Sheriff's office to pay $2.25M in
boot camp death
Apr. 25, 2007
BY CAROL MARBIN MILLER AND MARC CAPUTO
TALLAHASSEE -- More than a year
after a 14-year-old boy died following a violent struggle with
guards at a juvenile boot camp in Panama City, his parents have
agreed to a $2.25 million settlement with the sheriff's office that
ran the camp.
The settlement with the Bay County
Sheriff's Office, announced Tuesday, would come atop $5 million Gov.
Charlie Crist has proposed the state pay the parents for the role
the state Department of Juvenile Justice played.
The teen's death led to major
reforms, a high-profile resignation of a top law-enforcement officer
and criminal charges against the guards.
The attorney for Martin's parents,
Gina Jones and Robert Anderson, said they would give up the millions
and all the reforms just to see their son again.
"You can never bring your child
back, " attorney Benjamin Crump said. "But it has been a comfort to
know that they tried to make a difference for the next child.
Martin's legacy will be that no child will be killed in a detention
center or in the custody of the state of Florida."
The youth, sentenced for stealing
his grandmother's car, died hours after he was admitted to the camp
Jan. 5. He stopped breathing after a 30-minute manhandling by
guards. An autopsy concluded he suffocated when guards held his
mouth shut and shoved ammonia capsules up his nose. Seven guards and
a nurse have been charged with aggravated manslaughter. They have
not been tried.
The guards' attorneys say their
clients were lawfully following boot-camp procedures and were trying
to revive the exhausted boy with the ammonia. They thought he was
simply refusing to run laps after grueling exercise. The defense
attorneys note that the first autopsy on Martin concluded he died of
complications from a blood disorder, sickle-cell trait.
A Bay County Sheriff's Office
spokeswoman declined comment and referred questions to attorney
Jonathan Jolly, who said the settlement was reached independently of
Crist and for less than the office's $3.3 million policy limit.
"The parents did not want to go
through two lengthy trials and relive the traumatic events that
surrounded the death of their son while in custody, " Crump said.
"The family wanted to try to get this resolved now."
The settlement with Bay County
Sheriff Frank McKeithen will not have to be approved by state
lawmakers, Crump said, because the Sheriff's Office will make the
payout from a state sheriff's self-insurance fund and the case
involves a civil-rights claim that cuts state legislators out of the
The Legislature normally has to
approve the payment of any legal claim against any government in
Florida that exceeds $100,000. That includes claims against state
agencies such as the Department of Juvenile Justice, for which the
Bay County Sheriff's Office ran the camp.
After Crist was elected, he moved
to settle the lawsuit against DJJ, asking the Legislature to approve
the $5 million settlement with Martin's family. Legislative leaders
plan to vote on the matter in the coming weeks.
Crump said state lawmakers had left
the impression they were not eager to pass the bill until Jones and
Anderson also had reached an agreement with the boot camp. Though
his clients are pleased with the news of the settlements, they still
want the guards convicted and jailed, he said.
"The civil matter ends this
legislative session, " Crump said. "We wanted a compromise. I think
a jury would have given them $50 million. But when would they have
collected?" Illustration: color photo: Martin Lee Anderson's
parents, Benjamin Crump and Charlie Crist (a) Captions: TINA
CUMMINGS/MIAMI HERALD STAFF WITH GOV. CRIST: Martin Lee Anderson's
parents, left, and lawyer Benjamin Crump in March 14 meeting.