COCOA, Fla. – Cruel teenagers laughed and filmed, but did nothing to help as a man drowned. As a result, they could face criminal charges, reported The Washington Post. The tragedy was given national media attention and a community enraged by the tragedy sparked demands of justice.
Police will use a little-known statute, Henry Parrish III, the mayor of Cocoa, Fla., announced Friday. Anyone who fails to report a death can be prosecuted for a first-degree misdemeanor. While it is not a heavy weight charge, at least it’s something, and appears to be appropriate given the circumstances.
“What we’ve all witnessed here does not represent the citizens of our community,” Parrish said in a statement. “This is an isolated act of unspeakable inhumanity and in no way is a reflection of our community.”
Jamel Dunn, 32, drowned July 9 in Cocoa, a coastal city east of Orlando. The heartless teenagers, ages 14 to 16, filmed the incident as they laughed and mocked Dunn. In an effort to then continue what they found funny, they posted the video to social media. The video, which police called “extremely disturbing,” was found by detectives and handed over to Brevard County state attorney Phil Archer, who released the video.
“Get out the water, ‘Yo,’ ” one of the teens shouts to a disabled man whom his friends are watching struggle fully clothed in a fenced-in pond. “You shouldn’t have gone in,” says another. The kids laugh.
“He keeps putting his head under,” another says. “Wow.”
Once the group realizes the weight of the situation, one of the boys prods another. “Bro, you scared to see a dead person?” he asks.
According to police, the teens didn’t attempt to help Dunn as he struggled and yelled for help.
“They didn’t call the police. They just laughed the whole time. He was just screaming … for someone to help him,” Yvonne Martinez, spokeswoman for the Cocoa Police Department, told Florida Today.
Archer’s office asked that the gruesome 2 ½-minute video not be published “in whole or in part” out of deference to family members.
Martinez told The Post that the police department has been flooded with calls and emails from local community members and beyond.
“They want to blame someone. They want to hold someone accountable,” she said.
After the outcry, Archer’s office and the police circled back on a statute that came up in the initial discussion.
“It may apply, so we’re going to go head and pursue that,” Martinez said, adding that Archer’s office will make the determination to move ahead with charges.
Beyond the current case, it may provide fodder for new legislation. Martinez said it was possible that police associations in Florida would push state legislators to re-create a law regulating the failure to render aid. Parrish’s statement seemed to touch on that aspect of the incident, which has been at the center of the controversy.
“May this tragic incident, which has shocked all of us, cause each of us to examine ourselves and our responsibility to one another,” he said.
Dunn was at the pond after an argument with his fiancé shortly before the incident and walked in on his own. A home surveillance camera near the pond captured the incident, Martinez said.
“They were watching him,” she said about the cruel teenagers. “Everybody is just horrified by this.”
Dunn’s fiancé filed a missing-person report July 12, three days after the teens filmed his demise. His “badly decomposed body” was found July 14, and a family member identified Dunn from the video circulating online. Dunn walked with the aid of a cane and had two young children, Florida Today reported. A toxicology report for Dunn is pending, Martinez said.
Police said there appeared to be little regret from the teens involved during and after the incident. One of the teens stared ahead as he was questioned while his mother cried next to him, Martinez said.
“There was no remorse, only a smirk,” she said.
Simone Scott, who identified herself as Dunn’s sister, blasted the teenagers for not contacting first responders.
“(Okay), I agree they don’t have to help, but they should have called 9-1-1,” she wrote Thursday on Facebook. She also expressed frustration with the lack of charges and slow pace of authorities.
However, she fails to realize that authorities are somewhat handcuffed in these circumstances. Moreover, it appears they are taking what little action is allowed under the law.
“No one never reached out to my family to come identify his body before it hit the news, and until this day we haven’t identified his body,” Scott said in frustration.
However, based upon the previous identification made, that assertion seems to lack merit.
Scott posted the video, along with a black image with white text: “How could you witness someone die and not be charged with anything? #share”
According to police, Dunn was last seen in a red hat reading “Only God can judge me.”
(Photo: Screenshot from news video)