Boot camp defense fund sparks boycott

Published March 3, 2007

TALLAHASSEE - A student group is seeking a spring break boycott of Panama City Beach, in response to the creation of a defense fund to help guards and a nurse charged with the death of a teenager who had been roughed up at a juvenile boot camp.

Tallahassee's Student Coalition for Justice is urging students to stay away from one of the nation's top spring break destinations because of the fundraising effort in Bay County, which includes the Florida Panhandle resort city.

"They are continuing to push back justice, so justice won't see fruition," coalition member Vanessa Baden said Thursday. "Money speaks to everyone."

Students at three Tallahassee schools - Florida State University, Florida A&M University and Tallahassee Community College - have participated in protests here over the death of Martin Lee Anderson last year.

The 14-year-old died a day after he was struck and kicked by guards at the Bay County Sheriff's boot camp in Panama City.

The altercation was caught on surveillance video. The camp has since been closed.

Seven drill instructors and a camp nurse are charged with aggravated manslaughter of a minor. If convicted, they could be sentenced to up to 30 years in prison. No trial date yet has been set.

Panama City Beach Convention and Visitors Bureau president Bob Warren said he hoped such a boycott does not affect spring break, the city's biggest moneymaker of the year.

Defense fund organizers say most of the defendants were low paid, making only about $20,000, and are facing legal costs that could exceed $50,000 each.

A fund leader did not immediately return a message left at his office Friday.