Two Georgia high school basketball coaches are facing murder charges in connection with the death of 16-year-old Imani Bell, amid a wrongful death lawsuit filed by the victim’s parents.
On Monday, a Clayton County grand jury returned second-degree murder indictments for Larosa Maria Walker-Asekere and Dwight Broom Palmer. They’re also charged with second-degree child cruelty, involuntary reckless conduct, and manslaughter.
The defendants were coaches in 2019 at Elite Scholars Academy in Jonesboro, where Imani attended school. She was a straight-A student and a star basketball player, according to her family. As a “classic good kid,” she loved to dance and enjoyed helping people at church.
On August 13, 2019, Imani was outside at the school, practicing basketballs drills as the heat index soared up to 106 degrees. Court documents state that Imani told the coaches she was distressed and overheated. Instead of allowing her to rest, the coaches are accused of making Imani run up and down a flight of stairs. She died the same day.
Clayton County School District’s policy states that when the heat index hits 95 degrees, all outdoor activities must be suspended. AJC reports that it also violates a Georgia High School Association policy.
Prosecutors said the suspects murdered Imani “by conducting outdoor conditioning training for student-athletes in dangerous heat, resulting in the death of Imani Bell due to hyperthermia and rhabdomyolysis.”
Asekere’s lawyers responded to the charge by stating that Asekere, “was on her first day as coach of the girls’ basketball team, and she was relying on the direction of the athletic director and Elite Scholars Academy personnel to conduct this conditioning activity,” 11Alive reports.
“The assistant coach saw Imani struggling and how hot it was and did not stop the practice,” retorted attorney Justin Miller, who represents the victim’s family.
The victim’s family filed a wrongful death lawsuit against the school and others for violating policies and allowing Imani to practice in extreme heat. The lawsuit reads, in part:
“Due to the extreme heat and humidity outside, Imani began experiencing early signs of heat illness and was visibly struggling to physically perform the outdoor conditioning drills defendants directed her to perform. Defendants observed Imani experiencing early signs of heat illness during the outdoor practice but nevertheless directed Imani to continue performing the conditioning drills with her team and directed Imani to run up the stadium steps.”
The lawsuit also states that Imani had no underlying health issues.
According to court documents, the lawsuit was filed against the school’s:
- Girls’ basketball team coach
- School principal
- Assistant principal
- Athletic directors
- Assistant coaches
- District employees who were “present at, supervised, authorized and/or assisted with conducting the girls’ basketball practice on August 13, 2019.”
“We just want closure in this whole situation,” Imani’s mother, Dorian Bell, said. “We need that. That’s a part of our healing.”
The school district declined to comment on the lawsuit. Check back for updates.
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[Feature Photo: Imani Bell/Handout]