A Homicide at ​U.S.​ Navy SEAL Training

Seaman James "Derek" Lovelace, a Navy SEAL trainee who died during his first week of basic training in Coronado, Calif. Seaman James "Derek" Lovelace, a Navy SEAL trainee who died during his first week of basic training in Coronado, Calif. Naval Special Warfare Center via AP

Investigators looking into the drowning death of a Navy SEAL trainee have ruled it a homicide.

James Lovelace, who was 21, died May 6 during a swimming exercise in a pool on the Naval Amphibious Base Coronado outside of San Diego. While instructors are expected to splash, make waves, and yell at trainees during the “Combat Swimmer Orientation,” they are not allowed to dunk them. According to a reportreleased Wednesday by the San Diego County medical examiner’s office, though:

Video surveillance footage of the pool showing the training exercise was reviewed with NCIS. At some point during the exercise, an instructor observing from the dive platform is seen to point out the decedent, who appeared to be struggling, and an instructor in the water approaches the decedent. That instructor is seen to dunk the decedent under the water and then follow him around the pool for approximately 5 minutes. He continually splashes the decedent, dunks him at least one additional time, and appears to be yelling at him. The decedent is also splashed by other individuals during the event. At one point in the video, another individual in the water is seen pulling him up and away from the instructor. Throughout this time period, the decedent’s head is seen to go under the water multiple times, and the instructor can be seen pulling him up multiple times. Eventually the instructor pulls him out of the water, and the exercise is stopped.

After he was pulled from the water, Lovelace became unresponsive. After several “aggressive attempts at resuscitation,” he was declared dead at a local hospital. Naval records showed Lovelace was “not a strong swimmer,” and that his face had turned purple and his lips blue during the exercise.

While the report notes Lovelace’s death may be considered an accident by some, “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.”

While NCIS continues to investigate the incident, one of the instructors was pulled from training exercises, though he is not yet facing official accusations of wrongdoing by the Navy, the Washington Post reports. In the days that followed Lovelace’s death, more safety measures were added near the pool.

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