JONESBORO — A Clayton County grand jury has charged two people with murder in connection with the 2019 death of Imani Bell.
Bell, 16, was a basketball player for Elite Scholars Academy. She died of heat stroke after collapsing while taking part in outdoor exercise drills during one of the hottest days of the year.
Elite Scholar’s Head Basketball Coach Larosa Maria Walker Asekere and Assistant Coach Dwight Broom Palmer have been charged with second degree murder, second degree child cruelty, involuntary manslaughter and reckless conduct.
The two were arrested in July and released on bond.
The day Bell died, Aug. 13, 2019, the temperature ranged from 96-99 degrees with a heat index of 101-106 degrees. Bell and seven other students were told to run 1 mile, followed by exercises, a hill run and a run of the steps at the ESA field. Bell was reportedly struggling on the last lap of the run and walked the stairs with “physical assistance” from a coach. She collapsed at the top of the steps and later died at Southern Regional Medical Center.
In March 2021, her family filed a wrongful death lawsuit against several Elite Scholars Academy employees, including Asekere, the girls basketball coach.
The suit alleges employees were negligent in their duties when they allowed an outdoor practice to take place. The lawsuit also states they failed to follow the Georgia High School Association’s Wet Bulb Globe Temperature rules and dates as to when basketball practices could begin.
On Wednesday, Aug. 11, Justin Miller, an attorney representing the Bell family, thanked the Clayton County District Attorney’s Office for bringing charges against the coaches. He called it a landmark day.
“Common sense is not common, and you see that with this case and others like it. Coaches want to win more than take care of these children,” he said. “The incident in question did not have to happen. Basically, Imani was tortured to death for basketball.”
Attorney Chris Stewart said Imani Bell’s name will stand for change across the country.
“Coaches will have to think twice about the levels they’re willing to push athletes to win,” Stewart said. “These people didn’t follow the rules. They’re being held accountable.”
Imani’s father, Eric Bell, said the day was bittersweet for his family.
“We’re still grieving,” he said. “Thank you for the love and support we’ve received from around the nation.”
Bell also thanked District Attorney Tasha Mosley for bringing forth the charges against Asekere and Palmer, adding that he’s glad the coaches are being held accountable.
“We want to continue to move forward to bring closure,” he said.
In February 2020, Clayton County Public Schools announced plans to strengthen athletic practices and protocols by implementing several mandates starting with the hiring of coaches.
School principals and the district athletic director must sign off on the hiring of any new coach. All coaches much have current CPR and Automated External Defibrillator training and undergo Code Blue training for emergency response situations.
Using a platform called DragonFly, student physicals, insurance waivers, concussion and sudden cardiac arrest forms will be organized together. Each school is also required to submit certification of signatures by the head coach, school athletic director and school principal that students participating in sporting activities are cleared to do so.