in the Edgartown Great Pond bordering the former president’s summer home.

The report states that ‘secret service agent [redacted] adv swimmers unable to locate the party at this time. Party last (seen) wearing all black, on a paddle board…’

At 8:02pm, the report adds that ‘no life vest was worn, they have recovered the paddle board and clothing, still no contact with missing party.’

Campbell was found the next morning. A source told DailyMail.com the body was at least partially clothed.

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