2 Georgia HSBB Coaches Charged with Murder After Imani Bell's Heatstroke Death

Paul KasabianFeatured Columnist IIAugust 11, 2021

A basketball hoop is photographed during the second half of an NCAA college basketball game between Gonzaga and Cal State Bakersfield in Spokane, Wash., Saturday, Nov. 23, 2019. (AP Photo/Young Kwak)
AP Photo/Young Kwak

Two former girls high school basketball coaches have been charged with second-degree murder and second-degree child cruelty following the death of 16-year-old Imani Bell, who suffered heatstroke as she and the rest of her Elite Scholars Academy (Clayton County, Georgia) team members participated in outdoor conditioning drills in nearly 100-degree temperatures.

Leon Stafford of the Atlanta Journal-Constitution reported on the grand jury indictment, which also includes involuntary manslaughter and reckless conduct charges, against head coach Larosa Walker-Asekere and assistant coach Dwight Palmer.

The coaches were overseeing the team as they performed the drills on Aug. 13, 2019, per the Associated Press.

Stafford provided more details on the conditioning drills the team was performing as described in the autopsy report:

"The players were told to run up a hill, perform jumping jacks and then come back down the hill. Imani lagged, at which time the coaches were 'encouraging her and providing her water,' the report says. The players ran a quarter-mile lap around the track and then were instructed to run a set of stairs."

Bell did a fast-paced walk on the track lap before attempting to climb the stairs.

“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," per the report.

Bell collapsed in high-90s temperatures while the area was under a heat advisory. According to Stafford, the heat index got up to 106 degrees.

A lawsuit against school administrators filed by her family cited a Georgia High School Association rule that prohibits outdoor practices in weather conditions similar to those on the day the team was doing conditioning.

Per the rule, coaches must measure the outdoor temperature via a Wet Bulb Globe Temperature reading (WBGT). Any reading above 92 degrees means that any outdoor practices must be banned. The lawsuit states the coaches never "properly measured the temperature in advance."

Per Stafford, the school district's own policy bans outdoor practices when the heat index is above 95 degrees.

Per the AP, the lawsuit says Bell died of heat-related cardiac arrest and kidney failure.