The mother of one of three teens who drowned in a stolen car last march has announced her plans to take the Pinellas County Sheriff’s Office to court.
Yashica Clemmons and attorney Aaron O’Neal announced their strategy at an International People’s Democratic Uhuru Movement event, an organization known for anti-police rhetoric and actions.
Clemmons is the mother of Dominique Battle, a 16-year-old St.Petersburg native who decided to carjack a Honda Accord with her two fifteen-year-old friends, Ashaunti Butler and LaNiya Miller.
According to the Tampa Bay Times, Battle and her cohorts led police on a chase, despite an alleged policy against deputies pursuing stolen cars. Attorney Aaron O’Neal claims that PCSO Sergeant Howard Skaggs may have attempted a “pit” maneuver, sending the Honda into a pond where the girls drowned.
“We believe these girls were murdered,” said O’Neal, a Maryland attorney who also serves as general counsel for the Uhurus. “We want to get to the facts and the truth about what really happened that day.”
O’Neal points to the audio of deputies talking to one another following the impact of the Honda into the water, saying “they’re done” and saying they heard screams. While the dashcam footage does not show the deputies overtly attempting a rescue, the footage does show deputies without uniforms and belts heading to and from the water.
“We can see clearly from the video that there was no clear urgency to rescue those girls,” O’Neal said.
Media outlets quickly spread misinformation, falsely claiming the deputies deliberately let the teen suspects -who had been arrested several times over the past year- die because they were black.
Pinellas County Sheriff Bob Gualtieri says the claims are “ridiculous.”
“If they think they’ve got a viable claim, bring it and stop doing press conferences ,” Gualtieri said Tuesday. “There was absolutely zero wrongdoing on the part of the Pinellas County Sheriff’s Office. They’ve presented no facts or evidence.”
The Sheriff insists that the deputy was speeding to arrive on scene, not to pursue the Honda. Deputies were keeping the Honda in sight until the incident turned into a foot chase or the came to a halt entirely. He also says that none of his agency’s cars struck the Honda and that two deputies attempted to rescue, but turned back due to dangerous conditions in the murky water. Lastly, he says the dark tint of the windows did not allow Deputies to see who -or what- was inside the car.
Urhurus chairman Omali Yeshitela says that “Dominique was a caring, loving child who was loved by her mother, her family, her friends and her neighbors.”
Despite this claim, Sheriff Gualtieri says the responsibility of the incident rests on the driver who refused to stop when she was ordered to pull over, as well of the parents of the thieves for failing to keep track of three female minors who have already accrued several auto theft charges.
Meanwhile, NAACP St.Petersburg branch president Maria Scruggs says that they are requesting records on the incident, though they have not contacted the girls’ families. In addition, the organization is reaching out to authorities and the Department of Juvenile Justice to find a way to put a stop to the rash of teen carjackings in recent years, “To see if we can proactive in trying to prevent this kind of travesty in the future.”
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