Teens filmed drowning man, Nearly a year after a 31-year-old disabled man sank beneath the waters of a retention pond as five teens mocked, laughed and videoed his final moments, prosecutors said they will not pursue charges in the case.
The decision was made in recent days and followed talks with the family of Jamel Dunn, whose final pleas for help were captured July 9 on a 2 1/2-minute cellphone clip by one of the teens.
“I know that everyone was sickened by the callous disregard for human life exhibited by these young people. We can only hope that this was an isolated and rare circumstance that will never happen again,” said State Attorney Phil Archer in a prepared statement. “Unfortunately, Florida law does not address this behavior and we are ethically restrained from pursuing criminal charges without a reasonable belief of proving a crime beyond and to the exclusion of every reasonable doubt.”
The case drew worldwide attention amid calls from state lawmakers for new, “Good Samaritan” legislation that would make it a legal requirement for people to call or assist anyone in trouble.
The measure, however, failed to come up for a vote in the Florida Legislature.
For Cocoa police and community advocates, the death was a case that touched on the law as well as the question of moral obligation toward someone in distress.
‘Good Samaritan’ legislation sought after Cocoa drowning case captured on video
Teens filmed, mocked drowning man, Cocoa police say
The charge the agency forwarded to the state attorney’s office for review: duty to report a death to a medical examiner, which is a misdemeanor, reports show.
Detectives pointed out that the teens — ages 14 to 16 — failed to call for help and left the man after witnessing him struggle for air before slipping beneath the waters of Bracco pond along Shearer Boulevard.
“We had researched every possible avenue to see if there were any criminal charges that could apply. In this case, it just doesn’t apply. It’s unfortunate. It’s regrettable that the laws of Florida, as they are written, don’t allow us to file any charge in this case,” said Yvonne Martinez, spokeswoman for the Cocoa Police Department.
“It’s a difficult issue because some people have compared it to trying to legislate morality, but it comes down to this: we as a society have to do a better job of teaching our kids right from wrong, and to help people in need,” Martinez said. “When you watch that video, there really aren’t words to describe their actions.”
Cocoa Police Chief Mike Cantaloupe also spoke on the decision not to prosecute the teenagers.
“I believe we all have learned much from this case,” he said in a statement issued Friday afternoon. “Recognizing it is not the job of government or police to legislate morality, we as a society must do better in not only showing compassion, but teaching our young people it is always the right thing to help others in need or in distress, even if it is just making a phone call.
“We believe humankind is inherently good. Let us always let goodness prevail.”
The moment was captured on video by one of the teens.
Police struggled for guidance in dealing with the teens, some of whom later expressed remorse.
Prosecutors, working with information from Cocoa detectives, called the drowning death a ‘tragedy’ and promised to review the case for any possible charges.
Commentators across the nation debated what some saw as the lack of moral will on behalf of the teens to assist Dunn as he pleaded for help with his last breath.
Rappers including The Game and Gucci Mane shared the story about the drowning to their fans, prompting more discussion and calls for accountability.
Dunn’s family still struggles with the aftermath of the drowning.