PANAMA CITY, Fla. — Guards at a juvenile-detention boot camp kneed and struck a teenager who had apparently gone limp while being restrained the day before he died, a videotape released Friday showed. The scenes from the tape outraged the parents of 14-year-old Martin Lee Anderson. His mother said it proved the guards killed her son, despite a medical examiner’s ruling that Anderson died from internal bleeding unrelated to the confrontation.
Anderson, who entered the camp Jan. 5 because of a probation violation, complained of breathing difficulties and collapsed during exercises that were part of the entry process. He died the next day at a Pensacola hospital.
The county sheriff’s office, which runs the camp, said Anderson was restrained after he became uncooperative.
On the 1-hour, 20-minute tape, which has no sound, as many as nine guards can be seen restraining Anderson. Guards kneed him and wrestled him to the ground, where he was repeatedly struck by one guard, either on his arm or the side of his torso, while he lay still. He was limp throughout most of it and never appeared to offer significant resistance.
“The viewing of this will result in many questions, concerns and accusations,” said Bay County Sheriff Frank McKeithen.
Anderson’s parents watched the 1-hour, 20-minute tape at their lawyer’s office in Tallahassee as the Florida Department of Law Enforcement made it public.
“Martin didn’t deserve this right here. At all,” said his mother, Gina Jones. “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 the lawyer’s office when the tape showed guards shoving her son up against a pole.
At the beginning of the tape, the guards are seen pinning Anderson against a pole and striking him three times with their knees. At another point, a guard struck him from behind, lifting his feet off the ground.
A woman in a white coat was present while the guards restrained Anderson and at one point used a stethoscope to check 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.
It was not clear from the tape how hard the blows were or how long the ordeal lasted. The Department of Law Enforcement said the tape was edited to conceal other youths’ identities.
News organizations had sued for the tape to be made public. State police had planned to release it when their investigation was complete, but said Friday they changed plans “due to compelling public interest and speculation as to its contents.”
County Medical Examiner Dr. Charles Siebert said the boy’s body had some bruises and abrasions, but he attributed them to attempts to resuscitate the youth.
Siebert said Anderson suffered internal bleeding because he had sickle cell trait, a disorder that caused his red blood cells to change shape and produce “a whole cascade of events” that led to hemorrhaging.
“It was a natural death,” he said.
Anderson family attorney Benjamin Crump said he was skeptical of the autopsy results and expressed doubt that the sickle cell trait, if it existed, could cause such extensive damage to the teenager’s internal organs.
One lawmaker who saw the tape agreed.
“It doesn’t make sense and goes against all the logic of watching what happened to this young man,” Republican state Rep. Gus Barreiro said.
The Justice Department has said it will investigate the case, along with the FBI. Federal officials planned to focus on whether camp guards violated Anderson’s rights through use of excessive force or indifference to serious medical need.
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.
The boot-camp concept for juveniles began in Florida in 1993, and five camps now house about 600 boys ages 14 to 18.
Copyright 2006 by The Associated Press