A coalition of activists called Thursday for an outside investigation of the events leading up to the deaths last month of three teenage girls who drowned while fleeing from Pinellas, FL, sheriff's deputies.
The Bay Area Dream Defenders believe the Pinellas County Sheriff's Office was negligent in its actions and "misreported" how Dominique Battle, 16, and 15-year-olds Ashaunti Butler and LaNiya Miller died March 31, when the stolen car they were riding in plunged into a pond, The Tampa Bay Times reports.
Pinellas Sheriff Bob Gualtieri has said his deputies tried to pull the girls over but were not pursuing them when their car hit the water in the pre-dawn darkness. The sheriff also has defended his deputies from criticism that they didn't do enough to rescue the trapped girls from the sinking car.
The girls got a ride from a man to Childs Park in St. Petersburg on March 30. He stopped at a Walmart on the way and the girls drove off.
About 3:30 a.m. the next morning, a sheriff's sergeant spotted the Honda with its headlights off in Clearwater. The sergeant turned on his emergency lights. The Honda then ran a red light.
Five miles away, another sergeant spotted the car, looked up the tag number and confirmed the car was stolen. He followed at a distance. Under the sheriff's policy, deputies cannot pursue stolen cars. The Honda ran another red light and headed toward Royal Palm North Cemetery off Gandy Boulevard, a dead end. It navigated the narrow roads of the cemetery. At a sharp bend in the road, the car stayed on a straight course and drove into a pond.
Deputies waded in to save whoever was inside, Gualtieri said, but the mud was too thick. Within five minutes, the Honda was submerged in about 15 feet of water.
The Sheriff's Office has released reports and video from dashboard cameras. Critics have focused on a segment of footage that includes audio of deputies talking about the submerged car as they stood a few feet from the pond.
"They're done. They're done," one deputy said. "They are Sig 7, dude."
"Sig 7" refers to signal 7, an emergency radio code for "dead person."
That footage does not show rescue attempts or capture any conversations about rescue efforts. But it does show some deputies, without uniforms or belts on, heading to and from the water.