Article published Mar 31, 2006
FDLE replaced in camp investigation
Hillsborough sheriff to aid in probe of 14-year-old's death
By Julian Pecquet, Tallahassee DEMOCRAT STAFF WRITER LINK
The special prosecutor investigating the death of 14-year-old Martin Lee Anderson announced Thursday that he has found a new law enforcement agency to help with the probe in place of the Florida Department of Law Enforcement.
Martin died Jan. 6, one day after being kicked and punched by guards at a Bay County boot camp.
Citing recent exchanges in which the state's top law enforcement official expressed support for Bay County Sheriff Frank McKeithen, Hillsborough County State Attorney Mark Ober said in a news release that Hillsborough Sheriff David Gee would handle the investigation from now on.
"Due to comments expressed by FDLE Commissioner Guy Tunnell in recently released e-mails regarding the Bay County boot camp," Ober wrote, "I have determined that it is in the best interest of the investigation that an independent law enforcement agency assist my office."
Ober did not say if FDLE would be off the case entirely; his news release indicated he would have no further comment.
Martin's parents, who were in Tallahassee for a news conference during which they said they'd lost all faith in Tunnell, welcomed the news. Tunnell is a former Bay County sheriff and the boot camp's founder.
"I'm happy," Gina Jones, Martin's mother, said. "They're coming around, slowly."
In a written statement, Tunnell said he supported Ober's decision and pledged the FDLE's assistance, should it be requested. He said he stood by the ethics of his conduct - and that of his staff - in the investigation.
"I express my regret for the unfortunate perception that has developed in recent days that may have caused there to be doubt about my personal integrity, and more importantly, that of my agency in regards to this critical investigation," he wrote. "It is vitally important that the focus of this case remain where it must be - and that is to determine the cause(s) of the untimely and tragic death of Martin Anderson."
Tunnell unsuccessfully opposed the release of a video that shows seven guards punching and kicking the boywhile a nurse looked on.
His mother said hearing that Tunnell and McKeithen were seen together at a Panama City restaurant days after her son's death did nothing to alleviate her concerns.
"If Guy Tunnell was investigating Martin's death, what were he and the Sheriff talking about?" she asked. "Finishing covering up Martin's death?"
FDLE Spokesman Tom Berlinger said Tunnell was in Panama City for the funeral of a retired Bay County deputy, Joe Coram.
Later Thursday, members of Florida's panel of black lawmakers seized on the raging debate over Martin's death to request $5 million for health care and mental health programs for the children placed in Florida's juvenile justice system.
Sen. Anthony Hill, a Democrat who represents Jacksonville, said 10,000 young people are currently in the juvenile system. Martin's is the most famous death, he added, but four others have died in recent years.
"If we don't get these programs in place, and the funding in place," Hill said, "there will be another tragedy in Florida."
Hill and other lawmakers applauded Ober's decision as a first step towards getting justice for Martin, but said that there was still a ways to go.
Martin's parents agreed. They have called for the arrest of the guards and the nurse, but almost three months after their son's death, no one has been charged with a crime.
"I want the governor to do something," Robert Anderson said. "I'm pretty sure that if it was me doing this to his son, I would have been locked up."OTHER JUVENILE DEATHS
You can also view the video-taped incident at the Bay County boot camp and post your opinions on our online forum.Four other juveniles have died in recent years while in the custody of the Florida Department of Juvenile Justice.Shawn Smith
, 13, died Oct. 30, 2001 while in the custody of the Volusia Regional Juvenile Detention CenterDaniel Matthews
, 17, died May 31, 2003 while in the custody of the Pinellas County Juvenile Detention CenterOmar Paisly
, 17, died June 9, 2003 while in the custody of the Miami Dade Regional Juvenile Detention CenterWillie Lawrence Durden III
, 17, died Oct. 14, 2005 while in the custody of the Cypress Creek Juvenile Offenders Correctional Center Our Kids are Dying in Teen Boot Camps: Shut Them DownTape Released Showing Teen Restrained At Panhandle Boot Camp
POSTED: 3:10 pm EST February 17, 2006LINK
PANAMA CITY, Fla. -- Guards at a juvenile detention boot camp kneed and struck a boy who appeared to have gone limp while others restrained him on the day before he died, a videotape released Friday showed, sparking outrage from his parents.
The boy, 14-year-old Martin Lee Anderson, died the next day. A medical examiner has said he died from internal bleeding unrelated to the confrontation.
The boy's mother, Gina Jones, said the tape proves her contention that the guards killed her son.
"Martin didn't deserve this right here. At all," she said. "I couldn't even watch the whole tape. Me as a mom, I knew my baby was in pain and I am in pain just watching his pain."
She said she walked out of her lawyer's office when the tape showed guards shoving her son up against a pole. The family viewed the tape at their lawyer's office in Tallahassee as the Florida Department of Law Enforcement made it public.
On the tape, as many as nine guards can be seen restraining Anderson. Guards are seen to knee Anderson and wrestle him to the ground. On the ground, he was struck several times by one of the guards, either on his arm or the side of his torso, while he lay motionless.
Anderson was limp throughout most of the ordeal and never appeared to offer significant resistance.
