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After Sheriff Declines to Prosecute, DA Files Charges Against Swim Instructor in Drowning Death of 4-Year-Old Boy

Israel Scott (WFXG screenshot)

Israel Scott (WFXG screenshot)

Prosecutors in Georgia have decided to pursue criminal charges against an instructor who oversaw a swimming lesson where a 4-year-old boy drowned this past June. Authorities announced that an arrest warrant had been issued for Lexie Tenhuisen on one count of involuntary manslaughter in the death of young Israel Scott.

According to a press release from Burke County District Attorney’s Office, DA Jared T. Williams instructed the Georgia Bureau of Investigation (GBI) to issue the warrant for Tenhuisen’s arrest more than six months after Israel, or “Izzy,” drowned while taking swimming lessons with Tenhuisen.

“Izzy Scott is not a case. He is not a file on a desk, nor an article in the news. He is a child whose loss has broken the heart of our community. He is a symbol of how we should cherish our little ones and hold them tight,” Williams said in a statement emailed to Law&Crime.

“The truth is this: nothing done in a courtroom can ever repair the harm done to Izzy’s family,” Williams continued. “Many have called for felony charges and a lengthy prison sentence for this offense. Neither the law nor the facts support such a result. After discussing this decision, both the family and the State of Georgia are in lockstep that the aim of this prosecution is not retribution, but Accountability under the law.”

DA Williams said the decision to charge Tenhuisen came after months of “dedicated inquiry, investigation, and legal analysis” left officials to conclude that a criminal offense contributed to Izzy’s death.

Izzy died on June 14 while attending swimming lessons overseen by Tenhuisen at a private residence, according to a report from The Augusta Chronicle. Neither the pool nor the residence were owned by Tenhuisen.

Tenhuisen’s granddaughter reportedly noticed Izzy in the deep end of the pool after the children had finished relays and were drying off, and called out to Tenhuisen, who jumped in the pool to pull him out.

Per the Chronicle, Tenhuisen did not allow the parents in the swimming area during the lessons and Izzy’s mother learned about her son’s drowning while sitting outside the residence in her car.

Another parent who was a nurse administered CPR, according to the Chronicle, and the boy was taken by ambulance to a nearby hospital where he died.

The announcement reportedly came several months after the Burke County Sheriff’s Office and prosecutors initially concluded in July that Izzy’s drowning was an accidentHowever, even at the time, DA Williams was reportedly clear that any decision on potential charges would “be made independently of any other agency.”

“Why should a child so innocent, so precious, leave us so young? How could the law be so insufficient, placing no safeguards over the very people who are entrusted as lifeguards over our children?” said Williams. “As I have struggled with these questions, I recognize that I can neither question God’s timing nor expect to understand His providence. What I can do is use the law to create the change this community wishes to see.”

Izzy’s mother, Dori Scott, applauded the DA’s decision in an interview with Augusta Fox affiliate WFXG.

“All three of my kids are different, not having his little, caring energy around is — even our car rides are different,” she told the station. “We’re sitting in the car and everybody’s just quiet because everybody feels that void.” She described how she tries to keep her son’s memory alive, in their day-to-day life, by continuing to incorporate him in holidays and family traditions.

In an email to Law&Crime, DA Williams said he could not provide any additional comment due to the pending nature of the litigation.

[image via WFXG screenshot]

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Jerry Lambe is a journalist at Law&Crime. He is a graduate of Georgetown University and New York Law School and previously worked in financial securities compliance and Civil Rights employment law.