June, 28 2017

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Florida Boot Camp Case, Victim Handled According to "Procedure"

An attorney for one of seven boot camp guards charged with killing a 14-year-old boy said Monday that the juvenile offender was kneed and hit "strictly according to procedure," and that guards had no way of knowing about the medical condition the defense says caused his death.

The Defense's Case

Defense attorney Walter Smith told jurors the videotaped altercation evokes an emotional reaction in people who don't understand the "paramilitary" environment that was required at the camp where a limp Martin Lee Anderson was hit by guards. The camp was closed amid outrage over Anderson's death last year.

The video "makes you want to reach into the screen and say, 'Why isn't someone calling 911?"' Smith, attorney for guard Charles Enfinger, said in beginning the defense's case.

But for the guards who hit Anderson after he collapsed while running laps, and for a nurse who watched, the incident was "a day at the office," said Smith, who chose to wait until the prosecution rested Monday to make his opening statement.

Smith said the guards saw Anderson not as a 14-year-old, but as "a 6-foot, 168-pound, adult felon." He added that the state-overseen boot camps were intended to "provide a shock incarceration environment and to place young people under stress" to steer juvenile offenders away from crime.

"These are not rogue officers who are trying to punish a kid," he said. "Nobody is going to say that those hammer strikes or knee strikes were unlawful, they were strictly according to procedure."

Smith said Anderson's file had been marked with a red dot -- the highest of three levels of offenders -- indicating he had the potential for violence.

Why Anderson was Sent to the Boot Camp

Anderson had been sent to the camp for a probation violation after trespassing at a school and stealing his grandmother's car from a church parking lot.

The nurse and seven guards are charged with manslaughter in the death of Anderson Jan. 6, 2006, a day after the 30-minute altercation at the Panama City boot camp, which was run by the Bay County sheriff's office.

Debating the Facts of the Case

Prosecutors say the guards suffocated Anderson by covering his mouth and forcing him to inhale ammonia fumes.

Defense attorneys say Anderson's death was unavoidable because he had undiagnosed sickle cell trait, a genetic blood disorder. The usually benign disorder can cause blood cells to shrivel into a sickle shape and limit their ability to carry oxygen under physical stress, but prosecution witnesses said Anderson would have died even without the disorder.

The prosecution's last witness was the chief medical director for Florida's Department of Juvenile Justice. Dr. Shairi Turner, a pediatrician, testified Monday that Kristin Schmidt, the nurse who stood by during the altercation, did not tell her supervisors that the teen was struck and forced to inhale ammonia.

Turner said she called Schmidt the morning of the death. Prosecutor Pam Bondi asked Turner whether the information on Anderson being roughed up and forced to breathe ammonia would have been important to her and for the emergency room physicians and paramedics treating the boy. Turner said it would have been.

Smith said later that camp employees did not consider ammonia tablets as a use of force against the offenders, so they did not find it necessary to put that in their reports.

"They just developed this practice of using ammonia and nobody said you cannot do it and they figured it was OK," he said.

Significance of Anderson's Sickle Cell Trait

Smith also said the eight defendants could not be convicted because they did not know Anderson had sickle cell trait.

But Turner testified that sickle cell trait was not something that would have excluded Anderson from participating in the boot camp program under Department of Juvenile Justice standards. Sickle cell trait is not the same thing as sickle cell anemia, a serious blood disorder, she said.

Waylon Graham, the attorney for guard Charles Helms, asked whether the state should have required all children be screened for sickle cell trait before they entered a boot camp.

"Based on my discussions with hematologists, a child with sickle cell trait who has been given adequate hydration is not at any more risk than any other child," Turner said.

Turner later said such screening could be done if the state wanted "to be highly conservative."

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