Although guards at a Panama City boot camp routinely roughed up teenagers for minor infractions, state auditors for years praised the facility for its record-keeping, nursing care and use of physical force, rating the camp's performance "commendable."
The camp did so well in its 2004 inspection that it wasn't inspected at all last year - despite 180 questionable use-of-force reports since January 2003. Guards physically punished youngsters for smiling, smirking, failing to complete exercises or other so-called "insolent" behaviors, records show.
The "quality assurance" audits, mandated by state law to ensure the facilities are safe and properly run, portray the Bay County Sheriff's Office Boot Camp as a Grade A operation. That changed Jan. 6, when 14-year-old Martin Lee Anderson, charged with stealing his grandmother's car for a joyride, died after boot camp guards punched, kneed and choked him - all captured on videotape.
A Miami Herald review of audits conducted by the Department of Juvenile Justice's Quality Assurance division found that inspectors for years failed to detect that guards were routinely violating state policies that banned use of force - takedowns, chokeholds, pressure-point restraints - except as a last resort.
NO ONE CHARGED
While oversight was breaking down, physical force incidents escalated, rising each year until they doubled in 2005. No guards have been charged or fired. A special prosecutor appointed by Gov. Jeb Bush and the U.S. Attorney's Office in Tallahassee are investigating Martin's death. The Bay County boot camp was shut down in the aftermath.
Time and again, auditors consistently found the camp to be in full compliance with regulations. Among the findings in the 2004 report:
- Inspectors judged the camp's exercise policies to be "superior" and "administered in a safe, fair and consistent manner, " adding that the boys would not be required to exercise beyond their "endurance levels."
"Interviews with five youth indicated that staff discuss with them their endurance levels and improvements, " the report said. "All youth indicated that they are in better shape now than when they arrived at the camp."
Martin collapsed after complaining that he could no longer exercise, prompting guards to manhandle him for 40 minutes as the boot camp nurse stood by. The camp's own use-of-force report quoted Martin saying he "was tired and couldn't breathe good enough to run any more."
- The camp received superior scores for much of its medical care program. The 2004 report praised the camp's nurse for conducting quarterly or even monthly medical emergency drills and for being available for sick call more often than is required. The nurse, Kristin Anne Schmidt, is under investigation by state medical regulators over claims that she stood by for 40 minutes without acting as guards roughed Martin up.
- The camp was rated superior for its compliance with DJJ rules that physical force, including so-called pressure points, be "used as a last resort."
"There is a written policy, " the report said, "that has been signed and dated within this review period that outlines all the requirements" of the use-of-force standard. "Whenever there is a physical intervention, a [use-of-force] report is written."
- The camp also received a superior score for completing use-of-force reports for every incident in which guards did a "takedown, " pressure point or other restraint technique, such as a "knee strike" or "bent wrist."