Five teenagers who taunted a drowning man while recording his death from afar may face criminal charges, a Florida police chief said Friday.
Cocoa Police Chief Michael Cantaloupe said Friday he will recommend the state attorney prosecute the teens under a statute that requires a person with knowledge of a death to notify a medical examiner. The state attorney will decide whether to file the charges, which would be a misdemeanor under that statute.
The chief’s statement was a shift.
Authorities previously said the teens wouldn’t be charged because Florida does not have a law that obligates a citizen to render aid or call for help for anyone in distress.
On Friday, the office of State Attorney Phil Archer issued a statement, though not in response to the chief’s comments about recommending charges.
“We were asked to make a preliminary review of the video regarding any potential charges for failure to provide aid,” the state attorney’s office said. “Unfortunately, there is currently no statute in Florida law that compels an individual to render, request or seek aid for a person in distress. We are, however, continuing to research whether any other statute may apply to the facts of this case.”
Laughing captured on video
Public outrage has mounted since Jamel Dunn, 31, died July 9.
In the more than two-minute long video, the five teen boys — who are between the ages of 14 and 16 — can be heard laughing as the man struggles to stay afloat in a pond near his family’s home, police said.
The teens can be heard warning the man that he was “going to die” and they were not going to help him. At one point, one of the teen boys can be heard laughing, saying “he dead.”
Instead of calling for help, the teens recorded the incident on a cell phone, chuckling during the victim’s final moments.
They posted video of the incident on YouTube and did not alert authorities.
Dunn’s family initially filed a missing person’s report on July 12, three days after he had already drowned. His body was recovered from the water on July 14.
A GoFundMe account has been setup to pay for Dunn’s funeral expenses.
Police interviewed teens
The teens’ names have not been released.
“At least one of the teens expressed no remorse while being interviewed by detectives,” Cocoa Police Department spokeswoman Yvonne Martinez said.
Cantaloupe said the teenagers’ parents were “very disturbed” and some of the teens did show remorse.
The teens admitted being in the area “smoking weed,” police said.
But the nature of the incident has troubled even the most seasoned law enforcement officials.
“I’ve been doing this a long time, probably 20 years or more … I was horrified. My jaw dropped,” Martinez said.
Victim’s sister wants law changed
Dunn’s sister, Simone McIntosh, had hard words for the teens.
“Just why didn’t you call for help?” she said Friday on HLN. “Even if you didn’t physically go in and help him, why didn’t you just make a phone call to get him help, someone who can help him? All it took is one call, one second, and a life could have been saved. He clearly screamed for help not once, not twice, but three times.”
McIntosh says a friend has started a petition to change the law.
When somebody needs assistance, “You should be obligated to help or to get help for them,” McIntosh said.
Cantaloupe, the police chief, said he hopes Dunn’s death will lead to new legislation.
“As law enforcement officers, we are sworn to uphold and enforce the laws,” he said. “Unfortunately, there are no laws in Florida that apply to this scenario. Perhaps this case may be what’s needed to pass new laws.”
Why was he in the water?
Police say that on the morning he drowned, Dunn had gotten into a “verbal altercation” with his mother and “possibly his fiancee,” during which he told his fiancee to “leave the house,” Martinez said.
“(His fiancee) left the home at about 12:40 p.m. Based on the video, he went into the water at about 12:50 p.m. and then drowned. He was in the water struggling for one or two minutes for the video portion,” Martinez told CNN.
The family doesn’t know why Dunn entered the water, McIntosh told HLN
“That’s unanswered for all of us,” she said.
Family posted video on Facebook
The state attorney’s office urged the media “out of concern for the affected family and friends of Mr. Dunn that it not be published in whole or in part.”
Given that Dunn’s sister has encouraged the public to share the video, CNN has chosen to publish a small portion of the incident, as well as the audio of the teens’ comments in full.
“I feel like something should be done to (the teens),” Dunn’s sister said in a Facebook Live video she posted on Thursday. “I don’t care if it’s probation or something, it just needs to be an eye-opener. A lesson learned.”
“If they can sit there and watch somebody die in front of their eyes, imagine what they’re going to do when they get older. Where’s the morals?” she asked.