Guards Seen Beating Teen in Video

By: Carol Marbin Miller, The Miami Herald
By: Carol Marbin Miller, The Miami Herald

Two south Florida lawmakers who saw a video of a Panama City teen's final hours say he was abused at a juvenile boot camp. The boy died later that day.

A 14-year-old boy was ''brutally'' beaten by guards and ''flung around like a rag doll'' at a boot camp for juvenile delinquents in Bay County hours before he died at a hospital, according to two lawmakers who on Wednesday saw a videotape of the incident.

The video, which recorded the last 20 to 30 minutes of the teen's stay at the Bay County Sheriff's Office Boot Camp, shows officers at times kicking, punching and choking Martin Lee Anderson after he refused, or was unable, to comply with officers' orders to run or do other exercises, the legislators said.

The state Department of Law Enforcement, which is investigating Martin's death, showed the camp videotape to two members of the Florida House of Representatives who oversee youth corrections, and at least four members of the governor's staff at FDLE headquarters Wednesday morning.

Clearly shaken, state Rep. Gus Barreiro told The Miami Herald that the tape depicted ''the most heinous treatment of a human being'' he had ever seen.

“It was obvious to me the kid was unconscious, and they were still abusing him. People will be outraged when they see this tape, and they should be outraged.”

State Rep. Dan Gelber, a Miami Beach Democrat who investigated dozens of alleged police brutality cases as head of the U.S. attorney's office civil-rights division in Miami for a decade, also saw the video.

''There's no question that the force used here was well beyond what was necessary for the situation,'' Gelber said. “The truth is that this kid died in custody. What we saw was very, very distressing.''

Barreiro on Wednesday, “I now know why the sheriff was so concerned.''

Reached by telephone in Panama City on Wednesday night, Martin's parents expressed outrage and sadness at hearing of the tape's contents.

“I want justice; that's what I want,'' said Robert Anderson, Martin's father. “But I can't really get it, because my son is gone.''

''What the hell is a [large] man doing putting his knee into my son's back?'' Anderson said. “He was only 14. He weighed less than 140 pounds.''

Said Benjamin Crump, the family's Tallahassee attorney, “This is just too painful. To say that the family is devastated by this news is an understatement. Losing a child is hard enough.''

The teenager was arrested after he and four cousins took their grandmother's car from a church parking lot during Sunday services, and then crashed it. Though the grandmother did not wish to press charges, the youths all were arrested on grand-theft charges, Crump said.

The teen was in the admissions area of the boot camp Jan. 5 when he was ordered by drill instructors, along with several other youths, to perform exercises. While the youths were being initiated into the program, an officer held a video camera and zoomed in to film moments when youths were being restrained, Barreiro said he was told.

As the video begins, several other youths are seen being held up against a wooden fence as drill instructors yell at them. Martin, in what has been described by juvenile justice officials as a ''restraint,'' is first seen being held down on the ground by two officers, with his arms spread out, Barreiro said.

One officer is seen with his knee pushing into his back. Though the tape contains no sound, the officers appear to be yelling at the teen, Barreiro said.

After a minute or two, Martin stands up and attempts to run around the camp's track, Barreiro said. Officers ''rush'' to hold him up against the wooden fence, ''with his arms spread out like a crucifix,'' Barreiro said. Then four guards are seen holding Martin to the ground, with one officer pushing his knee into the youth's back.

As Martin gets up to run again, he is clearly ''stumbling,'' unable to run or walk, Barreiro said.

What happened next, Barreiro said, was so disturbing he asked the FDLE agent showing the tape to rewind several times. On screen, a guard is seen apparently choking Martin by pushing his forearm against his throat, Barreiro and Gelber said.

The youth is once again encouraged to begin running, but again he stumbles and falls down, Barreiro said, “He is like a rag doll. They are holding him up.''

Said Gelber, “They are moving his body around like a sack of potatoes.''

Then, both lawmakers said an officer either kicks or knees Martin in the back of his knees so that he falls down. ''When he's on the ground,'' Barreiro said, “they start punching him in the arms. He's like comatose, and they are punching and punching.''
Moments later, the lawmakers say, officers yank Martin by the head and jerk it back. Once again, Barreiro said, they place Martin in what appears to be a type of choke hold.

''That was pretty violent,'' Gelber said of what he called the ''jolting'' of the teen's head. “You could see from the very beginning [Martin] had a problem. His legs were rubbery. The kid was fainting and losing consciousness repeatedly.''

At some point, officers appeared to be pushing an object, the lawmakers said they were told it was ammonia to help Martin regain consciousness, forcefully into his nose. Juvenile justice officials have previously said Martin bled profusely from some injury to his nose.

Gelber said he was particularly struck by the apparent lack of any urgency or concern on the part of the boot-camp officers, and a nurse who appeared to stand by doing little, while Martin was clearly in grave distress for about 20 minutes.

''This was too long a period of time to not have sought medical attention,'' Gelber said. “Giving the officers the benefit of all doubt, it's hard to divine what the possible justification was for their treatment of the juvenile.''

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