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Crist picks police chief to run juvenile justice department

Early Edition: Tallahassee Police Chief Walter McNeil replaces Anthony Schembri, who drew heat for the boot camp death of Martin Lee Anderson in 2006.

Published January 4, 2007


TALLAHASSEE — Gov. Charlie Crist has selected Tallahassee Police Chief Walter McNeil to head the Department of Juvenile Justice, an often-troubled agency still reeling from the boot camp death of a 14-year-old boy.

Crist made the announcement during a 2 p.m. news conference, hours after McNeil informed longtime colleagues on the police force he was leaving. McNeil, the first black police chief in Tallahassee, replaces Anthony Schembri, who drew heat for various controversies, most recently the boot camp death of Martin Lee Anderson. Friday is the one-year anniversary of the incident in Panama City.

“It’s very encouraging news,” said Anderson family attorney Ben Crump. “Walt McNeil is a person who cares deeply about people. I know him to be a good man.”

McNeil, 51, would be the second prominent Democrat in Crist’s administration and the highest profile African American. He has been police chief since 1997 and holds a bachelor’s degree from the University of Southern Mississippi and a master’s in criminal justice from St. Johns University in Louisiana. He is married and has three children, age 30 to 15.

McNeil had applied to become the head of the Florida Department of Law Enforcement. He takes a job that was aggressively sought by former state Rep. Gus Barreiro of Miami Beach, who led the charge to close boot camps. 

[Last modified January 4, 2007, 14:09:55]

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