Two Georgia high school coaches have been charged with second-degree murder in the 2019 heatstroke death of Elite Scholars Academy basketball player Imani Bell.
Larosa Maria Walker-Asekere and Dwight Broom Palmer were listed as defendants in a grand jury indictment that alleges they are responsible for Bell’s death “by conducting outdoor conditioning training for student athletes in dangerous heat,” which resulted in Bell’s death “due to hyperthermia and rhabdomyolysis.”
The coaches are also charged with involuntary manslaughter and reckless conduct.
Bell, 16, collapsed Aug. 13, 2019, while doing outdoor basketball drills at the school as the heat index hit 106 degrees.
Jessica Cino, a partner at law firm Krevolin & Horst, told The The Atlanta Journal Constitution that the Bell’s death did not appear to require a second degree murder charge, as such a charge requires intent.
“What happened is what we call reckless,” Cino said. “It is what we would call negligent. The murder charges seem excessive in this situation.”
An autopsy of Bell’s body found the cause of death as an “accident."
The Journal Constitution reported that the school may have violated its own district policy that requires suspension of outside athletic activities when the heat index hits 95 degrees. Allowing activities to go ahead in that weather may also have violated the Georgia State High School Association’s policy.
According to the autopsy report, Bell was one of eight players who assembled for practice that day. The players were told to run up a hill, perform jumping jacks and then come back down the hill. When Bell lagged, coaches encouraged her and provided her with water. The players ran a quarter-mile lap and then were instructed to run stairs.
“Miss Bell attempted to run with the girls for the last lap but was unable and did a fast paced walk,” the report says. “One of the coaches noticed Miss Bell was tired, so he started walking the last lap with her and encouraged her.”
When Bell arrived at the stairs, she began pulled herself up by the railing.
“A coach was with her, encouraged her and may have physically assisted her up the stairs. As Miss Bell neared the top ... (she) leaned into the rail and then went limp.”