Charges possible in disturbing Florida drowning case

By Kent Justice - Anchor/reporter , News4Jax.com Staff

COCOA, Fla. - A group of teens accused of mocking a man as he drowned in a Florida retention pond and filming the incident may face charges, according to multiple reports.

After the disturbing video went viral, prosecutors initially said there was no clear sign that the teens had committed any crime by not assisting 31-year-old Jamel Dunn as he drowned July 9.

State law does not require people to provide or call for help when someone else is in distress or danger, the Associated Press reports.

The five teens, ages 14 to 16, could reportedly be heard laughing in the video and taunting Dunn as he struggled to stay afloat and cried out for help.

But Cocoa police announced Friday they intend to recommend misdemeanor charges against the teens through a state law that requires those who witness a death to report it to proper authorities, according to WFTV.

Jacksonville attorney Gene Nichols said it's an obscure statue, and one the teens may be able to successfully fight.

"No matter how heartbreaking this is, no matter how hard it is to watch that video, this is going to be a hard statute to prove for the state of Florida, which is why we don't see people get prosecuted for the statute very often," Nichols said.

Like Nichols, Randy Reep, who served as a prosecutor, believes a conviction on today's charge would be far-fetched.

"The judge who gets it is going to have to be the one to say, as applied to these children, that law is obscure. It's vague and probably untenable -- un-prosecutable," Reep said. "But if I'm the prosecutor, I understand what why they're doing it. They're getting such pressure that there is something wrong with this. Yeah, there's something wrong with people today. It's sad."

News4Jax crime and safety analyst Gil Smith described the video as very upsetting.

"Just to stand there and not, you know, the act of of doing nothing, but to be thoroughly entertained by it? To think it's funny, it's humorous, it's something you're going to enjoy later because you have it on video? It's very disturbing," Smith said. 

Ultimately, it's up to prosecutors to determine whether to file charges.

Copyright 2017 by WJXT News4Jax. The Associated Press contributed to this report. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.