Is beating kids at boot camp all in a day's work?
By Fred Grimm, Miami Herald, February 14, 2006

Try this with your kid at home. See what happens.

Pummel him. Kick him off his feet. Hold him down. Stick a knee in his back. Jerk his head backward. Stick a forearm in his throat. Punch him. Bloody his face. Cram a vial of ammonia up his nose.

Continue the abuse even after the child appears to have lapsed into unconsciousness. Ignore his obvious physical distress.

Do it knowing that a video camera is recording the incident, blow by blow. Do it as if brutalizing a child is just part of your daily routine.

Then, when the kid dies, see what happens.

You know what happens. You're arrested. You go to jail to await trial, which may be the safest place in the community given the public outrage over the death of a physically abused child.


But kill a kid in a Florida boot camp, standards change.

Thirty-nine days after Martin Lee Anderson's death, other juveniles are still incarcerated at the boot camp run by the Bay County sheriff.

None of the half-dozen officers who introduced the 14-year-old boy to the camp's regime of physical abuse have been suspended. They're still at work, tending to other children.

When a cop uses deadly force, no matter how necessary, if he takes down a mass murderer on a mad shooting spree, the officer is taken off the streets while the department investigates.

Guards at juvenile boot camp operate in another universe, unshackled by the rules governing other juvenile lockups, or even prisons for adults offenders.


The staff at the Panama City camp has thus far avoided even a public reprimand from their boss. Rather, Sheriff Frank McKeithen's harsh words have been aimed at two state representatives from South Florida.

Reps. Gus Barreiro and Dan Gelber, both members of the Juvenile Justice Appropriations Committee, watched the Jan. 6 boot camp video of a half-dozen guards roughing up young Anderson and told reporters they were stunned by what they saw.

Sheriff McKeithen struck back immediately. He released a statement calling Barreiro and Gelber ''loose- cannon politicians,'' whose words were ''irresponsible, premature and incorrect,'' as if these two meddling outsiders had embellished the entire episode. Except a kid died at the sheriff's boot camp. No exaggeration there. Barreiro suggested Monday that maybe that bothersome fact ought to top the list of the sheriff's concerns.

The Republican Barreiro stuck by his graphic description of the tape, so disturbing, so surreal, he said that he felt like screaming at the TV, ``Enough is enough. Leave the kid alone.''


For a so-called loose cannon, Rep. Gelber spoke Monday with considerable restraint and measured words. The Democrat made it clear that he was not some let-'em-go liberal, out to crucify law officers, but a former prosecutor, the son of a prosecutor who is married to a prosecutor, is a brother to a prosecutor and a brother-in-law to a prosecutor. What he saw on that tape was an institutional failure, a lack of training, a twisted protocol. ''But what I saw wasn't blood lust,'' he said.

In a way, Gelber said it was even more disturbing than an out-of-control melee. He saw guards who seemed to think they were carrying out their duties. And among their duties was administering an unmerciful ``attitude adjustment.''

Gelber noted that the guards knew a camera was capturing the incident on tape and they didn't bother to hide their gut-wrenching excesses, knocking a 14-year-old around in a way that would get a parent tossed in jail or a cop thrown off the force.

They went about pummeling Martin Lee Anderson as if they were just doing their job.

And those guards are still on the job.

Return to:
Boot camp for kids: Torturing teens for fun and profit
Martin Lee Anderson: A life cut short
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