Florida Teens Who Failed to Help Drowning Man Won't Face Criminal Charges

By Christopher Coble, Esq. on July 06, 2018 | Last updated on March 21, 2019

They told Jamel Dunn he was going to die.

As five teenagers filmed Dunn screaming for help and struggling to stay afloat in a small Florida pond, they mocked his final moments. "Bruh's drowning, what the heck," one can be heard saying on the video. "Ain't nobody gonna help you, you dumb (expletive)," another taunts. "We're not (fixing to) help your (expletive)." The group laughed, left, and then posted the video to YouTube. Dunn's body was recovered three days later, decomposing on the shore. "We just (let) buddy die," they jeered, "we could have helped his (expletive), and we didn't even try to help him."

Dunn Drowned a year ago, and last week Florida prosecutors announced they could not bring any criminal charges against any of the teens. Here's why.

The Law Does Not Address This Behavior

"I know that everyone was sickened by the callous disregard for human life exhibited by these young people," Seminole-Brevard State Attorney Phil Archer said in a statement regarding the decision. "We can only hope that this was an isolated and rare circumstance that will never happen again. 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."

That is true. There is no criminal statute in Florida that requires the average bystander to help a person in need, and no corresponding civil liability for failing to help, either. While the state does have a Good Samaritan law that protects a person "who gratuitously and in good faith renders emergency care or treatment" from being sued if that care or treatment causes some injury, there is no law that punishes a failure to act.

The State Attorney's Office acknowledged it considered charging the teens for violating the law that requires someone to report a death to the medical examiner's office, but "could not find any similar incident in which this law was used for this purpose and we do not believe it would be appropriately applied under the facts of this case."

No New Law Coming

The teens, aged 14 to 16 at the time of the incident, admitted to going to the area to smoke marijuana and have since expressed remorse over the incident. And the Florida legislature attempted to address the statutory loophole -- in the wake of the drowning, State Senator Debbie Mayfield proposed a bill that would it a crime not to help someone in imminent danger, or to record someone in peril. It failed to pass.

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