War Waging Over Boot Camp Beating Video

First Amendment advocates are blasting the state for refusing to release a videotape that reportedly shows the boot camp beating of a Bay County teen that later died.

Lawmakers who viewed the tape describe what they saw as “worse than Rodney King” and they want the video made public, but investigators say the tape will remain under wraps, at least for now.

Fourteen-year-old Martin Anderson died hours after beginning a program at the Bay County Boot Camp.

State Rep. Gus Barreiro is one of two lawmakers who viewed video from a surveillance camera of what he describes as a horrific beating of Anderson by sheriff’s deputies.

“It was brutal and I hope the tape does become public because I think it’s important for the public to see this.”

Authorities were furious with the lawmakers for talking about the tape. Bay County’s Sheriff Frank McKeithen called them loose cannons and said their descriptions were inaccurate. The Florida Department of Law Enforcement is investigating the death and has custody of the tape.

Tom Berlinger is a spokesman for FDLE.

“To say we weren’t thrilled by the fact that they released the information that they did is an understatement.”

But attorney Barbara Petersen with the First Amendment Foundation is equally upset at FDLE for trying to keep the tape secret.

“The sheriff is saying that the legislators misconstrued what they saw, that they’re loose cannons, that they’re being irresponsible. That in and of itself is reason to release these tapes, but the public has a right to know what’s going on in these boot camps. There’s a lot of controversy over it. A kid was killed. A kid in custody was killed and the public has a need and a right to know what happened and why it happened.

With all the “brouhaha,” FDLE is now considering releasing the tapes, according to Berlinger.

“Given the level of public interest, we feel that we may want to consider voluntarily waiving that exemption and allowing the public to see the tape.”

It’s a tape that at the very least will show the last painful hours of Martin Anderson’s life.

Florida Department of Law Enforcement Commissioner Guy Tunnell is the former Bay County sheriff who started the boot camp where Anderson was allegedly beaten, but FDLE insists that has nothing to do with keeping the video under wraps, and says it will do a fair and impartial investigation. FDLE says it will likely be next week at the earliest before it decides whether to release the video.

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