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Police seek charges after teens film, mock drowning man, mayor says

Teens film, mock man as he drowns in Cocoa, Fla. (Video: Taylor Turner/The Washington Post)

Teenagers who filmed and laughed as a man drowned but did nothing to help could face criminal charges after national media attention and a community enraged by the tragedy sparked demands of justice.

Henry Parrish III, the mayor of Cocoa, Fla., announced Friday that police will seek first-degree misdemeanor charges under a little-known statute for anyone who fails to report a death.

“What we’ve all witnessed here does not represent the citizens of our community,” Parrish said in a statement. “This is an isolated act of unspeakable inhumanity and in no way is a reflection of our community.”

Jamel Dunn, 32, drowned July 9 in Cocoa, a coastal city east of Orlando. The teenagers, ages 14 to 16, filmed the incident as they laughed and mocked Dunn, then posted the video to social media. The video, which police called “extremely disturbing,” was found by detectives and handed over to Brevard County state attorney Phil Archer, who released the video.

“Get out the water, ‘Yo,’ ” one of the teens shouts to a disabled man whom his friends are watching struggle fully clothed in a fenced-in pond. “You shouldn’t have gone in,” says another. The kids laugh.

“He keeps putting his head under,” another says. “Wow.”

Once the group realizes the weight of the situation, one of the boys prods another. “Bro, you scared to see a dead person?” he asks.

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Police said that the teens didn’t attempt to help Dunn as he struggled and screamed.

“They didn’t call the police. They just laughed the whole time. He was just screaming … for someone to help him,” Yvonne Martinez, spokeswoman for the Cocoa Police Department, told Florida Today, which posted only audio of the incident.

Archer’s office asked that the gruesome 2 ½-minute video not be published “in whole or in part” out of deference to family members.

Martinez told The Post that the police department has been flooded with calls and emails from local community members and beyond.

“They want to blame someone. They want to hold someone accountable,” she said.

After the outcry, Archer’s office and the police circled back on a statute that came up in the initial discussion.

“It may apply, so we’re going to go head and pursue that,” Martinez said, adding that Archer’s office will make the determination to move ahead with charges.

Martinez also said it was possible that police associations in Florida would push state legislators to re-create a law regulating the failure to render aid. Parrish’s statement seemed to touch on that aspect of the incident, which has been at the center of the controversy.

“May this tragic incident, which has shocked all of us, cause each of us to examine ourselves and our responsibility to one another,” he said. 

Dunn was at the pond after an argument with his fiancee shortly before the incident and walked in on his own. A home surveillance camera near the pond captured the incident, Martinez said.

“They were watching him,” she said about the teenagers. “Everybody is just horrified by this.”

Dunn’s fiancee filed a missing-person report July 12. His “badly decomposed body” was found July 14, and a family member identified Dunn from the video circulating online. Dunn walked with the aid of a cane and had two young children, Florida Today reported. A toxicology report for Dunn is pending, Martinez said.

Police said there appeared to be little regret from the teens involved during and after the incident. One of the teens stared ahead as he was questioned while his mother cried next to him, Martinez said.

“There was no remorse, only a smirk,” she said.

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Simone Scott, who identified herself as Dunn’s sister, lambasted the teenagers for not contacting first responders.

“(Okay), I agree they don’t have to help, but they should have called 9-1-1,” she wrote Thursday on Facebook. She also expressed frustration with the lack of charges and slow pace of authorities.

“No one never reached out to my family to come identify his body before it hit the news, and until this day we haven’t identified his body,” Scott said.

Scott posted the video, along with a black image with white text: “How could you witness someone die and not be charged with anything? #share”

According to police, Dunn was last seen in a red hat reading “Only God can judge me.”

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