Police in Florida are pursuing misdemeanor charges against five teenagers for failure to report a death after authorities say they recorded video of a man’s drowning and didn't intervene.
The video, taken earlier this month in Cocoa, Florida, about 45 miles east of Orlando, shows a person's head bobbing up and down in a pond. The teenagers, who are between the ages of 14 and 18 and have not been named by police, are heard laughing and joking in the video, with one of them appearing to laugh and say, "He just died!"
Cocoa Police Chief Mike Cantaloupe said the department learned of the recording last weekend and later reviewed it. Police identified and interviewed the five teens, he said.
Police in conjunction with the State Attorney’s Office determined that charges of "failure to report a death under Florida Statute 406.12," a misdemeanor, will be pursued, the Cocoa police said in a statement today. Police said the charging document, case report and video evidence are being sent to the State Attorney’s Office for review, and a decision about whether the charges will be prosecuted.
“When we initially reviewed this case it was determined there were no laws broken as the teens were not directly involved with the death,” Cantaloupe said in a statement today. "Further research of the statutes and consultation with the State Attorney’s Office yielded the decision to move forward with charges under this statute. It’s our belief that this law has never been enforced in a scenario like this, but we feel it could be applicable.”
Cantaloupe added, “Pursuing criminal charges is a way to hold them accountable for their own actions.”
Earlier, Cocoa police said that the five teenagers were not facing criminal charges after the State Attorney’s Office was consulted.
“As horrible as this video is the laws in the State of Florida do not obligate citizens to render aid or call someone to render aid to a person in distress," Cantaloupe said on Thursday.
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The victim, 31-year-old Jamel Dunn of Cocoa, drowned July 9, police said. He was reported missing July 12 and authorities recovered his body July 14 after a passerby reported a body floating in the pond.
Police said home surveillance video apparently captured Dunn jumping over a fence and willingly going into the water. "I don't think you can ever replace a lost life," Cantaloupe told ABC News today.
He added, "I think what we look at is, the hope that what we do from here going forward, whether it be this charge or some new legislation, that another family doesn’t have to go through this. And that we work with our youth ... to instill these morals ... I would’ve never believed that somebody could watch somebody in distress and not do anything about it."
Of the video recorded by the teenagers, Cantaloupe said in a statement Thursday, "There are no words to describe how utterly inhumane and cruel the actions of these juveniles were towards Mr. Dunn. ... I want to express my deepest condolences to Mr. Dunn’s family and friends."
Cocoa Mayor Henry Parrish III released a statement today regarding the incident. "It saddens me to the core to watch video shot by a group of kids watching a man drown and doing nothing to help him. There just are no words to describe the lack of conscience within these young people," he said.
"I also would like to extend my deepest condolences to Mr. Dunn’s family and friends," he added. "My hope is we all come together to make sure this doesn’t happen to anyone else."
Parrish said of the decision to pursue charges, "While this in no way will bring justice for what occurred, it is a start."
"In a case like this we struggle to understand how anyone could be so cold and heartless and then learn that there are no laws in Florida that obligate someone to render aid or call for someone to render aid for a person they see in distress," he said. "If this case can be used as an example to draft new legislation, then I am committed to move forward to make that happen. More so, may this tragic incident, which has shocked all of us, cause each of us to examine ourselves and our responsibility to one another."
"I implore the State Attorney’s Office to follow through and file the charges presented by the Cocoa Police Department!" he added.