Boot camp death was unexpected
addition to legislative agenda
- It happens nearly every year: An
unforeseen issue that changes the game plan in the
A year ago it was the kidnapping and slaying of
9-year-old Jessica Lunsford two weeks before the
session began and the end-of-life battle between
Terri Schiavo's husband and parents that consumed
lawmakers' activities. In 2004, lawmakers reacted
similarly to the kidnapping and murder of
11-year-old Carlie Brucia.
It was no different this year.
The 2006 session started and ended with most
lawmakers deeply troubled by the January death of a
14-year-old boy in the state's care at a Bay County
boot camp. A videotape showed Martin Lee Anderson
being manhandled by a half-dozen, burly, uniformed
Anderson's death not only distracted them
throughout their nine weeks at the Capitol, but
resulted in major changes to the way Florida will
discipline troubled juveniles in the future.
The military-style boot camps once in vogue were
replaced with programs at four sites across the
state modeled after a successful three-tiered,
yearlong Martin County program. It forbids physical
intervention except for self-defense and adds an
aftercare component that requires follow up with the
youngsters after they're returned to the community.
Teens who come into the system now must receive a
physical by a registered nurse upon entering and
leaving any facility and there will a hot line
number available to make complaints about any
excessively abusive behavior by guards.
The state anted up $10.6 million for the new
plan, which will be called the Sheriff's Training
and Respect program, or STAR, in the bill named
From day one the legislative black caucus kept
the heat on, pushing for arrests of the camp guards
who manhandled Anderson and the dismissal of the
medical examiner who ruled the youngster died of
sickle cell trait, not generally considered a
life-threatening condition. Neither has yet
But the nosiest of everyone was Rep. Gus Barreiro,
a Cuban-American from Miami Beach who chaired the
House Criminal Justice Appropriations Committee.
Barreiro believes the system not only failed
Anderson but tried to cover up the death and he
moved his colleagues and eventually Gov. Jeb Bush in
their pursuit of answers.
"One person can't get anything done here, but as
a group we can accomplish so much," Barreiro said.
Bush named Hillsborough State Attorney Mark Ober
a special prosecutor and a second autopsy was
conducted on the youngster's exhumed body amid
growing concern about how he died, especially after
the videotape's release.
The second autopsy, just released Friday,
supported skeptics of the initial finding. The new
examiner concluded that Anderson suffocated when
guards shoved ammonia tablets up his nose while
covering his mouth.
"I'm pleased that the first step toward having
justice be shown to the whole world, the state of
Florida and Martin Lee's family has begun," Bush
"It showed what most believed was the case," Bush
said. "Now we're hopeful Mr. Ober's investigation
will be completed as soon as possible and the
process of a possible prosecution can begin as
And that's what Anderson's parents have sought
since their son's death Jan. 6.
"If you have a badge and a gun, that doesn't put
you above the law and let you get away with murder,"
said Benjamin Crump, a Tallahassee attorney suing
the state Department of Juvenile Justice and Bay
County Sheriff's Office on behalf of the family.
"Make no mistake about it, we believe they murdered
"It's inevitable after the truth comes out, we
can get to justice," Crump said.
The Florida Department of Law Enforcement, which
would normally investigate such matters, was pulled
out of the case after it was learned former
Commissioner Guy Tunnell inappropriately
communicated with Bay County Sheriff Frank McKeithen
on the case.
Tunnell, who resigned last month, had previously
been the Bay County sheriff and had begun the
military-style program in Panama City that shut down
soon after Anderson's death.
Bush met with student leaders who conducted an
overnight sit-in at the Capitol to keep attention on
the Anderson case, met with Martin's parents and
prayed with the Revs. Jesse Jackson and Al Sharpton
after they spoke at a rally of nearly 2,000 in the
Capitol Courtyard last month.