by Robin Kemp
A Clayton County grand jury has indicted two coaches in the death of Elite Scholars Academy basketball player Imani Bell last year.
Bell, 16, died on August 13, 2019 after running up stairs in temperatures that the National Weather Service recorded as being above 90° Fahrenheit. The Georgia High School Association forbids outdoor workouts if the wet bulb globe temperature is 92°F (which is a heat index of 104°-105°F or higher.) Clayton County Public Schools policy required that outdoor activities cease when the heat index reaches 95°F or higher. A Georgia Bureau of Investigation medical examiner ruled Bell’s death an accident. CCPS updated its athletic policies in 2020, requiring schools to follow GHSA wet bulb globe temperature rules and mandating
Dwight Broom Palmer, 45, of Jonesboro and Larosa Maria Walker-Asekere, 30, of Stockbridge are both charged with one count each of second-degree murder, second-degree cruelty to children, involuntary manslaughter, and reckless conduct.
Both defendants are scheduled to appear for arraignment on October 18 at 8 a.m. in Room 404 before Superior Court Judge Rodney Mack.
According to the grand jury indictment handed up July 1, Walker-Asekere and Palmer allegedly “did, with criminal negligence, cause Imani Bell, a child under the age of eighteen years, excessive physical pain by conducting outdoor conditioning training for student athletes in dangerous heat, resulting in the death of Imani Bell due to hyperthermia and rhabdomyolysis.”
In addition, according to the indictment, the pair “consciously disregard[ed] a substantial and unjustifiable risk that his/her act of conducting outdoor conditioning training for student athletes in dangerous heat would endanger the safety of [Bell] and the disregard constituted a gross deviation from the standard of care which a reasonable person would exercise in the situation.”
In a July 7 bench warrant, Mack granted $75,000 bond each to both Walker-Asekere and Palmer–$35,000 on the second-degree murder charge, $15,000 on the second-degree cruelty to children charge, $20,000 on the involuntary manslaughter charge, and $5,000 on the reckless conduct charge.
Bell, a junior, played basketball and ran track, loved music and coding, and was hoping to attend Stanford. Her parents, Eric and Dorian Bell, filed a wrongful death suit February 23 against Walker-Asekere, as well as ESA Athletic Director Jason Greenlee, Assistant Principals Ashley Baker and Dr. Phillip Ramsey, John Doe and Principal Dr. Shonda Shaw. Lawyers for the family dropped Coach Kevin Davis from the civil suit because Walker-Asekere allegedly was the head girls’ basketball coach on the day Bell died.