Former guards, nurse at boot camp charged with manslaughter
PENSACOLA, Fla. – Seven former guards at a juvenile boot camp were charged with aggravated manslaughter of a child Tuesday in the videotaped pummeling of a 14-year-old boy who later died – a case that led to the dismantling of Florida’s military-style detention system for young offenders.Also charged was a nurse who can be seen on the tape watching as guards repeatedly kneed and hit Martin Lee Anderson during a 30-minute scuffle on Jan. 5. Guards said the boy was uncooperative and had refused to participate in exercises.The teen collapsed in the exercise yard at the camp in Panama City and died at a hospital the next day.The death sparked protests at the state Capitol and led to a shake-up in Florida’s criminal justice system and the resignation of Florida’s top law enforcement officer.If convicted, the former guards and the nurse could get up to 30 years in prison. Bail was set at $25,000 each.Pamela Bondi, a spokeswoman for special prosecutor Mark Ober, said that the defendants are to be arraigned in mid-January and that they will be tried together.Nurse Kristin Anne Schmidt was expected to surrender Tuesday evening, she said.Attorneys for three of the former guards – Charles Helms Jr., Joseph Walsh II and Raymond Hauck – said their clients denied any wrongdoing. Phone messages were left for lawyers representing Schmidt and two other former guards.Anderson had been sent to the boot camp for violating probation in a theft case. Boot camps often use grueling exercise to instill discipline in juvenile delinquents.An initial autopsy found Anderson died of complications of sickle cell trait, a usually benign blood disorder. But after an uproar and cries of a cover-up, a second autopsy was conducted by another medical examiner, and it concluded Anderson suffocated because of the actions of guards.Dr. Vernard Adams, who performed the second autopsy, said the suffocation was caused by hands blocking the boy’s mouth, as well as the “forced inhalation of ammonia fumes” that caused his vocal cords to spasm, blocking his airway.The guards said in an incident report that they used ammonia capsules five times on Anderson to gain his cooperation.”Today is a good day for me,” said Gina Jones, Anderson’s mother. “I’m finally getting justice for my baby.”Benjamin Crump, the lawyer for the boy’s parents, who have been demanding for months that the guards be charged with murder, said the videotape leaves no doubt the guards are guilty.”You wouldn’t do this to your dog,” Crump said. “Stuffing ammonia tablets up his nose, pulling his neck back, covering his mouth.”In April, college students staged a two-day protest in Gov. Jeb Bush’s office. The Revs. Jesse Jackson and Al Sharpton joined the students and Anderson’s parents for a march on the Capitol.Florida Department of Law Enforcement chief Guy Tunnell, who started Bay County’s boot camp when he was sheriff there, resigned under criticism after he compared Jackson to Jesse James and Sen. Barack Obama, D-Ill., to Osama bin Laden in an agency meeting.Bush signed a bill in May to replace Florida’s boot camps with programs that offer job training and counseling and prohibit physical discipline.Anderson’s family has sued the state Department of Juvenile Justice, which oversaw the boot camp system, and the Bay County Sheriff’s Office, which ran the camp. The family is seeking more than $40 million.”We also hope that once the process is completed that Martin Lee Anderson’s family will have the answers to the questions that they legitimately have,” the governor said.