Yesterday was the first day of a high-profile Florida trial in which eight former juvenile boot camp employees stand accused of aggravated manslaughter for the death of 14-year-old Martin Lee Anderson. If convicted, they face a minimum of thirty years in prison.
Anderson was brought to the Bay County boot camp in January 2006 after violating probation (he had been arrested for stealing his grandmother’s truck). When he collapsed during a run on January 5–he had a history of exhaustion–the staff assumed he was faking it to get out of running laps. So, naturally, they did what any right-thinking person in the business of rehabilitating young offenders would do–they beat the shit out of him. A widely circulated surveillance video shows the instructors kneeing and punching Anderson for about half an hour, and forcing him to breathe ammonia tablets, while a nurse stands by with her hands on her hips.
Anderson died the next morning. Two conflicting autopsies were presented: Bay County medical examiner Charles Siebert reported that Anderson had died from sickle-cell trait, a genetic blood disorder that affects people of African descent; Hillsborough County medical examiner Vernard Adams, however, concluded that Anderson died from suffocation.
In the uproar following Anderson’s death, the Florida Legislature dismantled the state’s network of juvenile boot camps, and the head of the Florida Department of Law Enforcement resigned; earlier this year Anderson’s family received a $5 million payment from the state to settle civil claims.
In their opening statements yesterday, defense attorneys argued that the guards used standard procedures to restrain Anderson and that they were unaware of his blood disorder. “This was no accident,” prosecutor Pam Bondi countered. “This was a child who was killed.”