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Viral video of teens dumping trash into ocean sparks felony charges

Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission pursues felony charges in high-profile ocean littering case of teens dumping trash

A viral video depicting two teens dumping trash overboard during a Florida boat party has snowballed into a national story, sparking debate over appropriate punishment and igniting conversations about environmental protection. The Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission (FWC) announced it is pursuing felony charges against the 15 and 16-year-old boys seen in the video discarding garbage into the ocean.

Drone footage captures teens dumping ocean littering incident

Drone footage captured by Wavy Boats showed one of the teens dumping trash can overboard into the ocean while celebrating, leaving a trail of plastic bottles and cans bobbing in the water. The video triggered outrage online, prompting discussions about youth behavior, illegal dumping, and the importance of ocean conservation.

Following the teenagers' surrender to authorities last week, the FWC revealed its decision to charge them with third-degree felonies . The Commission justified this by stating a staff biologist determined the discarded trash posed a threat to wildlife, a requirement for felony charges under the relevant statute.

The head of the marine debris program at FWC has determined that the waste that was dumped hurt the marine environment and could potentially pose a threat to the health and safety of humans. She referenced research highlighting the dangers of plastic ocean pollution to sea turtles and other marine animals, who can become entangled or ingest harmful debris.

The felony charges carry significantly harsher penalties compared to Florida's standard littering law. The standard littering law prescribes a non-criminal fine of $150 for dumping less than 15 pounds of trash and a first-degree misdemeanor for exceeding that amount. In contrast, the felony charges the teenagers face carry a maximum penalty of $50,000 in fines and/or up to five years in prison.

However, authorities acknowledged that the teens dumping trash are unlikely to receive the maximum sentence due to their age.

Miami-based criminal defense attorney Brett Schwartz suggested that the national spotlight on the case likely influenced prosecutors to pursue harsher charges to demonstrate a serious response to the incident. Schwartz, not involved in the case, speculated that the teenagers might face a pre-trial diversion program, community service, and a fine as a potential outcome.

FWC Chairman Rodney Barreto reiterated the agency's stance on illegal dumping, stating it's a "serious crime." He emphasized collaboration with the Palm Beach County State Attorney's Office to determine appropriate charges. Barreto expressed strong disapproval towards the lack of concern for Florida's ocean environment and emphasized the need for all parties involved to learn from the incident involving the teens dumping trash.

At a previous commission meeting, Barreto expressed his desire for the teenagers to perform at least 500 hours of community service overseen by the FWC. He emphasized the need to convey that Florida has zero tolerance for such behavior and prioritizes environmental protection.

teens dumping trash in ocean

Social media divided on the severity of charges

News of the felony charges ignited social media discussions, with users expressing a range of opinions on the case. Some users believed the felony charges were excessive while advocating for community service as a suitable punishment. Others expressed skepticism about any consequences being imposed on the teenagers. Several users stressed the importance of holding the teenagers accountable for their actions and preventing them from receiving merely a slap on the wrist.

The FWC's decision not to redact the teenagers' names from arrest reports and some media outlets publishing their identities raised concerns from Schwartz. He expressed his apprehension regarding the lasting consequences these charges and widespread media attention could have on the teenagers' futures. While acknowledging the importance of protecting Florida's waterways, he questioned the necessity of potentially tarnishing their entire future over a single incident, given their age.

Investigators with the FWC confirmed the identity of one teenager through interviews with a dean and teachers at his West Palm Beach private high school. The vessel used, the Halcyon, is registered to a company associated with the 15-year-old's father. According to arrest reports, interviews with students and a school resource officer at a Boca Raton high school helped verify the identity of the other teenager seen discarding trash in the video.

A statement released by a spokesperson on behalf of one of the teenagers' families expressed apologies for the incident. The statement echoed Barreto's sentiment of the situation being a learning experience and advocated for the teenagers' participation in ocean conservation efforts and community service. It expressed deep regret for the impact the incident had on the community and those rightfully upset by their actions.

The organizers of Boca Bash, the boat party where the incident occurred, issued a statement expressing their outrage at the teenagers' behavior. The coming weeks and months will likely see further developments in this case. With the teenagers facing felony charges, it remains to be seen whether they will accept a plea deal or proceed to trial.

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