Two Atlanta-area high-school basketball coaches have been charged with second-degree murder after the heat-related death of a 16-year-old in August 2019, according to court records.
Imani Bell was a junior at Elite Scholars Academy (ESA) in Clayton County and played varsity girls’ basketball. She was participating in mandatory conditioning drills outdoors in “extreme heat” on the afternoon she collapsed after running up the football stadium steps, according to a lawsuit filed in February by attorneys for the Bell family.
A Clayton County grand jury indicted her coach Larosa Maria Walker-Asekere and her assistant Dwight Broom Palmer in July of second-degree murder, saying they, “irrespective of malice, did cause the death of lmani Bell, a human being.”
They were also indicted on charges of cruelty to children in the second degree, involuntary manslaughter and reckless conduct, court records show.
The outdoor temperature at the time of Bell’s death ranged from 92 to 97 degrees, with a heat index between 101-103 degrees and a humidity level between 40 and 55%, according to the autopsy report conducted by the Georgia Bureau of Investigation.
Bell’s cause of death was classified as “hyperthermia and rhabdomyolysis during physical exertion with high ambient temperature,” and no preexisting conditions were found, according to the report. At the time, the manner of death was ruled accidental.
Bell’s father, Eric, told reporters Wednesday that while he and the family are grateful to Clayton County District Attorney Tasha Mosley for bringing charges, the family is still grieving.
“It’s refreshing, but at the same time we want to continue to fight for justice,” Eric said.
Bell family attorney Justin Miller added that it was a “landmark day” for these kinds of cases. “To the best of our knowledge, this is the first time in history that, in a case like this, that murder charges have been brought against the coaches, who were negligent,” Miller said.
Miller said the purpose of the lawsuit is to make sure this doesn’t happen to any other children.
The Bell family issued a civil suit earlier this year alleging coaches and administrators at ESA failed to follow mandated safety guidelines established by the Clayton County School Board and the Clayton County Public School System’s Heat Index Policy.
“Coaches will have to think twice about the level they are willing to push athletes to win,” the family’s second attorney, Chris Stewart, said.
Asekere’s attorneys denied the allegations against her and argued that she “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,” according to court filings.
CNN has attempted to reach Palmer’s attorney, Cameil Reddick, for comment. When CNN called a phone number for Palmer, a man said “no comment” and hung up. CNN has also attempted to reach Walker-Asekere, and attorney Brian Spears, for comment.
Calls to Clayton County Public Schools have not been returned at this time. CNN has also reached out to the Clayton County district attorney and has not heard back.
Walker-Asekere and Palmer are scheduled to be arraigned on October 18, 2021.
CNN’s Gregory Lemos contributed to this report.