The teens laughed and chuckled as they watched the man die

By Joe Vargas

One of the big drawbacks to social media is how much it has turned us into a culture of spectators. With the advent of social media platforms, we all seem to spend a significant amount of time looking down and observing the world rather than participating.

Why do I bring this up?

On July 9, a group of teens in Florida laughed and taunted 31-year-old James Dunn as he struggled to keep from drowning in a pond.

As the man drowned, the teens laughed and chuckled even telling the victim he was “going to die.” After the man goes under the water they walk away and post the video on YouTube.

The police were never called and Mr. Dunn’s body was not found until five days later.

It’s easy to say there was some moral imperative to help the man. But according to Florida law, there is no legal obligation to render aid even if it was within their means to do it. Most states do not have a criminal law requiring a “duty to rescue.”

That is the case across the country.

The Cocoa Police Department isn’t giving up and instead recommended prosecutors charge the teens with misdemeanor counts of failure to report a death. Seems like a stretch, but public outrage over the incident has started a debate about the need for laws requiring people to render aid.

There is significant legal precedent, including a 2012 Supreme Court oral argument where Justice Anthony Kennedy stated, “The reason this is concerning is because it requires the individual to do an affirmative act. In the law of torts, our tradition, our law, has been that you don’t have the duty to rescue someone if that person is in danger. The blind man is walking in front of a car and you do not have a duty to stop him absent some relation between you. And there is some severe moral criticisms of that rule, but that’s generally the rule.”

Seems to me there is some type of moral failure in a society itself when you have to create laws requiring you to do something that should come naturally. In the case of these teens, their moral compass was completely broken.

Joe is a retired Anaheim Police Department captain. You can reach him at jvargas@behindthebadgeoc.com.