On Wednesday, two Georgia high school basketball coaches were indicted for second-degree murder in the death of 16-year old Imani Bell, who collapsed and died following an outdoor practice session in 2019. The Clayton County district attorney said the delay in proceedings was because her office closed down in March of last year from the pandemic, then having to work through the backlog of cases upon resumption.
Dwight Broom Palmer was the head basketball coach at Elite Scholars Academy, per the Bells’ wrongful death suit, and Larosa Maria Walker-Asekere was his assistant on the day Imani Bell passed away due to their workout regimen. The pair is also being prosecuted for second-degree child cruelty, involuntary manslaughter, and reckless conduct.
Eric Bell, Imani’s father, spoke at a press conference to express his reaction to the news. “Today is a bittersweet day for the family,” he said. “My wife’s birthday was a couple of days ago. Imani’s death day is August 13.”
Imani Bell was a junior at Elite Scholars Academy in DeKalb County, GA when her basketball coaches opted to have the team conduct workouts outside the same day that a heat advisory was issued for the area, and the index hovered around 103 degrees. The Atlanta Journal-Constitution reports that the workout was in violation of district policy that demands athletic activity be suspended when the heat index is at least 95 degrees. Her father, who is a basketball coach at another local school, says he canceled his own practices that day because the Wet Bulb Globe Temperature was too high.
The autopsy report details the moments leading up to the student-athlete’s collapse, noting that seven other girls attended the conditioning session as well. The teens were asked to perform jumping jacks, a quarter-mile run, and a series of other exercises, but Bell was struggling, so the coaches assisted her along and offered her water to continue.
They were then told to run up a set of football stadium steps, which is where Imani Bell slumped and never recovered. “A coach was with her, encouraged her, and may have physically assisted her up the stairs,” says the report. “As Miss Bell neared the top… [she] leaned into the rail and then went limp.”
School officials brought her indoors and called 911 to transport her to the hospital, where she was pronounced dead due to heat-related cardiac arrest and kidney failure.
The district has kept mum on the case, saying it “does not comment on personnel matters or pending/ongoing litigation.” It also has refused to confirm if Palmer or Walker-Asekere are still employed by the district in any way.
Justin Miller, a partner at Stewart Miller Simmons, believes the incident was preventable, and his firm will represent the Bell family. “The incident in question did not have to happen,” he said. “The adults who should have been there to protect and care for her dropped the ball.”
“We just want closure in this whole situation,” said Dorian Bell, Imani Bell’s mother. “More than anything, I don’t want this to happen to anybody else’s child… We want laws in place. We want something to happen, so people will think before they do this.”
L. Chris Stewart, Stewart Miller Simmons’ managing partner, echoed his colleague’s statements. “Imani Bell’s name will now stand for change in sports across this country,” he said. “Coaches will have to think twice about the level they’re willing to push athletes to. So her name will forever be remembered for change.”