County To Take Over Boot Camp Vacant Buildings

Bay County commissioners apparently got tired of waiting for an answer from the state about the old juvenile boot camp facilities. Tuesday they unanimously voted to house juvenile programs, like Teen Court and Guardian Ad Litem in the East 11th Street facility as early as next month.

For more than a decade, this site on East 11th Street was considered by many to be a model for rehabilitating the area's at-risk boys. But that belief changed after January 5th.

That's the day drill instructors physically restrained a brand new 14-year-old inductee named Martin Lee Anderson. Anderson died the next day at a Pensacola hospital. The cause of his death is still the subject of a criminal investigation and a civil lawsuit.

When state officials saw the video tape of the incident they demanded all of the state's military style boot camps be closed, which the legislature approved.

Bay County Sheriff's Frank McKeithen didn't wait for lawmakers, cancelling his Boot Camp contract with the Department of Juvenile Justice and closing the local camp in April. The facility has been vacant for over six months.

The county owns the land, the state Department of Juvenile Justice claims it owns the buildings.
Bay County Commissioner Jerry Girvin says D-J-J hasn’t been able to decide how to use the buildings. "We have sent several letters to D-J-J asking what their plans are and what our plans would like to be."

Tuesday, Bay County commissioners decided to move ahead on their own.

Girvin says it was time to decide. "Those letters were responded to in a manner that wasn't really satisfactory to the county, so we made a motion today for the board to move into the Boot Camp building."

The county attorney’s opinion is since the state has stopped using the building as a Juvenile Justice facility, the county has the authority to move in with its own programs. The county says it is moving in December first. "We're just advising them that is our plan, and we're prepared to go to court if they have a problem with that."

The Department of Juvenile Justice officials said it was news to them, and they won't comment until they have received the county’s letter.