By Rachel S. Silverman
Update to original article “Murder Charge Against High School Coaches Accused of Negligence,” published November 2021.
On August 13, 2019, Imani Bell, a 16-year-old student at Elite Scholars Academy in Jonesboro, GA, died after collapsing during running drills during a basketball practice in 100-degree weather. At the time of the incident, the temperature was 98 degrees with a heat index temperature of 101 to 106. A heat advisory had been declared for Clayton Country that day. Bell was running up football stadium steps at the time of her collapse. The Georgia Bureau of Investigation’s autopsy confirmed that Bell’s death was due to heatstroke caused by vigorous physical exertion in the extreme heat. The official cause of death stated, “Hyperthermia and rhabdomyolysis during physical exertion with high ambient temperature,” and the manner of death was listed as an accident (Albright, 2019). She had no pre-existing medical conditions.
For the defendants, the civil case named the head basketball coach, the athletic director, the principal, and the assistant principals. The civil lawsuit included multiple claims against the defendants, including failures to pay attention to the heat index, to monitor students for signs of overheating, and to provide rest periods and water breaks (Diaz, 2021). However, the case became a criminal case in July of 2021 when a grand jury in Clayton County indicted Head Basketball Coach LaRosa Walker-Asekere and Assistant Basketball Coach Dwight Palmer on charges of second-degree murder, cruelty to children, involuntary manslaughter, and reckless conduct. In bringing the charges, Tasha Mosley, the Clayton Country district attorney, stated that “[t]he murder charge is second degree and is based on criminal negligence as opposed to malice” (Murphy, 2021).
The school district and the parents reached a $10 million settlement for the civil case in November 2022 (CBS/AP, 2022). As part of the settlement agreement, the school district agreed to rename the gymnasium at Elite Scholars Academy in honor of Imani Bell. A ceremony was held to commemorate the renaming. The family created a foundation, the Keep Imani Foundation, which will partly be funded by money from the settlement. The foundation will offer students scholarships and assist schools in obtaining cold tubs to prevent heat stroke deaths.
The criminal case against the two coaches is still ongoing.
Albright, M. (2019, December 20). Autopsy transcript: Clayton student’s death an accident. The Atlanta Journal-Constitution. https://www.ajc.com/news/local/autopsy-clayton-student-death-accident/jEZcwaDiHdT3yBClQcRgzK/
CBS/AP. (2022, November 29). Family of 16-year-old basketball player who died of heatstroke agrees to $10 million settlement with school district. CBS News. https://www.cbsnews.com/news/imani-bell-death-10-million-dollar-settlement-georgia-basketball-player-heatstroke/
Diaz, J. (2021, February 24). Family of Georgia teen who died after basketball drills sues school officials. The New York Times. https://www.nytimes.com/2021/02/24/us/imani-bell-lawsuit.html
Murphy, H. (2021, August 11). High school coaches charged with murder in teen’s heat-related death. The New York Times. https://www.nytimes.com/2021/08/11/us/basketball-coaches-murder-imani-bell.html