All Juveniles Removed from Panama City Boot Camp
March 8, 2006
TALLAHASSEE, Fla. - All juvenile offenders have been removed from a
Panama City boot camp where a 14-year-old boy was hit and kicked by
guards before he died, the head of the state's juvenile justice agency
Under sometimes hostile questioning, Department of Juvenile Justice
Secretary Anthony Schembri told the state House Juvenile Justice
Committee the camp was emptied Tuesday. It was run and staffed by the
Bay County Sheriff's office under contract with the department.
Bay County Sheriff Frank McKeithen has said he planned to shut down
the camp in May because of 14-year-old Martin Lee Anderson's death,
which is under investigation. A medical examiner said he died from
complications of a genetic blood disorder, which the family disputes.
Agency officials said 22 children were there at the beginning of this
week, but 12 graduated from the program Tuesday and the remaining 10
were transferred to other facilities. Schembri didn't say whether they
went to other boot camps or other types of department-run programs.
Schembri said the children who had remained in the camp were moved as
soon as beds could be found for them elsewhere in the system. There are
four other state-supervised boot camps around Florida.
While he ordered children moved out of the Bay County facility,
Schembri defended the concept of using the military-style boot camps for
some juvenile offenders.
"For some kids, this works," Schembri told the committee.
He also said that some changes were coming in the way the agency
deals with contractors who care for kids the department sends them, such
as sheriff's agencies that run boot camps, although he said he couldn't
yet give specifics.
Some members of the panel grilled him about the agency's role in
protecting children in its custody, and what it can do when a contractor
violates department policy.
Schembri said the agency monitors compliance with its standards and
can close down boot camps if they are particularly bad. But he said, the
agency prefers to work with contractors to try to improve them first.
When Schembri noted he has no power to fire or discipline Bay County
sheriff's employees, Rep. Audrey Gibson wasn't satisfied.
"It sounds to me like you are releasing the department from all
responsibility for those children," said Gibson, D-Jacksonville.
Schembri also hasn't satisfied child advocates who have criticized
the department's handling of the case.
"How about a declarative statement that they're not going to hurt
children?" said Roy Miller, director of the Florida Children's Campaign.
"They still haven't said it."
Schembri tried to reassure the panel that the agency was considering
changes, including revisions to its policies for training and use of
force on juveniles.
"We're talking to the sheriffs about policies and procedures ... that
they could employ," Schembri said. "We're doing anything we can to make
sure another tragedy like that doesn't happen."
But Rep. Mitch Needelman, R-Melbourne, said the agency didn't push
for more training money when lawmakers were writing the budget last
"Not one time did DJJ come forward and say, 'These are the moneys we
need to have,'" Needelman said.
Schembri also met Wednesday with Gov. Jeb Bush and sheriffs or their
aides in the four other counties that have boot camps: Pinellas,
Manatee, Martin and Polk.
"We invited the sheriffs to discuss ways to improve rules and
procedures," said Bush spokeswoman Alia Faraj. She said they didn't get
too deeply into specific changes, but agreed to continue to meet.
Faraj said the sheriffs are also committed to continuing boot camps,
and that they intentionally didn't discuss the Anderson case because it
was under investigation. Officials in Martin County, however, have said
they plan to close their boot camp later this year.
Schembri told the House committee that his department's internal
investigation into Anderson's death wasn't moving more quickly because
the criminal investigation must be completed before agency officials can
Anderson died early on Jan. 6 at a Pensacola hospital, hours after he
collapsed after doing exercises on his first day at the camp. He was
then struck, kicked and dragged to the ground by several guards during a
half-hour ordeal that was recorded on video tape.
The Bay County medical examiner ruled that Anderson died due to
complications from the blood disorder sickle cell trait, not from being
beaten. A second autopsy is planned for next week. A special prosecutor
in Tampa is also investigating, but no criminal charges have been filed.
Schembri also acknowledged that excessive force has been a problem in
other cases with juvenile offenders.
Rep. Frank Peterman, D-St. Petersburg, asked if abuse of kids in DJJ
custody was "a common occurrence."
"We've had many cases of excessive use of force," Schembri replied.
He said he has fired offenders that were department employees. He
said he has fired or suspended more than 200 officers since he took over
the department in May 2004.
When the offending officer doesn't work for the department, such as
in a boot camp, Schembri said he has referred them to local prosecutors
for possible criminal charges.