More than two hours before the Disney Dream left port here last August, a Disney Cruise Line crewmember was captured on ship surveillance video molesting an 11-year-old girl in an elevator – a crime Disney Cruise Line said it believes it must by law report immediately.
But a Local 6 investigation reveals the incident was not reported until the next day, long after the ship had slipped out of port, enabling the 33-year-old suspect to evade investigation and prosecution by Florida authorities.
Disney Cruise Line at first claimed last week it did report the crime while the ship was still in port on Aug. 5. Then, after being told by Local 6 and Port Canaveral police that was not true, the cruise line changed its account.
Company officials then claimed employees did not know until the next day that a crime was committed. All they knew on Aug. 5, they claim, was that the child was made to feel “uncomfortable,” according to statements by the cruise line to both Local 6 and the Port Canaveral police.
But, based on surveillance video and a confidential Disney Cruise Line security incident report obtained by Local 6, that also appears to be false.
The report reveals cruise line security began its investigation of the molestation – which it called an “inappropriate sexual act” -- at 3:22 p.m. Sunday, Aug. 5.
The child promptly told security the man had repeatedly grabbed her breast through her clothes and forcibly kissed her on the mouth as he cornered her in an elevator on the Disney Dream.
She “began to cry,” the report stated, as she relayed how the crew member “went like this,” grabbing her breast, and “then went like this,” demonstrating a second groping before “he kiss me here and he put mouth on my mouth.”
Such an attack, even through clothing, is under Florida law a lewd or lascivious molestation of a child under 12, a felony punishable by 25 years to life in prison.
Port Canaveral police chief Joseph Hellebrand said his department can investigate and refer for prosecution such crimes on ships. Anything that occurs within 1,000 feet of its shoreline, as this incident did with the Dream tied to dock, is at least in part port jurisdiction, Hellebrand said.
But Port Canaveral police were prevented from investigating because Disney Cruise Line, or DCL, did not report the crime immediately, as Hellebrand said they should.
Had DCL done so, the chief said, “We would have sent an officer aboard the ship, we would have notified the (on-call) detective, we would have interviewed the family, the victim, the suspect,” and, if warranted, arrested the dining room server.
Disney Cruise Line’s actions prevented that from happening, though a DCL spokeswoman told Local 6 Monday it “took proper action” in handling the case.
Again, they claim they did not know a crime occurred until after the ship left port.
But the company’s own confidential incident report provides more evidence that is not true.
Eight minutes after the molestation -- and two hours before the ship departed -- the victim and her grandmother emerged from the elevator at 3:03 p.m. and headed toward the guest services counter, where they reported the incident. Security was contacted and initiated the investigation at 3:22 p.m., followed promptly by the child relaying the criminal allegations to a cruise security officer.
At 3:57 p.m., the 11-year-old from Brazil led the officer to the spot where she encountered the suspect and “appeared to be uncomfortable when she walked me to the elevator where (the crew member) touched and kissed her,” the officer wrote in her report.
The security officer then retrieved and reviewed the video of the elevator lobby outside the car where the attack occurred and confirmed the actions of a uniformed crew member were consistent with the 11-year-old’s retelling of the story.
At 4:48 p.m., the video was shown to a dining manager, who identified the suspect by name and position, a dining room server from India.
At 5:02 p.m., the Disney Dream left its berth at Port Canaveral, as if nothing criminal had occurred.
The suspect continued to roam the ship until 7:50 p.m., when he was called to the security office and, under questioning, denied molesting the girl, according to the DCL report. He was then “removed from the floor” and, apparently, kept from encountering children.
After another unsuccessful attempt to get him to confess on Aug. 6, he was questioned after the ship arrived in Nassau on Aug. 7 by Bahamian authorities, who assumed jurisdiction of the investigation because the Disney Dream is flagged in the Bahamas.
In a statement to Bahamas Police, the suspect, Milton Braganza, finally admitted “I touched her on her right breast with my left hand.”
But by then – two days into a five-day Disney cruise – the victim’s grandmother had decided she did not want the crime investigated. DCL would not say if it refunded any or all of the family’s cruise expenses.
Had Florida law enforcement immediately been informed of the potential life felony and found probable cause, Hellebrand said the suspect would have been arrested, regardless of a victim’s grandmother’s wishes.