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US teens record a drowning and laugh, but they won’t be charged

The five teenagers did nothing to help the drowning man, but after examining the video, authorities said they did not break the law.

world Updated: Jul 22, 2017 19:11 IST
Florida,911,Cocoa Police Department
A still from a video five teenagers made as Jamel Dunn, 31, drowned in a pond.(NYT)

The video was shocking in Florida, where shocking videos seem like a genre. A group of teenagers laughed and watched as a man struggled in the water of a pond. The man drowned, and his body was not found for days.

The five teenagers did nothing to help him, not even call 911, but after examining the video the authorities said this week that they did not break the law.

“In the state of Florida, there is no law in place that requires a person to render aid or call to render aid to a victim in distress,” said Yvonne Martinez, a spokeswoman for the Cocoa Police Department. But the police said late Friday that they were still looking for other laws that might have been violated.

The man, Jamel Dunn, 31, drowned July 9, and his body was found five days later when police received a report that it was floating near the edge of the pond in a local park in Cocoa, a town of 18,000 people near Orlando.

As detectives investigated the death over the weekend, a family member of Dunn’s alerted them to the video, which the teenagers had begun sharing with friends.

Police asked the office of Phil Archer, the state attorney for Brevard and Seminole counties, to review the footage. But the prosecutor’s office said it did not contain the evidence needed for a criminal prosecution.

In the statement, the prosecutor’s office said it was nonetheless “deeply saddened and shocked” by how Dunn died and the failure of the teenagers to help him in any way.

The low-quality, 2.5-minute cellphone video was provided to The New York Times by Archer’s office and earlier obtained by Florida Today. It shows a man flailing in the middle of a body of water as the teenagers describe his struggle and laugh at him from the shore of the pond.

One of the teenagers, using an expletive, calls Dunn a junkie. Someone tells him not to expect any assistance: “Ain’t nobody going to help you, you dumb bitch. You shouldn’t have got in there,” he says.

About a minute into the video, the man appears to let out a whimper before submerging, fully, underwater.

“He just died!” a voice can be heard saying, as the others begin to laugh.

Later, one of the teenagers appears to suggest that they call police, only to be rejected by another.

The police identified and met with all five, who ranged in age from 14 to 18, Martinez said. None appeared to show much emotion.

First Published: Jul 22, 2017 16:44 IST