The death of a Navy SEAL trainee that was taking part in a pool exercise has been ruled a “drowning homicide.”
A San Diego medical report concluded that Seaman James Lovelace died from drowning because of instructors who violated training rules.
James Lovelace died on May 6, at the Naval Special Warfare Center in Coronado, California
during an introductory pool training as part of the Basic Underwater Demolition/SEAL course.
Navy officials expect one of the SEAL’s who supervised the course to have charges be brought up against him after a conclusion was released that he “died at the hands of others.”
During the exercise, safety instructors noticed Lovelace was in great distress and had to be pulled out of the pool.
Based on the video and the interview, instructors splashed and harassed Lovelace for nearly 5 minutes while he was struggling to “combat tread” while in utilities and boots. The report said that instructors also dunked Lovelace’s head underwater at least twice, which is an act that is prohibited during the training course. The report concluded that Lovelace’s death was due to drowning homicide.
During the training, instructors are told to create adverse conditions by yelling at students, making waves and splashing at the students. “Instructors are reportedly advised to not dunk or pull students underwater,” the report read.
In the video, another student can be seen attempting to keep Lovelace’s head above the water. “The instructor appears to again dunk the decedent and continues to follow him around the water. The instructor also appears to pull the decedent partially up and out of the water and then push him back. Eventually, the decedent is assisted to the side of the pool where he is pulled from the water,” the report said.
Lovelace, who was in the first week of Basic Underwater Demolition/SEAL course, was initially responsive, but later died after being taken to a civilian hospital.
The coroner’s report revealed that he died due to drowning, but cardiomegaly may have been a contributing factor. Cardiomegaly, also known as an enlarged heart can cause heart failure.
“Although the manner of death could be considered by some as an accident, especially given that the decedent was in a rigorous training program that was meant to simulate an ‘adverse’ environment, it is our opinion that the actions, and inactions, of the instructors and other individuals involved were excessive and directly contributed to the death, and the manner of death is best classified as homicide,” according to the opinion in the report written by forensic pathologist, Dr. Kimi Verilhac.
Naval Special Warfare Command spokesman Lt. Trevor Davids said that one instructor has been reassigned from duty pending the outcome of the investigation conducted by the Naval Criminal Investigative Service and no disciplinary action has been taken as of July 6.
“It is important to understand that ‘homicide’ refers to ‘death at the hands of another’ and a homicide is not inherently a crime,” Naval Criminal Investigative Service Ed Buice wrote in a statement.
The instructor involved in the incident is a petty officer first class who joined the Navy in 2008. Following the incident, he was kept on duty, but later was removed from duty, NBC News reported. According to the Washington Post, the instructor had previously received a Navy/Marine Corps Commendation Medal with ‘V’ device for valor.