As 31-year-old Michael Dunn struggled to stay above water in a pond, five teenagers between the ages of 14 and 16 laughed and made a video. “We not gonna help your ass,” one of the teens yells. A moment later Dunn can be heard yelling in apparent panic. The teens laugh in response. Another moment passes and one of the teens says “He ain’t coming back up.” One member of the group says something about calling someone to find his body. But the teens didn’t do that. They kept quiet and five days later Dunn’s body was discovered.
Legally, it seemed there was nothing anyone could do. Bystanders are not required to risk their own lives to save someone else and there is no law against laughing as a man drowns, because who would imagine you would need one. From the News 6 Orlando:
Authorities said the teens never lifted a finger to help Dunn in his final moments and added that some of them showed no remorse when detectives questioned them about what they witnessed.
“I want to think that’s a natural instinct for any of us, that if we saw somebody in trouble or somebody having an issue, that we would at least try to get them help,” [Police Chief Mike] Cantaloupe said…
Cantaloupe said his detectives and State Attorney Phil Archer continued to discuss the “disturbing” case and he decided police would file a misdemeanor charge under Florida Statute 406.12, which requires anyone who “becomes aware of the death of any person” to report it to authorities.
It’s very clear from the video that the teens knew Dunn had drowned. They even discuss calling someone to get the body. So it would seem this legal approach might have a good chance of holding up in court. Still, this is the first time this law has ever been applied to a case like this one. Even if they are convicted, these teens are only being charged with a misdemeanor. Presumably, they’ll be no worse off than if they had shoplifted from a 7-11.
As a society, all we can do is hope that as they mature some sort of fundamental morality dawns upon them. Teenagers brains are still developing so it could happen, though 15 seems pretty late for a moral lesson this basic. It would be interesting to see where these five end up in ten years.