Questions on boot camp death go unasked
A meeting of the state's medical examiners ends before a group demanding action in the case gets a chance to speak.
By ABBIE VANSICKLE
Published May 24, 2006
TAMPA - Leading black legislators and college students came to Tampa Tuesday, hoping to address the state's medical examiners about two conflicting autopsy results on Martin Lee Anderson, a teen who died after he was roughed up at a boot camp.
But the day didn't go the way the group planned.
Legislators hoped to speak at the quarterly meeting of the state Medical Examiners Commission about the sharply differing autopsy conclusions about what caused Anderson's death.
Instead, the commission wrapped up its meeting before the group arrived, leaving students and legislators frustrated and angry.
"What they did today was very, very wrong," said Gabriel Pendas, Student Senate president at Florida State University. "You should all be mad. I'm mad."
Commission members say the meeting finished before the group arrived, but legislators and students say the day only heightened their concerns that officials don't want to answer questions about the teen's death.
The nine-member commission meets every three months. It monitors legislation affecting medical examiners, issues an annual report and helps the state in filling vacancies. Tuesday's agenda included a discussion of the state's response to mass fatalities and an update on the 2006 legislative session.
Sen. Tony Hill, D-Jacksonville, said the legislators say they were told they could ask to be included on the agenda for the meeting in August. For months the Legislature's black caucus, college students and others, including Gov. Jeb Bush, have demanded answers about Anderson's death after a videotape showed guards striking him.
Anderson died in January, the day after he was admitted to the boot camp. One autopsy concluded he suffocated after being forced to inhale ammonia fumes. Another medical examiner ruled that the teen died of complications from a blood disorder.
Hillsborough State Attorney Mark Ober's office is investigating the teen's death. Two autopsies give conflicting causes of death.
At 1 p.m., the Medical Examiners Commission held its quarterly meeting at an Embassy Suites on Westshore Boulevard. At the same time, legislators and students scheduled a news conference on the case at the Hillsborough County Courthouse.
At the news conference, Hill and Sen. Frederica Wilson, D-Miami, and Rep. Frank Peterman, D-St. Petersburg, told reporters they wanted someone to be held accountable for the teen's death.
Wilson described a tearful meeting with the teen's mother, Gina Jones, in her Panama City home. "No one, not one single person, has been reprimanded," Wilson said.
Ober's office has not yet completed its investigation. Ober's spokeswoman, Pam Bondi, watched the news conference from a distance, but she didn't speak publicly about the case.
The legislators used strong language to describe the case. They compared Anderson's injuries to those suffered by Emmett Till, a 14-year-old whose slaying helped spark the civil rights movement.
They asked why no one has been arrested, pointing out that Duke University lacrosse players were arrested only weeks after being accused of raping a woman at a party.
After the news conference, legislators said they planned to go to the commission's meeting and ask general questions related to the conflicting autopsy reports and Bay County Medical Examiner Charles F. Siebert Jr.
"We're going to let them know that we are outraged," Hill told reporters.
But by the time they arrived, shortly before 2:30 p.m., the meeting was over.
Dr. Jon R. Thogmartin, medical examiner for Pinellas and Pasco counties, and Dr. Russell Vega, medical examiner for Sarasota and Manatee counties, said no one discussed the Anderson case or the legislators during the meeting.
Records show the commission's last five meetings ranged from 11/2 hours to three hours. Wilson said she was told the meeting would take about four hours.
Abbie VanSickle can be reached at 226-3373 or firstname.lastname@example.org.