Outrage over boot camp death

The FBI and U.S. Attorney’s office have launched an investigation into the death of a 14-year-old at a Florida “boot camp.”

Martin Lee Anderson, an African American youth, died Jan. 5 shortly after collapsing at the Bay County Sheriff’s Office Boot Camp. Anderson was the third young Black male to die in state custody in Florida in the last three years.

An autopsy by Bay County Medical Examiner Charles Siebert concluded that Anderson died of natural causes associated with sickle cell anemia. It was reported that Anderson had complained of problems breathing while running around the track on his first day at the camp.

But Siebert’s conclusions were thrown into doubt by the release of a videotape which showed guards restraining and hitting Anderson from behind. The guards’ actions included knees pressed against Anderson’s thighs, use of pressure points on his body and blows to his arms.

The videotape sparked wide outrage and accusations of a cover-up of events at the boot camp. Thirty college students staged a two-day sit-in in the governor’s office, and the Rev. Jesse Jackson, the Rev. Al Sharpton and Anderson’s mother Gina Jones led an April 21 demonstration of 1,500 at the State Capitol in Tallahassee.

Gov. Jeb Bush originally supported the medical examiner’s finding that Anderson’s death was simply “a tragic incident … caused by this child’s unique illness.” But he has backpedaled, agreeing to appoint an independent prosecutor.

Bowing to public pressure, State’s Attorney Mark Ober ordered a second autopsy. It was conducted by well-known forensic pathologist Michael Baden and attended by Siebert and a medical examiner assigned by Ober.

Following the autopsy, Baden told CNN that Anderson’s death was not related to sickle cell anemia. He said the initial autopsy finding could have been a legitimate mistake, but he also suggested outside pressures should be looked into.

The head of Florida’s Department of Law Enforcement has resigned over criticism of his handling of the case and racist comments he made. The Bay County Sheriff’s Office Boot Camp has been closed since the incident.

The state Legislature is considering a bill named in memory of Anderson that would get rid of the juvenile boot camps. Bush, who had earlier opposed any closure of the Bay County facility, said he would sign the bill and hoped the Legislature would pass it.