COCOA, Fla. – A group of teens who filmed and mocked a disabled man as he drowned in a retention pond will face charges for their failure to report the man's death, Cocoa police Chief Mike Cantaloupe said Friday.
In a minute-long video that was shared on social media, the five teens, ages 14 to 18, laughed and shouted insults at Jamel Dunn, 31, as he screamed for help and struggled in the murky water on July 9, police said.
Authorities said the teens never lifted a finger to help Dunn in his final moments and added that some of them showed no remorse when detectives questioned them about what they witnessed.
"I want to think that's a natural instinct for any of us, that if we saw somebody in trouble or somebody having an issue, that we would at least try to get them help," Cantaloupe said.
Florida doesn't legally require a witness to help a person in need, so police and officials from the state attorney's office originally said that it would be not be possible for the teens to face legal consequences.
Cantaloupe said his detectives and State Attorney Phil Archer continued to discuss the "disturbing" case and he decided police would file a misdemeanor charge under Florida Statute 406.12, which requires anyone who "becomes aware of the death of any person" to report it to authorities.
The statute has never been applied in a similar circumstance, so Cantaloupe said this instance will be somewhat of a test case.
The charging documents will be forwarded to the State Attorney's Office, and it will be up to officials there to determine if the charges will stick. That decision should come within the next few weeks. Until then, the boys will not be arrested.
In terms of a long-term solution, Cantaloupe said he plans to meet with legislators to draft some kind of law that would require bystanders to attempt to help a person who is in distress.
“I think that would be the huge win, I think that would be justice. We don’t want another family to go through what the Dunn family has gone through,” Cantaloupe said.
Dunn got into an argument with his fiancee about 10 or 15 minutes before he entered the water. His family has created a GoFundMe page to help cover funeral expenses.
“Regardless of the circumstances surrounding his decision to enter the water that day, there is absolutely no justification for what the teens did,” Cantaloupe said. “Pursuing criminal charges is a way to hold them accountable for their own actions.”