CLEARWATER, Fla. (WFLA) — Relatives of two of the teenage girls who recently died when a car drove into a St. Petersburg pond claim the Pinellas County Sheriff’s Office issued a press release about the incident without properly investigating what happened.
Dominique Battle, age 16, Ashaunti Butler, age 15, and Laniya Miller, age 15, were found dead inside a car that drove into a pond on the morning of Thursday, March 31. The sheriff’s office said the Honda was reported stolen in St. Petersburg the night before. The sheriff’s office also said the owner of the car was giving the girls a ride. When he got out to briefly go into Walmart, they took off, according to law enforcement.
The mother of Laniya Miller held a news conference Monday with her attorneys. Her attorneys say they have conducted their own investigation into what happened, which included visiting the pond at night when it was dark.
“There are inconsistencies that need to be addressed,” attorney Michele Whitfield said about the sheriff’s office’s investigation.
The attorneys say law enforcement has not requested video from the Walmart and investigators have not interviewed the owner of the car. Whitfield also questions how the girls could have been evading police.
“The sheriff himself has said they were evading police, but yet the lights weren’t on and they didn’t know that they were being followed,” she said.
“We’ve done more investigating that the sheriff’s office has done,” attorney Will Anderson said.
Natasha Winkler, who is the mother of Laniya Miller, and Yashica Clemmons, who is the mother of Dominique Battle, spoke at the news conference.
Winkler was upset about how her daughter has been portrayed by the sheriff’s office. Mug shots of the three girls were displayed by the sheriff’s office during a news conference. During the news conference, Sheriff Bob Gualtieri said all three of the girls had a criminal history for grand theft auto.
“She should not be remembered as a thief,” Winkler said. “I’m even more sad about how this story has been twisted.”
Clemmons is also mad about the way her daughter was portrayed.
“I don’t like how you all are slandering my daughter’s name and making her look like she such a known criminal when she’s not such a known criminal. It doesn’t matter how many cars she stole,” the mother said.
A spokesperson for the sheriff’s office said the agency stands by its investigation and the incidents leading to the deaths of the girls. The spokesperson said that if anyone has information about the case they are invited to bring it to the sheriff’s office. But, so far that has not happened.
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