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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.
Federal prosecutors may have an uphill battle as they decide whether to file criminal civil rights violation charges against the boot camp employees, legal experts say.
"The first part of their analysis is, do I have enough to prove beyond a reasonable doubt to the ... jury that tries the case, that this young man's civil rights were violated," said David Buckner, a Miami attorney and former federal prosecutor in the southern district of Florida.
The U.S. Attorney's Office, U.S. attorney general and the federal Civil Rights Division will focus on Title 18, U.S. Code, Section 242, as the government carries out its investigation. That code says law enforcement officials who deprive individuals of any rights, privileges or immunities secured or protected by the Constitution or laws of the United States shall be punished.
Prosecutors would have to prove that the boot camp employees knew what they were doing and deliberately acted in a manner that caused 14-year-old Martin Lee Anderson's death, said Michael Seigel, a University of Florida law professor and former federal prosecutor in Tampa.
"It's exceedingly rare that the federal government would come in after an acquittal and bring charges," Seigel said. "They have the power to do so. It's not seen as double jeopardy. It's often seen as unfair and overbearing."
If Gregory Miller, U.S. attorney for the northern district, planned to file federal charges, it would likely happen soon, Seigel said.
"If they are not going to charge the case, my guess is that they will let some time pass for tempers to cool," Seigel said. "My guess is they are pretty close to having made a decision."
Bill James, a former Hillsborough County state attorney and former U.S. attorney in Tampa, said, "I can't venture a guess what the Justice Department would do. But you have an uphill battle convincing them that a miscarriage of justice has occurred."
James said the facts of the case are likely indisputable, since a videotape shows the guards beating Anderson. But contradictory medical reports about how the boy died are make things complicated, he said.
Seigel was a federal prosecutor in 1997, when federal authorities conducted a civil rights investigation into the death of a St. Petersburg man who was shot by a St. Petersburg police officer during a traffic stop.
The officer never faced federal charges, but Seigel said that government investigators met with leaders in the African-American community who were outraged.
Seigel said federal officials may choose to follow a similar protocol here.
"If they do a thorough job and they make it clear to the community that they have examined it from all angles, then they have to do what they think is right and hope that the community understands it," Seigel said.
Times researcher John Martin contributed to this report. Kevin Graham can be reached at email@example.com or (813) 226-3433.