Family files lawsuit in boy's drowning at St. Louis Park school

  • Article by: KIM MCGUIRE , Star Tribune
  • Updated: May 10, 2014 - 2:39 PM

Abdullahi Charif’s family claims the St. Louis Park School District and teacher failed to prevent his death.

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Abdullahi Charif, 12, drowned at St. Louis Park Middle School.

The family of Abdullahi Charif has filed a personal injury lawsuit seeking damages for the drowning of the 12-year-old boy in a St. Louis Park Middle School swimming pool.

Abdullahi was found floating in the deep end of the school pool Feb. 27. He died a few days later.

At the time of the boy’s drowning, the gym teacher, James Bigot, was supervising 28 children in the pool including Abdullahi, whom he had earlier described as a “nonswimmer.”

A Hennepin County attorney’s office investigation found that Abdullahi and some other boys in the class were roughhousing in the pool, where they would take turns knocking each other off an inflatable raft.

Students told investigators that Abdullahi was knocked off the raft and took a hard belly flop into the water in the deep end of the pool. After the class was over, Bigot found him floating in the pool and tried to revive him.

“Defendant Bigot made the decision to allow ‘free play’ with the knowledge that several of the students in class, including Charif, were either nonswimmers or weak swimmers and that Bigot would be the only person supervising the class,” according to the lawsuit. Also, it continued, he “made the decision to utilize his school-issued iPad and/or school-issued laptop computer throughout the class, which provided a distraction from his primary function of supervising the at-risk children in the pool, including Charif.”

School district officials said Friday that they had no comment on the lawsuit, citing their ongoing internal investigation. Spokeswoman Sara Thompson said Bigot remains on administrative leave.

Attempts to reach Bigot’s attorney Friday were unsuccessful.

In addition to monetary damages, the family wants the school district to adopt a policy that would require that at least one other qualified educator, swimming coach or lifeguard be present in addition to the person responsible for monitoring students in the pool.

Abdullahi’s death prompted several metro-area school districts to re-evaluate their pool safety policies. Similarly, it redirected awareness to the fact that immigrant children have a much higher rate of drowning compared to their peers.

The lawsuit is the second one filed against the St. Louis Park School District over the past year concerning the death of a student.

Last week it was disclosed the district had reached a settlement with the families of Mohamed Fofana, 10, and Haysem Sani, 9, who were killed in a 2013 landslide at a St. Paul park, and Devin Meldahl, who was injured.

Kim McGuire • 612-673-4469

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