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For their own good
Fifty years ago, they were screwed-up kids sent to the Florida School for Boys to be straightened out. But now they are screwed-up men, scarred by the whippings they endured. Read the story and see a video and portrait gallery.
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Signs were normal, boot camp RN says
Nurse thought the ailing teenager was malingering, she testifies.
By ABBIE VANSICKLE
Published October 10, 2007
Former boot camp nurse Kristin Schmidt, left, is asked if she can continue to testify by her attorney, Ashley Benedik. She is one of eight boot camp employees charged with aggravated manslaughter in the 2006 death of Martin Lee Anderson, 14.
PANAMA CITY - Martin Lee Anderson told the nurse he couldn't breathe, that he couldn't run anymore.
Still, she stood by, watching in her white lab coat, hands on her hips.
Kristin Schmidt did so because the 14-year-old's vital signs were normal, his words the only evidence of any crisis, she testified Tuesday. And in boot camp, she said, talk wasn't enough.
The registered nurse assumed he was malingering, she said.
"In the boot camp, you can't just stop activities because of words," said Schmidt, 54. "You have to look for signs and symptoms, or the boot camp would not have existed."
Schmidt testified along with three former drill instructors Tuesday in the trial of eight boot camp employees accused of killing Anderson. It was the fifth day of the trial, which is expected to last through the week.
Schmidt, Charles Helms Jr., Raymond Hauck, Patrick Garrett, Henry Dickens, Charles Enfinger, Henry McFadden Jr. and Joseph Walsh face charges of aggravated manslaughter of a child, which carries a maximum of 30 years in prison.
The boot camp case garnered national attention after the release of a videotape that showed guards striking the boy. In that video, Schmidt stood out.
Wearing a white suit, she stood out in the courtroom, too.
She testified that she thought the teen was simply faking to get out of finishing the required 11/2-mile run around the boot camp yard. She'd checked him earlier that day, and the only medical concern she had was a hangnail on his finger.
When she heard there was a problem, she went out to the boot camp yard.
She said she listened to his lungs and checked his pulse. Both were normal.
"I asked him, 'What makes you think you can't breathe?'" she recalled. "He said, 'I can't breathe.'"
She turned to Enfinger.
"I think I was letting Enfinger know that I couldn't see anything physically wrong with him," she said. "It looked like malingering."
It wasn't until the teen was lying motionless in the boot camp yard that Schmidt believed there was a serious problem and requested 911.
Early the next morning, she got a call that Anderson had died.
She said she went into her own son's bedroom, and looking at him, thought of Anderson's mother.
"I knew she wasn't going to see her son anymore, and I didn't know why," Schmidt said. On the witness stand, the nurse started to cry.
In cross examination, testimony was tense. Schmidt repeatedly said she couldn't understand the questions. It became such an issue that Circuit Judge Michael Overstreet asked the jury to leave the room while attorneys could consult on the matter. Eventually, the nurse agreed to continue.
Anderson's mother, Gina Jones, watched much of the nurse's testimony, but she left the courtroom during the video.
Asked what she thought, Jones said only, "No ma'am, not right now. Thank you."
Jurors also heard from Helms, Hauck and Garrett.
The drill instructors all said ammonia capsules, which were used on Anderson, had been used at the camp for years. None was aware of any injuries from them, but all agreed no one ever asked permission from the Department of Juvenile Justice to use the capsules to determine whether teens were faking illness.
"So in all the years that this ammonia's been used, going back to 1994, correct? And the way that you use it, you never went to the DJJ to say, 'Is this okay? Can we use it the way we're using it?'" asked Assistant State Attorney Mike Sinacore.
"Yes, sir, that's correct," Helms said.
Sinacore pressed Helms on his treatment of the teen. Even as Anderson's body went limp, Helms continued to apply ammonia to the teen's nose, while covering his mouth, Helms testified.
"What did Martin Anderson have to do to extricate himself from this situation?" Sinacore said.
"At any time he could have walked, got up, walked to finish the run, made some communication with somebody that he could not walk anymore," Helms said.
At 10:30 a.m., jurors heard from Hauck, 49, who was third-in-command at the camp and trained others in use of force techniques. He said he didn't think ammonia capsules could harm anyone.
"To my knowledge and experience, ammonia capsules are pretty much harmless," he said.
When the teen became unresponsive, Hauck had no idea what was wrong, he said.
"It scared me to death," he said.
Garrett, 30, was supervising the yard when the teen collapsed. He said Anderson gave mixed signals, acting as though he couldn't control his body one moment, fighting back the next.
"He seemed like he would just lay there limp and, all of a sudden, he would just jerk," Garrett said. "It was extremely confusing, what was going on."
His attorney, Robert Sombathy, asked Garrett if he has any regrets.
"Is there anything you would have done differently?" Sombathy asked.
Garrett answered slowly, his voice soft: "Everything."