The drowning death of Seaman James Derek Lovelace was a homicide, according to a recently released medical examiner’s report. The trainee was killed during a swimming exercise after instructors blatantly disregarded procedure and repeatedly dunked the trainee into the water.
After the May 6 death, the Navy initially concluded it was a pool training accident that killed Lovelace. However, several witnesses came forward and reported that the instructors continued to push the 21-year-old into the water despite his blue appearance and inability to breathe.
According to the report, the instructors took the exercise too far.
“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.”
Known for its brutal methods, the Basic Underwater Demolition/SEAL program forces trainees to tread water in a pool while wearing fatigues and boots. The exercise, which takes place at the Naval Amphibious Base in Coronado, California, is meant to train rookie SEALs how to stay above water in hostile conditions. It was Lovelace’s first week taking the course.
Witnesses and a video taken during the incident indicate instructors harassed Lovelace for several minutes after he struggled to swim the length of the pool in full gear. According to the report, Lovelace was splashed and forced underwater at least twice, even though training protocol prohibits such action.
“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 states other trainees tried to help Lovelace stay afloat. At one point, a request was made to stop the training, but instructors failed to do so.
In the past few months, four other Navy SEALs lost consciousness and nearly drowned in the BUD/S pool training. Per Navy safety statistics, this is a substantial increase compared to previous years.
As of July 6, no disciplinary action has been taken against any involved. However, one instructor has been reassigned until the conclusion of an internal investigation. Lieutenant Trevor Davids, Naval Special Warfare Command spokesperson, is aware of the medical examiner’s report, but he has not officially commented.
Three days after the seaman’s death, all SEAL training was halted pending a safety review, David said. Oxygen bottles, another defibrillator, and other lifesaving equipment were added poolside. Other changes may be made in the future after the completion of the investigation.
Despite the findings, NCIS spokesperson Ed Buice said there is no conclusive evidence a crime was committed.
“It is important to understand that ‘homicide’ refers to ‘death at the hands of another’ and a homicide is not inherently a crime. The nomenclature of the autopsy report does not signal that the Naval Criminal Investigative Service investigation into Seaman Lovelace’s death has culminated, nor that conclusions have been reached regarding criminal culpability.”
When Seaman Lovelace was pulled from the water, he was initially responsive, but soon went unconscious. After despite numerous attempts to resuscitate him, he was declared dead at Sharp Coronado Hospital in San Diego. Drowning was listed as the cause of death.
The investigation into the death of Seaman James Derek Lovelace continues, and NCIS has not yet disclosed any details. Before joining the Navy in November, the prospective SEAL studied mechanical engineering at Faulkner State Community College. Surviving relatives include his father and two sisters.
[Photo by John Moore/Getty Images]