Teens Laugh as They Film a Man Drowning but Don’t Call for Help: ‘You Shouldn’t Have Got in There’
BY ADAM CARLSON•@ADAM_A_CARLSON
A group of Florida teenagers joked and laughed while they filmed a 31-year-old man as he drowned last week only a few feet away from them, PEOPLE confirms.
As the man, Jamel Dunn, appeared to struggle in the middle of the pond before going under, the teens — whom police said were all between 14 and 18 — cursed, jeered and mocked him from the shore, calling him a “junkie” and wondering if he was drunk.
Only one of them voiced concerns about getting help. But authorities say none of them did.
“Ain’t nobody going to help you, you dumb bitch,” one of the teens can be heard on the video shouting to Dunn. “You shouldn’t have got in there.”
This was on July 9, around 1 p.m., in a park in Cocoa, Florida, according to CNN, Florida Today and The New York Times. (PEOPLE has independently reviewed a two-minute-and-30-second video that is identical in description to footage of the drowning, which was obtained by the three other outlets.)
Dunn was found dead five days later, after his body was reported floating in the pond where he died, the Times reports. He’d been reported missing by his family two days earlier, three days after his drowning, according to CNN.
Video from his death captures the stream-of-consciousness of the teens who witnessed it: At first, they are heard yelling at him for getting into the water and then they comment on his apparent distress, noting, perhaps jokingly, that he may die.
“Bro, you scared to see a dead person?” one teen asks another just before Dunn sinks — with an audible cry — below the water.
It remains unclear how, exactly, Dunn drowned in the middle of the pond in Cocoa’s Bracco Park, though investigators said he went willingly into the water.
According to Cocoa police spokeswoman Yvonne Martinez, Dunn went in the pond about 12:50 p.m. that Sunday after a verbal fight with his mother and “possibly his fiancée,” CNN reports. The teens were smoking marijuana from a nearby shore and apparently saw Dunn walk into the pond, Martinez told Florida Today.
Investigators learned of the video of Dunn’s drowning over the weekend after they were tipped off by Dunn’s family, according to the Times. CNN reports that the teens had posted the clip to YouTube, and it was later widely viewed online, including on Facebook, where one version has more than three million views.
“I’ve been doing this a long time, probably 20 years or more … I was horrified,” Martinez told CNN of the footage. “My jaw dropped.”
Martinez told the Times that police have spoken with all five teenagers involved and that none seemed visibly moved by what happened — though the mother of one boy began to cry during his questioning, Martinez told Florida Today.
“What I saw was not remorseful,” she said.
Teens Will Be Charged with Misdemeanors
News of what happened gained wider notice on Friday when prosecutors said Florida does not require people to provide or seek aid for those in need, so the teens could not be charged for their failure to assist Dunn. (Their names have been withheld by authorities because of their age.)
“Our office is sensitive to the concerns of Mr. Dunn’s family, the Cocoa Police Department, and our community at the deeply disturbing actions recorded on this video,” Phil Archer, the state attorney representing Cocoa, said in a statement.
Archer added that prosecutors were “continuing to research whether any other statute may apply to the facts of this case. We have requested that the Cocoa Police Department forward their complete case file to us upon completion of their investigation so that we can make a final determination.” (A spokesman with Archer’s office did not immediately respond to a request for further comment.)
Later Friday, Cocoa police said they would charge the boys with failing to report a death, which is a first-degree misdemeanor punishable by up to one year in prison and a $1,000 fine.
“Regardless of the circumstances surrounding [Dunn’s] decision to enter the water that day, there is absolutely no justification for what the teens did,” Cocoa Police Chief Mike Cantaloupe said in a statement. “Pursuing criminal charges is a way to hold them accountable for their own actions.”
Dunn’s relatives, whom PEOPLE could not immediately reach for comment, appear to have been vocal on social media about his death and the teens’ inaction.
A woman who described herself as Dunn’s sister has frequently posted about the case this week, calling for more answers about how he got into the water and spreading a petition that calls for a new law in Florida requiring people to seek or call for aid for those in distress. A man who said he was Dunn’s brother has also circulated the petition.
The woman said Dunn was disabled and walked with a cane.
“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,” she reportedly said in a Facebook video.
A GoFundMe has been created to help pay for Dunn’s funeral and support his two young daughters, ages 6 and 11.
“He was a good guy,” one friend told Florida Today, adding, “It’s just tough to know that these kids would sit and laugh at something like this.”