Boot Camp Death Shook Up Legislative Agenda
Lawmakers enact reform of juvenile justice, enstate alternate program.
By BRENT KALLESTAD
The Associated Press
TALLAHASSEE -- It happens nearly every year: An unforeseen issue that changes the game plan in the Florida
A year ago it was the kidnapping and slaying of 9-year-old Jessica Lunsford two weeks before the session began and
the end-of-life battle between Terri Schiavo's husband and parents that consumed lawmakers' activities. In 2004,
lawmakers reacted similarly to the kidnapping and murder of 11-year-old Carlie Brucia.
It was no different this year.
The 2006 session started and ended with most lawmakers deeply troubled by the January death of a 14-year-old boy
in the state's care at a Bay County boot camp. A videotape showed Martin Lee Anderson being manhandled by a
half-dozen burly, uniformed guards.
Anderson's death not only distracted them throughout their nine weeks at the Capitol, but resulted in major changes
to the way Florida will discipline troubled juveniles in the future.
The military-style boot camps once in vogue were replaced with programs in Polk County and three other sites
across the state modeled after a successful threetiered, yearlong Martin County program. It forbids physical
intervention except for self-defense and adds an aftercare component that requires follow-up with the youngsters
after they're returned to the community.
Teens who come into the system now must receive a physical by a registered nurse upon entering and leaving any
facility and there will be a hotline number available to make complaints about any excessively abusive behavior by
The state anted up $10.6 million for the new plan, which will be called the Sheriff's Training and Respect program, or
STAR, in the bill named after Anderson.
From day one, the legislative black caucus kept the heat on, pushing for arrests of the camp guards who
manhandled Anderson and the dismissal of the medical examiner who ruled the youngster died of sickle cell trait, not
generally considered a lifethreatening condition. Neither has yet happened.
But the nosiest of everyone was Rep. Gus Barreiro, a CubanAmerican from Miami Beach who chaired the House
Criminal Justice Appropriations Committee.
Barreiro believes the system not only failed Anderson but tried to cover up the death, and he moved his colleagues
and eventually Gov. Jeb Bush in their pursuit of answers.
"One person can't get anything done here, but as a group we can accomplish so much," Barreiro said.
Bush named Hillsborough State Attorney Mark Ober a special prosecutor and a second autopsy was conducted on
the youngster's exhumed body amid growing concern about how he died, especially after the videotape's release.
The second autopsy, just released Friday, supported skeptics of the initial finding. The new examiner concluded that
Anderson suffocated when guards shoved ammonia tablets up his nose while covering his mouth.
"I'm pleased that the first step toward having justice be shown to the whole world, the state of Florida and Martin
Lee's family has begun," Bush said Friday.
"It showed what most believed was the case," Bush said. "Now we're hopeful Mr. Ober's investigation will be
completed as soon as possible and the process of a possible prosecution can begin as well."
And that's what Anderson's parents have sought since their son's death Jan. 6.
"If you have a badge and a gun, that doesn't put you above the law and let you get away with murder," said Benjamin
Crump, a Tallahassee lawyer suing the state Department of Juvenile Justice and Bay County Sheriff's Office on
behalf of the family. "Make no mistake about it, we believe they murdered this child.
"It's inevitable after the truth comes out, we can get to justice," Crump said.
The Florida Department of Law Enforcement, which would normally investigate such matters, was pulled out of the
case after it was learned former Commissioner Guy Tunnell inappropriately communicated with Bay County Sheriff
Frank McKeithen on the case.
Tunnell, who resigned last month, had previously been the Bay County sheriff and had begun the military-style
program in Panama City that shut down soon after Anderson's death.
Bush met with student leaders who conducted an overnight sitin at the Capitol to keep attention on the Anderson
case, met with Martin's parents and prayed with the Revs. Jesse Jackson and Al Sharpton after they spoke at a rally
of nearly 2,000 in the Capitol Courtyard last month.