Bystanders at South Florida crime scenes sometimes shoot video instead of rendering aid
As the 49-year-old Tamarac man sat in the front seat of a truck, slumped over and dying of a gunshot wound to the chest, at least 10 people were gathered around him. But instead of rendering aid or comfort to the victim, shot two weeks ago after a dispute at a Pollo Tropical, some of those bystanders in the Davie gas station pulled out cellphones and began shooting videos of the drama. Struggling to get the 300-pound man out of the truck to administer aid, Davie Police Capt. Dale Engle finally erupted in frustration. He turned to a bystander shooting video from a few feet away and shouted, Why don t you turn that effing camera off and help?
The man put away the phone, Engle said. Police officers in South Florida say the phenomenon is commonplace and growing. Bystanders often shoot video first, and ask, can I help? later, if at all. In an age of social media where almost everyone carries a cell phone with a video camera in purse or pocket, many are constantly on the lookout for compelling, cool material worthy of posting online.
Sometimes a bystander video can be a help to police and even lead to a conviction. A former South Carolina police officer pleaded guilty in May to shooting a fleeing man in the back five times after a video of the 2015 deadly encounter went viral. But all too often, according to many police officers, bystander video of street fights, car crashes and crime scenes is destined only for the shooter s Facebook or Instagram accounts.
In our society it has come to where people are more apt to want to capture something on video than provide help or assistance to another human being, said Engle, one of the first officers on the scene after the June 2 shooting that began with an argument inside the restaurant. It happens all the time. It is disturbing. The tendency to be voyeuristic is human, said Florida Atlantic University criminologist Sameer Hinduja. But what s troubling is that the last thing we want when victimization is taking place is to say, Oh, gosh, I can record this, Hinduja said. It s a sad commentary on our culture and very disconcerting.
Former Lauderhill Police Maj. Rick Rocco recalled two recent murder scenes where bystanders took video of the victims without offering assistance. In one instance, videos taken by customers of gunshot victim Javaris Domineck, 21, lying on the floor inside a McDonald s restaurant on West Oakland Park Boulevard in April 2015 were widely shown on local television stations. After another fatal shooting six months later of a security guard in a Lauderhill apartment complex, a video appeared on social media before 911 was even called, said Rocco, now a police trainer.
Why would someone do this, rather than do what should be considered the right thing, getting help for somebody? said Rocco. It used to be 15 minutes of fame; now it s 15 seconds. Jan L. Jacobowitz, a lecturer at the University of Miami s School of Law, has studied the ethics.of social media. That someone would make a video and watch someone suffer in lieu of helping is disturbing, she said. But it may not even be different than before smartphones when people simply didn t want to get involved.
Yes, it is troubling, Jacobowitz said. Social media allows for the most troubling aspects of human behavior to be captured and put on display for the entire world.
In Florida, there is no law that compels bystanders to intervene or help someone in peril if they had nothing to do with creating the peril, said Peter Lake, a professor at Stetson University College of Law in Gulfport. Yet even though there is no legal duty to become a Good Samaritan, there is at times a moral imperative, and recording one s failure to render aid and posting the video could have consequences, Lake said.
Now people are keeping records of being bystanders, self-identifying as people watching and not intervening, Lake said. The consequences could come in the court of future employment, membership in a club or admission into a college. Failure to get involved sometimes can be attributed to what has become known as the bystander effect, according to experts.
The bystander effect stems from the 1964 New York City murder of Kitty Genovese, stabbed to death outside her apartment while bystanders who observed the slaying did not step in to assist or call the police. When there is bystander video that can be helpful in solving crimes or reconstructing accidents, authorities are quick to seize it. We see video on social media or on TV, and we have to subpoena the station to get it for our investigation, said Miami-Dade Police Detective Robin Pinkard. That happens all the time. In January, a bystander shot video of a West Palm Beach Police plainclothes detective chasing and then wrestling with a man fleeing a traffic violation in the 1200 block of West 45th Street. The man escaped.
The video, aired by CBS-12 and posted on the Sun Sentinel s website and on YouTube. Police later obtained it and they used it as they searched for the man, police spokesman Sgt. Dave Lafont said. Should that bystander have become involved? I would never recommend that someone get involved in an altercation, said Lafont, and I can t second-guess the perception of the person shooting video of the incident. As part of a college course, Rocco, the former Lauderhill police major, said he has studied the effects of social media on public safety, looking in particular at how online posts can pose a threat to first responders and expose the community to the brutality of unedited depictions of tragedies.
In an email, Rocco referred to bystander videographers as citizen journalists who may upload videos of persons who have been the victims of crimes, crashes, or other mayhem without regard to the victims privacy rights or family concerns.
My opinion is that the citizen journalist is more concerned about instant gratification, the number of likes and shares their posts get, Rocco said. In the incident involving Eric Primus, the victim of the Davie shooting, Engle and others who came to his aid did eventually get him out of the truck and onto the ground so life-saving efforts could begin. Engle, with the help of bystanders, covered the man s bleeding chest wound with a piece of plastic and applied pressure
Primus was taken to Broward Health Medical Center, where he died, police said. The man who shot him was not charged because he fired in self-defense, investigators said.
At the end of that day, Engle, a cop for 23 years, said he was left with feelings of sadness and anger. I wasn t able to help this guy, and that weighed on me, he said. I think I did everything I could, but still, I want to help people.
Frustration over the reluctant bystanders, said Engle, just compounded the thing.
Staff researcher Barbara Hijek contributed to this report.