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Florida Boot Camp Death Results in Manslaughter Charges Against 7 Guards and Nurse; Civil Claims Settled for $7,425,000

After two autopsies and an 11-month investigation, aggravated manslaughter charges were issued in the death of 14-year-old Martin Lee Anderson at a Florida boot camp. Anderson?s death at the Bay County Sheriff Office?s boot camp in Panama City on Jan. 5, 2006 caused a public outcry after the first autopsy wrongly determined he had died due to complications from sickle cell trait. [See: PLN, July 2006].

The protests caused then-Gov. Jeb Bush to appoint Special Prosecutor Mark Ober. Ober ordered the second autopsy, which required Anderson?s body to be exhumed. That autopsy, conducted by Hillsborough County medical examiner Dr. Vernard Adams, concluded Anderson had died due to suffocation. Specifically, he ruled the guards? action of putting their hands over Anderson?s mouth, and the ?forced inhalation of ammonia fumes,? caused Anderson?s vocal cords to spasm.

Charged were guards Henry Dickens, Patrick Garrett, Raymond Hauck, Charles Helms Jr., Henry McFadden Jr. and Joseph Walsh II, and Nurse Kristen Schmidt. If convicted of aggravated manslaughter they face up to 30 years in prison.

Helms? lawyer, Waylon Graham, had expected charges to be filed but didn?t seem worried. ?I think these charges are very defensible. Aggravated manslaughter requires culpable negligence. You would just about have to prove that they went out there intending to do this, that they went out of their way to do it,? he said.

A former South Florida lawmaker stated he thought Anderson was intentionally mistreated. ?When I first saw it, I knew it wasn?t simply a kid collapsing on a field. No criminal charges or convictions will ever bring this young man back. But people who work with kids in the system have to understand that if you mistreat a child you will be held accountable,? said former state Rep. Gus Barreiro, who viewed a video of the incident and exposed its existence to the news media, where it was widely circulated.

The video shows Anderson being punched, kneed, subjected to pain compliance holds and restrained by the guards after he collapsed during a 1.5-mile run shortly after he arrived at the boot camp.

The guards stated in an incident report that they had used ammonia capsules five times to gain cooperation from Anderson. In Florida?s now defunct boot camp system, that was normal protocol. Florida?s boot camps were shut down on May 31, 2006.

?The publicity that this case has received has made it a political issue,? said Walsh?s attorney, Robert Allan Pell. ?My client is a fine young man. He acted within his training and protocol. And he had nothing to do with the terrible tragedy.?

The lawyer for Anderson?s parents said the videotape shows the guards? guilt. ?You wouldn?t do this to your dog. Stuffing ammonia tablets up his nose, pulling his neck back, and covering his mouth,? said attorney Benjamin Crump.

The guards and nurse were arrested and freed on $25,000 bond while they await trial, which is expected to take place later this year. PLN will report the result of the prosecutions.

On May 25, 2007, it was reported that Anderson?s family will receive a $5 million settlement from the state under legislation signed by Florida Gov. Charlie Crist. This is in addition to a previous payment of $200,000 by the state and a $2.25 million settlement with the Bay County Sheriff?s Office in April 2007 to resolve a lawsuit filed by Anderson?s parents. See: Anderson v. Florida Dept. of Juvenile Justice,, USDC ND FL, Case No. 4:06-cv-00374-RH-WCS.

While some have criticized the large payout to Anderson?s family, at least one lawmaker indicated it wasn?t enough. ?The fact is, Martin was murdered,? said state Sen. Frederica Wilson. ?And the state helped create the conditions where he was murdered. The family deserves more than $5 million.??

Anderson had been sent to the boot camp after taking his grandmother?s car without permission.

Sources: Pensacola News Journal; The Miami Herald;; St. Petersburg Times; The Independent (London)

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Related legal case

Anderson v. Florida Dept. of Juvenile Justice