No charges will be filed over the death of a 12-year-old boy who drowned in February during a St. Louis Park school swimming class that was supervised by a single instructor.
The Hennepin County attorney’s office declined this week to press charges in the death of Abdullahi Charif, saying there was no evidence of criminal wrongdoing.
“There was insufficient evidence to charge any crime,” Hennepin County Attorney Mike Freeman said Friday. He declined to comment further.
The boy’s family is dismayed by the decision, which they learned of Thursday. Fred Pritzker, a Minneapolis attorney representing Abdullahi’s family, said Friday that they are still seeking answers. “The family, more than anything, wants to know what happened, why no one is being held accountable, and to make sure nothing like this happens again,” he said.
The boy was found floating in the deep end of his school’s pool during a physical education class Feb. 27. He died two days later. His family said he did not know how to swim and questioned how his drowning went unnoticed.
According to Pritzker, about 30 children were in Abdullahi’s swimming class, which had a single instructor.
The tragedy, which prompted grief and anger, especially in the Twin Cities’ Somali-American community, led to investigations by both the school district and St. Louis Park police. It also prompted districts across Minnesota to take a fresh look at their widely varying pool safety practices. The county attorney’s office looked at the results of those investigations before reaching its conclusion that charges were not warranted.
Policies vary across state
St. Louis Park school officials said Friday they are still looking into the drowning and couldn’t say when that work would be complete. “It is being handled by the school attorney,” said Sara Thompson, the district’s spokeswoman.
She said the teacher on duty at the pool at the time of Abdullahi’s death is still on leave.
The teacher supervising Abdullahi’s class was a certified water safety instructor, school administrators have said. Such instructors typically teach swimming lessons.
Lifeguard training involves rescues, first aid and cardiopulmonary resuscitation.
Most Minnesota schools require that either a lifeguard or a certified water safety instructor be on duty when students are swimming.
But school policies on water safety issues vary across districts. Some policies are quite detailed while others are less specific about teachers’ poolside responsibilities. Few of the policies address the student-instructor ratio.
A Hennepin County health inspector’s report in the weeks after Abdullahi’s death found that the pool had low lights, that a first-aid kit was not up to code and that a lifeguard certificate was not displayed on the day the boy drowned.
School drownings are rare and have prompted sharp reactions in the past.
In 1999, a 13-year-old St. Cloud student drowned in a school pool. His body was found 20 minutes after class ended. Shuai Jiang’s family sued the district and was awarded a $500,000 settlement.
That prompted the St. Cloud School District to purchase a state-of-the-art, camera-based detection system meant to prevent such accidents.
Abdullahi’s death was just one of several tragedies that have struck the St. Louis Park School District. Last May, two students from the district were killed in a landslide during a field trip at a St. Paul park. And this week, a search for a St. Louis Park father and 18-year-old son missing in the Colorado wilderness was called off.
Grief, questions linger
Although Pritzker declined to say Friday if Abdullahi’s parents plan to sue the school district, he said they want some accountability for what happened to their son.
“The thing that is most important for this family is they want someone held accountable for their kid’s death,” he said.
Pritzker said the family is also asking for anyone with additional information about the accident to contact him or Eric Hageman at 612-338-0202.