Investigators, family raise new questions in Dakota James case

Josiah Martin | Arts & Entertainment Editor


At a press conference in downtown Pittsburgh on Dec. 13, retired detective sergeant Kevin Gannon of the New York City Police Department claimed that he and several colleagues have found “significant physical and forensic evidence” that suggests Duquesne student Dakota James’ death was not an accident.

“We believe that Dakota’s death was a homicide, and he died by the actions of others,” said Gannon, whose team has been investigating James’ death as part of a documentary series produced by 44 Blue Productions. James’ death was ruled an accidental drowning by the Medical Examiner in 2017.

Cyril Wecht, chair of the Cyril H. Wecht Institute of Forensic Science and Law at Duquesne University, spoke about markings on James’ body visible in autopsy photos, one of which, as Gannon states, is “inconsistent with a normal drowning, or drowning death.”

“There is absolutely no mention at all of the external furrow markings, the areas of clear linear discoloration, or of the hemorrhage seen in the supraclavicular areas,” Wecht said, speaking of James’ official autopsy report, adding later, “the markings that I have viewed … do not fit in with post-mortem artifacts.”

“Today we are here to say once again that our son Dakota did not get drunk, cross four lanes of a highway, a cement barrier, walk down approximately thirty steps to urinate, to then accidentally fall into the river. There has never been proof that he ever went on that bridge,” said Dakota James’ mother, Pam James, to the press.

Gannon remarked that in a meeting between himself, Pam James and Allegheny County District Attorney Stephen Zappala, James asked Zappala his opinion of the investigation as handled by Gannon and his colleagues.

“At that point, [Zappala] said, ‘you have made some very good points that this case should be investigated as a homicide,’ Mr. Zappala then stated that he would speak personally with the medical examiner,” Gannon said.

Following several attempts to contact Zappala in the time following the meeting, Zappala emailed Pam James, stating that “he could not assist her at this time based on the Allegheny County Medical Examiner’s assessment,” according to Gannon.

Pam James closed the press conference by crediting Zappala for getting the autopsy photos to her, Wecht and Gannon.

The press conference was recorded by the crew of 44 Blue Productions, though the documentary series itself was only mentioned when brought up in a question by a reporter.