A woman in a white coat with a stethoscope was present while the guards restrained the boy and at one point used it to check on him. Near the end of the confrontation guards appear to become more concerned and several began running in and out of the scene. A few minutes later, emergency medical personnel arrive and put the boy on a gurney and take him away.
In all, the guards appeared to strike him several times, but it's not clear from the tape how hard the blows were or where they landed. FDLE has also acknowledged the tape was edited to conceal other youths' identities, so it is unclear how long the ordeal lasted.
At one point, a guard struck him from behind, lifting his feet off the ground. At the beginning, as the guards are pinning him against a pole, they struck him three times with their knees.
"The viewing of this will result in many questions, concerns and accusations," said Bay County Sheriff Frank McKeithen.
Martin Lee Anderson
Bay County Medical Examiner Dr. Charles Siebert said Thursday that Anderson suffered internal bleeding because he had the sickle cell trait, a disorder that Siebert said produced a "cascade of events" that led to his death Jan. 6, the day after he arrived at the camp. Siebert said one in eight African Americans has the disorder, but it would not show up in routine blood work.
Two Florida legislators who viewed the tape last week, Rep. Gus Barreiro, R-Miami Beach and Rep. Dan Gelber, D-Miami Beach, portrayed the scene as out-of-control, with guards punching and choking Anderson even as he went limp. Bay County sheriff's officials said guards restrained Anderson after he became uncooperative while doing push-ups, sit-ups and other exercises as part of his physical evaluation hours after being admitted to the camp.
"When people see the tape and you say he just died of natural causes, it doesn't add up," Barreiro said Friday. "It doesn't make sense and goes against all the logic of watching what happened to this young man."
Siebert said there were some bruises and abrasions on the body, but he attributed them to attempts to resuscitate the youth.
The Florida Southern Christian Leadership Conference called on the Sickle Cell Disease Association of America to review the autopsy findings to determine if they are correct.
"It is our position that Dr. Siebert's findings have implications beyond the local level. This could have far reaching ramifications of an adverse nature upon those with the sickle cell trait if the coroner's findings are incorrect," said Florida SCLC President Sevell C. Brown III.
The boot camp concept for juveniles began in Florida with nine facilities in 1993, but will soon be whittled to four if the Martin County camp closes as scheduled later this year. About 600 boys between ages 14 and 18 remain in the existing camps.
The boot camp where Anderson was sent is run by the Bay County Sheriff's Office for the state. Anderson was arrested in June for stealing his grandmother's Jeep Cherokee and sent to the boot camp for violating his probation by trespassing at a school.
Anderson was the third young black male to die in state custody in the past three years.
Willie Lawrence Durden III of Jacksonville was found unconscious in his cell at the Cypress Creek Juvenile Offender Corrections Center in Citrus County last October and Omar Paisley, also 17, died from a burst appendix that went untreated in June 2003 at a juvenile detention facility in Miami.
The U.S. Justice Department announced Thursday that it is also investigating possible civil rights violations in the Anderson case.
News organizations had sued for the tape to be made public. The FDLE said it would be released when its investigation was complete.
The department said Friday that while the investigation is not finished, it released the tape "due to compelling public interest and speculation as to its contents."
Martin Anderson's death may help others:
Article published Apr 1, 2006Child-care centers may get ratings
Study will determine system
By Jim Ash, DEMOCRAT CAPITOL BUREAU CHIEFLINK
A House panel took a step closer Friday to creating a rating system for child-care centers, one that a local lawmaker hopes will eventually boost the quality of child care across the state.
Rep. Loranne Ausley, D-Tallahassee, is sponsoring a measure (HB 1233) that calls for a study on the best way to adopt a universal rating system so that parents can compare child-care facilities. There are 30 early-learning-center coalitions across the state that track quality and performance but no statewide yardstick.
"We have three-star and four-star guides for hotels and restaurants, why wouldn't we have something similar for our children?" Ausley said.
The measure passed the House Finance and Tax Committee unanimously with little discussion. The studies it calls for wouldn't be completed until next year.
However, there could be concerns raised about the legislation as it makes its way through the system this year, said Chris Duggan, executive director of the Early Learning Coalition of the Big Bend.
"Some smaller providers get nervous when you start talking about a rating system," Duggan said.
More than 4,900 children are in child-care centers in the coalition's region, which includes Leon, Jefferson, Gadsden and Wakulla counties. The center is also gearing up voluntary universal pre-K programs that voters approved two years ago. So far, some 1,800 pre-school-age children are in the state-funded program in the seven counties the coalition oversees, Duggan said.
While some providers may not welcome a state-sponsored ranking system, Ausley said she hopes it will ultimately be used to provide extra state funding for child-care centers that excel, raising the level of quality for all child-care centers.
"It would help tie the entire structure of child development together," Duggan said.
There are 10 states in the country that give parents ratings and performance measures for child-care centers, Duggan said, including Tennessee, which overhauled its regulatory system after five children died in child-care centers in a single year.
"We're trying to do something before that happens," Duggan said.
The Big Bend coalition board expects to discuss the issue at an April 19 meeting in Tallahassee.