Newly released police video sheds light on what may have happened moments before three teenage girls drowned in a St. Petersburg, Florida pond.
The dash cam footage, released by the Pinellas County Sheriff's Office on Monday, shows deputies in a car chase with the teenagers, aged 15 and 16, who were driving in a Honda Accord they had allegedly stolen. The chase ends in a marshy pond at the Royal Palm cemetery where all three girls drowned.
"We are in the process of reviewing everything," the girls' lawyer, Will Anderson, told ABC News. He added that his team, led by Michelle Whitfield, has questions about law enforcement statements.
“In my opinion, this has been a rush to judgment,” Anderson told ABC News affiliate WFTS. “In my opinion, this has been a smear campaign.”
Sheriff Bob Gualtieri said deputies did everything by the book, even attempting to save the girls' lives after their car plunged into the pond.
"I'm not going to stand by and let these people cast a false narrative, " Gualtieri said. "They're reaching, and they want to be spin masters."
Gualtieri added that because the pond was "thick with sludge," it was difficult for officers to get to the teenagers.
Following the release of the dash-cam video, which does not show the full incident, the truthfulness of the officers' statements about trying to assist the girls has been called into question. The Sheriff's office contends that the officers tried to enter the pond to save the girls, but the video only shows them standing near the pond.
The Sheriff's office maintains their position that the officers did all they could. "The officers got in the pond and just because it's not on cam doesn't mean it didn't happen," Gualtieri said.
"As you walk up to the pond you can clearly see the path the vehicle took driving into the pond," a police report from the sheriff's office states. "There was a path of down tall grass and cattails leading into a heavily vegetative pond. The PCSO Dive team was able to locate the vehicle approximately 60 yards into the pond. Divers advised the pond was approximately 15 feet deep where the vehicle was resting facing east. They were able to secure a tow line but were unable to see anything due to poor visibility."
Police say the teenage girls stole a car in a Walmart parking lot on March 31, and evaded law enforcement who were pursuing them in the allegedly stolen vehicle before tragedy struck. They say the girls had a long history of delinquent behavior.
"They've been arrested seven times in the last year on just auto theft charges," Gualtieri said. "These are not good kids. These are kids who are heavily engaged in criminal activity. I didn't make it up. I didn't make it up that at 4 o'clock in the morning they were driving a stolen car."
Anderson says his law office is strengthening its case and reviewing the information from the sheriff's office before making an official statement.
“My daughter was not perfect,” Natasha Winkler, mother of Laniya Miller, one of the girls who drowned, told WFTS. "What 15-year-old is?”