Family of Georgia Teen Who Died After Basketball Drills Sues School Officials

The family of a Georgia teenager who died after participating in outdoor basketball practice two years ago has filed a wrongful-death lawsuit against several school officials, including the athletic director and principal.

The teenager, Imani Bell, was a junior at the Elite Scholars Academy, a public school in Jonesboro, Ga., in August 2019 when she was running up the football stadium steps during a drill in “extreme heat” and collapsed, according to the lawsuit, filed on Wednesday by her parents, Dorian and Eric Bell.

It was the first basketball practice of the school year, her parents said.

“Basketball was one of her loves,” Mr. Bell said at a news conference on Wednesday. Imani, 16, was the oldest of the four children the couple have together. “She was in love with life. She was in love with education and just musically oriented.”

The lawsuit says that the afternoon of the drill, Imani “struggled to run up the stadium steps as directed” — so much so that she was forced to hold on to the railing to remain upright. When she neared the top of the steps, she suddenly collapsed and lost consciousness.

Imani was carried indoors, and school officials called 911 to request emergency medical attention. She was intubated and taken by ambulance to an area hospital, where she died that evening, according to the lawsuit.

The complaint says a subsequent Georgia Bureau of Investigations autopsy indicated that the teenager’s death was “solely attributable to heatstroke caused by strenuous physical exertion in extreme temperatures.”

The family is seeking unspecified monetary damages as well as the removal of school officials, said Justin Miller, a lawyer representing the family who is also Imani’s cousin.

Among those named in the lawsuit are Jason Greenlee, the school’s athletic director; Kevin Davis, the coach of the girls’ basketball team at the time; Shonda Shaw, the principal; and Phillip Ramsey and Ashley Baker, assistant principals.

“We don’t believe that they should be working in those capacities anymore and yes, they need to monetarily compensate this family,” Mr. Miller said.

The lawsuit accuses the school of multiple lapses, including failures to heed the heat index, monitor students for signs of overheating, and provide rest periods and water breaks.

Ronald T. Jones-Shields II, a spokesman for the school district, Clayton County Public Schools, declined to comment on Wednesday, citing pending litigation.

Outdoors temperatures near Jonesboro around the time of Imani’s collapse ranged from 92 to 97 Fahrenheit, with a heat index of 101 to 106, according to a summary of the Bureau of Investigations autopsy that was published in The Atlanta Journal-Constitution.

Ms. Bell said she had not known what the drill entailed and where it would be held.

“More than anything, I don’t want this to happen to anybody else’s child,” she said. “We want something to happen so people will think before they do this. We just want closure to all of this.”

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