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Enhanced video shows guards hitting teen

Early edition: Boot camp staff did not tell emergency rescue workers that they had restrained and hit 14-year-old Martin Lee Anderson after his collapse on an athletic field, rescuers say.

By TIMES STAFF AND WIRE REPORTS
Published March 14, 2007


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TAMPA --- Guards at a Bay County sheriff's boot camp did not tell emergency rescue workers that they had restrained and hit 14-year-old Martin Lee Anderson after his collapse on an athletic field, rescuers say in sworn statements.

Instead, the guards said they tried to revive Martin with ammonia capsules after he fell.

The statements were released Wednesday with 20,000 pages of investigative reports amassed by prosecutors in the manslaughter case against seven guards who were videotaped manhandling Martin in January 2006 and against the nurse who observed.

The Hillsborough State Attorney's office also released an enhanced version of the video, which shows  guards striking Martin with closed fists on his forearm, pinning him to the ground and holding what appears to a white cloth to his face.

The 36-minute video is still grainy and overexposed after a NASA enhancement. It also shows guards repeatedly hauling the boy to his feet and knees at the Bay County sheriff's boot camp in Panama City. They guards haul him up against a pole and apparently throw water in his face.

Investigative reports said the nurse examined him early in the incident and said his vital signs were normal. The tape shows her watching, but she does not appear to give Anderson another close examination until about 27 minutes into the tape.

At that point, guards have stopped hitting him.

Paramedics arrive about 35 minutes into the tape and load Anderson onto a stretcher on Jan. 5, 2006. He died in a Pensacola hospital the next day, starting a case that led to the dismantling of Florida's military-style detention system for young offenders and protests at the state Capitol.

An initial autopsy found Anderson died of natural complications of sickle cell trait, a usually benign blood disorder. But after an uproar and cries of a cover-up from the boy's family, a second autopsy was conducted by another medical examiner, who concluded Anderson suffocated by the guards' hands over his mouth and the "forced inhalation of ammonia fumes."

Anderson collapsed at the camp while doing exercises. The guards said they were trying to revive him, but Anderson's family and others were outraged at the video footage.

The guards and the nurse pleaded not guilty last month. They face up to 30 years in prison if convicted of aggravated manslaughter of a child.

Waylon Graham, the attorney for the highest-ranking guard, Charles Helms, was in court and could not be immediately reached Wednesday, said a woman who answered the telephone at his office.

Telephone messages left at the offices of Bob Pell, the attorney for guard Joseph Walsh, and Robert Sombathy, guard Patrick Tate Garrett's attorney, were not immediately returned.

Bay County Sheriff Frank McKeithen declined to comment because the investigation is ongoing, said Barbara Bell, his executive assistant.

Dr. Charles Siebert, the medical examiner in six Panhandle counties who did the initial autopsy, said he had reviewed copies of some of the documents released Wednesday, including consultants' reports and a second autopsy, in the last couple of weeks.

But he stood by his original ruling pinning Anderson's death to the blood disorder.

"If he was suffocated by these guards and that's the only reason why he's dead, at this point, how do you explain him collapsing before the guards ever touched him?" Siebert said.

But Siebert didn't rule out the possibility that the guards played some role.

"There's always that question of whether the guards did make it worse," he said. "That's certainly a possibility."

The boy's family sued the sheriff's office and the state Department of Juvenile Justice, which over saw the camp system. A judge ruled last month that the $40 million wrongful death lawsuit must wait for the state's criminal case against the guards to conclude.

The case also led to the resignation of Florida Department of Law Enforcement chief Guy Tunnell, who established the boot camp when he was Bay County sheriff.

He was under fire after being scolded by then-Gov. Jeb Bush for exchanging e-mails with McKeithen, criticizing those who questioned the effectiveness of the boot camp concept.

Hillsborough County State Attorney Mark Ober was appointed as a special prosecutor to investigate Anderson's death.

The state Medical Examiner's Commission found Siebert was negligent in performing 39 of 698 autopsies it reviewed. The review didn't include Anderson's case, but came about after complaints of shoddy work in that autopsy.

Siebert was disciplined and ordered to work the remainder of his contract, lasting through June, under supervision.

 

[Last modified March 14, 2007, 15:55:24]


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