‘They picked on him so much, ’til they murdered my baby’
PANAMA CITY, Florida (CNN) — Florida authorities released a videotape Friday showing officers at a state-run juvenile boot camp striking and restraining a teenager, who collapsed.
Martin Lee Anderson, 14, died hours later and his family is blaming the state. They claim Anderson was choked, kicked and beaten by boot camp staffers.
“Martin didn’t even have a chance,” said the boy’s mother, Gina Jones. “They picked on him so much, ’til they murdered my baby.” (Watch officers take the boy to the ground — 6:40)
The Bay County medical examiner ruled Thursday, however, that Anderson died January 6 from internal bleeding that resulted from sickle cell trait, which had not previously been diagnosed.
Sickle cell trait occurs when a person has one sickle cell gene. People with two of the abnormal genes have sickle cell anemia, which can lead to a variety of complications.
Anderson collapsed at the Bay County Sheriff’s Office Boot Camp program on his first day there. He complained of having trouble breathing while running around a track as part of the entry process and collapsed. He died the next day.
The intake process at the facility is videotaped as a matter of policy.
The poor quality video — which has no audio — shows the teen and other youths doing push-ups before running around a small field. At times, uniformed officers pull some of the boys aside and place them against a wall, one by one.
Restrained against tree
Later, at least five uniformed officers appear to restrain a boy — identified by his family as Anderson — against a tree. A woman in a white coat, who appears to be a nurse, looks on for a few minutes before walking away.
The boy falls to the ground and the officers try, without success, to pull him up by his arms.
Later, Anderson is shown on the ground as the officers stand around him. It is not clear from the video what they are doing.
As they stand back, the boy is lying on the ground, limp. Staffers pull him up by his arms and try to get him to walk. Repeatedly, he takes a small step, then falls to his knees. His movements indicate he may be lapsing in and out of consciousness.
The boy finally collapses to the ground and the woman with the white coat appears to use a stethoscope before performing CPR as other officers look on or walk back and forth.
The incident on the video tape lasts for about 10 minutes before paramedics arrive and take the teenager away on a stretcher.
No bruises found
After viewing the video, medical examiner Charles Siebert said he did not consider the restraint measures used to be excessive.
“None of the physical contact I observed could have caused his death,” he said. He added that his examination of the body found no evidence of any blunt force trauma or bruising.
Siebert added that trouble breathing is a sign of sickle cell trait, a condition which medical authorities say has no other symptoms. It would not have been caught by the screening done before Anderson entered the camp, he said.
After his findings, Siebert said, the Florida Department of Law Enforcement uncovered past incidents when Anderson became short of breath in basketball practice.
Anderson’s family and supporters were skeptical of the medical examiner’s findings and called for an independent investigation.
Family alleges teen was beaten
The boy’s parents, lawyer and local politicians held a news conference after the video was released, accusing the officers of choking the boy and kicking him while he was ill.
“There is no justification for that,” said the family’s attorney, Darryl Parks. “These are grown men.”
Gina Jones said authorities are trying to cover up the cause of her son’s death. She said she couldn’t watch the entire tape because it was too disturbing.
The sheriff’s office said restraint measures were used on Anderson for being “uncooperative.”
The FDLE has concluded its investigation into the incident and has given its evidence to the state attorney, who will determine whether charges will be filed.
A federal probe into whether Anderson’s civil rights were violated by the use of excessive force is also under way, according to the U.S. attorney’s office. The investigation was asked for by the boy’s parents and local leaders.
Some want boot camps closed
After seeing the tape, Florida state Sen. Gary Siplin said he does not understand how the coroner reached his conclusion.
“We want the FDLE or the authorities to go and subdue and arrest those people who brutally beat, kicked and punched and choked Mr. Anderson, 14 years old,” Siplin said.
Siplin and other African-Americans in and out of government want the boot camp facilities closed.
Florida operates five boot camps for troubled children as a substitute for prison.
Besides Anderson, two other black teens have died in boot camp custody, but Florida Gov. Jeb Bush said it is too early to call for the facilities to be closed.
“My heart goes out to the family,” Bush said of Anderson’s death. “This is the first time, I believe, that something like this has happened at a boot camp after many years.
“It’s tragic, but to shut down the boot camps without having seen the investigation, with having seen what needs to be done, is a little premature.”