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St. Pete activists accuse deputies of murder

Posted at 5:08 PM, Apr 28, 2016
and last updated 2016-04-29 09:15:43-04

A community activist group in St. Pete is still calling for answers in the death of three teens following a pursuit with Pinellas County deputies.

They're also asking for the resignation of Sheriff Bob Gualtieri.

In a media conference today, members of the International People's Democratic Uhuro Movement asserted that deputies didn't do enough to save the teens, even describing the teens as "murdered."

Despite claims of a cover-up, Sheriff Gualtieri continues to emphasize that deputies acted properly following the March 31 crash that killed Laniya Miller, 15, Ashunti Butler, 15, and Dominique Battle, 16.

The teens were trying to escape from police in a stolen car when they crashed into a pond near Gandy Boulevard North and died.

"They [deputies] kill these children and now they're heroes," said chairman Omali Yeshitela of the Uhuru group. "They kill the children and they're the heroes and the people who are dead are now the villains."

Yeshitela claims deputies could have and should have done more to try to save the girls, and his Uhuru group is planning a protest outside the Pinellas County Courthouse in Clearwater on Friday at 3:30 p.m.

ABC Action News sought out an experienced diver with no affiliation with the Pinellas County Sheriff's Office or search and rescue teams to get a third-party perspective on what deputies could have or should have done.

Devin Boersma of Seaside Divers in Pinellas County was one of the divers who spoke with ABC Action News, and he says "without the proper tools to do [a water rescue] they would put themselves in imminent danger without any doubt in my mind."

"Even just to perform tasks you’d be trying to work around vegetation or debris and it would restrict a lot of your movements," explains Boersma, who has dived into swamps and other hazardous bodies of water. He says ponds in Pinellas County are full of dangers, and working in water is especially dangerous at night.

"The bottom of this type of body of water is soft to where you stick in it almost sometimes almost a few feet you know. Could be to where you actually can’t even move," adds Boersma.

As for wildlife, it's not just alligators that are a threat.

"The thing that actually worries us the most is snakes and cottonmouths they tend to be a little bit aggressive. We’ve had them chase us before on different jobs and things like that," Boersma tells ABC Action News.

Boersma says he also uses special equipment, and has lot of specialized training, which he suspects patrol deputies do not have.