Violent end revealed

 

cmarbin@MiamiHerald.com

Five military-style officers hold Martin Lee Anderson as one of them knees him violently in the back of the legs. The teen collapses into a heap on the dirt, where a guard twists his wrist as another grabs at his neck.

Thus it went during some of the last moments of the youth's life: punched in the arms with fists at least 14 times, kneed or kicked repeatedly, subjected to painful wrist locks, smashed and squeezed for at least 90 seconds into a pole, and apparently choked.

A nurse, hands on hips, watches but stays out of the fray for more than 20 minutes.

Through it all, the 140-pound boy remains limp. He doesn't appear to resist. His only movements: his legs writhe while officers spend long moments on top of him.

Martin's final moments at the Bay Boot Camp, contained on a grainy 30-minute videotape, were played on television throughout the nation Friday after state investigators released the video in settlement of a public records lawsuit filed by The Miami Herald and CNN.

For more than a month, his mother pleaded with authorities to show her what happened to her son. But when Gina Jones saw the video for the first time Friday, she had to turn away.

"I can't even watch the whole tape, " she said. "Martin didn't deserve this right here, at all . . . I knew my baby was in pain and I'm in pain just looking at the tape.

"Martin didn't even have a chance."

Said Robert Anderson, the teen's father: "'Why did they choke my son, beat him, kick him, put their knees all in his back? He was trying to do what they told him to do."

As they had most of the past month, officials at the Florida Department of Law Enforcement, which is spearheading a criminal investigation, declined to discuss the case. "The state's criminal investigation remains active, " Tim Ring, FDLE's regional director in Pensacola, said.

Bay County Sheriff Frank McKeithen, whose office runs the boot camp for the Department of Juvenile Justice, refused to answer questions about the tape or a controversial autopsy report released Thursday. He read a statement saying the autopsy - which says Martin died of "natural causes" - does not "change the seriousness, complexity or complications of this unfortunate incident."

"The viewing of this video will result in many questions, concerns and accusations, " he said. "We, at no time, have indicated that we believe this incident was handled correctly. As a result of these concerns, several procedural changes have already occurred."

McKeithen, criticized by black legislators who say he is showing more concern for protecting the actions of boot camp officials than for Anderson's family, refused to answer questions about what changes he has implemented.

His office released a memo, dated Jan. 6, ordering boot camp officials to "immediately stop the use of" ammonia capsules - apparently used in the incident with Martin - "for any purpose other than emergency situations, such as attempting to revive a person who has obviously passed out."

Camp guards were allowed to use "chemical agents" and "deadly force" to subdue teens. No more. The sheriff's office also released a memo, written a week after Martin's death, forbidding the use of "knee strikes and hammer strikes, " referring to the punches to the arm seen several times on the video, "unless it is for self-defense."

OUTRAGE AT REPORT

On Thursday, Bay County Chief Medical Examiner Charles F. Siebert Jr. released an autopsy report saying Martin died of "natural causes" - the result of severe internal bleeding and respiratory distress caused by sickle cell trait, a blood disorder that affects about one in 12 African Americans.

The report has outraged African-American leaders throughout the United States who say they suspect Bay County officials of a racist cover-up and accuse boot camp officers of murder.

In a letter to the U.S. Justice Department's Office of Civil Rights - which announced Thursday it was commencing an investigation into Martin's death - the Southern Christian Leadership Conference asked federal authorities to look into whether any youths were safe at Florida's military-style youth lockups.

"It is imperative that the federal government assure the citizens of Florida that our correctional institutions are not places that are high-risk and life-threatening, " wrote Sevell C. Brown, the group's state president.

Florida's black state lawmakers sent a letter to Gov. Jeb Bush on Friday calling for the arrest of the guards, the appointment of a special prosecutor and a new coroner to perform an autopsy.

The letter, signed by Sens. Tony Hill, of Jacksonville, Gary Siplin of Orlando, and Frederica Wilson of Miami, all Democrats, also questions why Martin's body was allowed to be transferred from Pensacola - where he died in a hospital - back to Panama City for the autopsy.

Bush said such calls are premature. "I don't believe we should shut down every boot camp because there's this one tragic incident, " he said.

A basketball player and one-time honor roll student, Martin was sentenced to the boot camp after he violated probation on a grand theft charge: He went joyriding with relatives in his grandmother's car during a church service and wrecked the car.

MOMENT BY MOMENT

The video, taken by a camp security camera, opens with Martin pushed up against a pole or tree trunk, five uniformed drill instructors surrounding him. One of the officers seems to be pressing much of his body weight against the motionless youth.

Suddenly, one officer thrusts his knee into the back of Martin's legs, and the teen collapses to the ground. One officer has his arm in a wristlock; another appears to have his hand around his throat.

At one point, an officer loses his wide-brimmed field hat, and another carefully replaces it on his head.

The restraint on the ground lasts about 90 seconds. The officers try to lift Martin off the ground, but he falls to his knees. Moments later, Martin is placed on the ground, face-down. Three officers are holding him, while four others watch. An officer punches his arm with a hammer-type fist.

Four officers then lift his flaccid body off the ground. Again, he falls to the dirt. He lies for several seconds motionless. His legs writhe.

Again, four officers lift him. Again he falls. Again they drag him to his feet, but his legs wobble. As one officer appears to hold his hands on Martin's face, another punches the teen nine or 10 times on his forearm.

In one of the most violent moments, as the officers hold Martin upright, one of them appears to knee him in the back. His body jerks upwards, his head whiplashes and his heels leave the ground.

The officers' "restraint" techniques - as officials have called them - appear to last between 20 and 30 minutes.

Near the end, a white-frocked nurse, Kristin Schmidt, finally leans over the teen and removes her stethoscope from her neck. She attends to him for several minutes before an ambulance arrives and removes the youth on a stretcher.

State Rep. Gus Barreiro, a Miami Beach Republican whose first viewing of the tape last week added fire to the controversy, said upon seeing it again Friday that the tape still makes him scream.

"I keep yelling, 'Stop! Don't punch him anymore. He's not moving.' "

Herald staff writers Elinor J. Brecher, Marc Caputo and Jacob Goldstein contributed to this report.

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