tampabay.com

Crist seeks $5M for teen who died at boot camp

Meanwhile, prosecutors unveil details of their investigation into the boy's death.

By ABBIE VANSICKLE, COLLEEN JENKINS, REBECCA CATALANELLO and JUSTIN GEORGE
Published March 15, 2007


TALLAHASSEE - Gov. Charlie Crist implored state legislators Wednesday to give $5-million to the family of a teen who died after guards roughed him up at a Bay County boot camp.

Benjamin Crump, attorney for the family, called Crist's actions "courageous."

"I really don't think it's courageous at all," Crist said. "I think it's the right thing to do."

If granted, the settlement would be among the largest ever paid to someone aggrieved by the state of Florida, surpassing payments to wrongly imprisoned death row inmates.

Hours before, prosecutors had made public the results of their months-long investigation into Martin Lee Anderson's death, which spelled the end for the state's boot camp system and led to the resignation of the leader of the Florida Department of Law Enforcement. The 20,000 pages of documents reveal Martin's final moments with the guards, whose actions one expert called "abusive and inhumane."

Since Martin's death on Jan. 5, 2006, his family has accused government agencies of killing the boy and covering up the circumstances. The NAACP joined them Wednesday as they criticized prosecutors for failing to bring charges against Bay County Sheriff Frank McKeithen and Bay County Medical Examiner Charles F. Siebert.

$10-million settlement

In letters to House and Senate leaders, Crist urged lawmakers to support a claims bill, part of what he hopes is a $10-million settlement for the family. Such bills are rare. He said he will encourage Bay County officials to match the state's $5-million.

"Although we can never replace this young life, I am determined to justly compensate the family for their loss," Crist wrote.

Spokeswomen for both the House and Senate said neither the House Speaker Marco Rubio nor Senate President Ken Pruitt had seen the governor's letters.

Under state law, only lawmakers have the authority to pay claims against the state over $200,000.

Also Wednesday, in Tampa the Hillsborough State Attorney's Office turned over the thousands of documents to reporters after giving the information to attorneys for the eight former boot camp employees - seven guards and the camp's nurse - facing criminal charges in the teen's death. All have pleaded not guilty, and trial is set for May.

The investigation took 13 months and hundreds of hours for prosecutors after then-Gov. Jeb Bush assigned State Attorney Mark Ober to investigate to ensure an independent review. Two autopsies by two board-licensed medical examiners came to two vastly different conclusions. Investigators interviewed 138 witnesses, took several trips to the Panhandle and out of state. They enlisted the help of NASA to enhance the video of Anderson's final minutes.

A time line

The 14-year-old reported to boot camp early Jan. 5, 2006. The weather was clear and slightly breezy, the temperature in the low 60s. A guard said he completed 18 pushups and 48 situps without complaint. Then he set off on the 1.5-mile run, during which he fell.

Based on interviews with guards, investigators created a time line of what happened next:

Martin said he was too tired to keep running. He cursed. Guards held him against a fence. When Martin tried to yank his arm away, they took him to the ground.

Cpl. Joseph Walsh said he applied a pressure point behind Martin's ear. Martin rose and continued to walk laps, but he quickly fell. Guards picked him up. He tried again to pull away, so drill instructor Charles Enfinger dropped him again.

Martin said he couldn't breathe. Walsh twice stuck an ammonia capsule under his nose. Authorities say he applied it for 55 seconds.

The camp employees said this was routine for teens to complain of exhaustion.

For the next 22 minutes, a pattern unfolded. Guards said Martin would stand up and seem willing to cooperate but then became combative. They put him back on the ground, and used "hammer strikes" and "knee strikes," techniques they said were designed to subdue.

Guards called for Kristin Schmidt, the camp's registered nurse who oversaw the physical training. She noted that Martin was alert. He made eye contact and felt cool, not clammy.

More guards came. Walsh applied ammonia capsules twice more for about 50 seconds.

Sgt. Major Raymond Hauck had a turn with an ammonia capsule as Sgt. Patrick Garrett covered Martin's mouth, then the two men switched roles. Lt. Charles Helms took over, also covering the teen's mouth as he administered a capsule. This went on 5 minutes and 21 seconds, reports show.

Schmidt, who dispensed the capsules to guards, said she had never seen them cause harm.

Helms said Martin stood up when he first applied the ammonia. But he didn't respond to a second dose. He poured water over the teen's head.

The nurse looked into Martin's eyes. His pupils seemed slower to respond than before. She ordered an ambulance.

'Abusive'

Emergency medical workers brought Martin's limp body to Bay Medical Center, a hospital just moments from the boot camp in Panama City.

Helms came to the hospital. He told the staff Martin collapsed during a run, and he said guards used ammonia pills to revive him, recalled Dr. Jeffrey Appel. There was no mention of physical restraint, witnesses told prosecutors. He didn't say guards put their hands over Martin's mouth.

"The physician ... realized that he needed care beyond what he could provide him in the emergency room," said Dr. Jason Foland, who treated Martin after he was flown to Sacred Heart Hospital in Pensacola.

Doctors tried to revive Martin at Sacred Heart, but he never regained consciousness.

When his parents, Gina Jones and Robert Anderson, arrived at the hospital, their son's tongue was hanging out, his face bloody, Anderson recalled. The body was so swollen his father wasn't sure what size clothes he should be buried in.

An expert hired by Hillsborough prosecutors was appalled by the guards' behavior.

"The magnitude and intensity of the cumulative force applied during the 22 minutes of this incident as clearly shown on the videotape, by any standard with which I am familiar," wrote Steve J. Martin, a Texas consultant, "can fairly be characterized as abusive and inhumane."

News researcher John Martin and staff writer Alex Leary contributed to this report. Abbie VanSickle can be reached at 813 226-3373 or vansickle@sptimes.com.

Past claims bills

Rosewood Massacre

To compensate the families of those who died at Rosewood, a small Levy County community burned by a white mob in 1923, the Legislature approved a claims bill in 1996 awarding $ 150,000 payments to nine survivors and families.

Freddie Lee Pitts and Wilbert Lee

The Legislature didn't vote until 1998 on compensation for Pitts and Lee, two black men pardoned in 1975 after a wrongful 1963 murder conviction. Pitts and Lee each received $500,000, plus attorney fees of 25 percent.

Wilton Dedge

Dedge, a Brevard County man freed by DNA evidence in 2004 after 22 years in prison for rape, received $2-million after the Legislature voted 117-2 to compensate him for loss of liberty, lost wages, and legal fees.

Compiled from Times files by news researcher John Martin.