JUVENILE JUSTICE -- Boot camp closure sought
By Carol Marbin Miller, Marc Caputo and Gary Fineout, cmarbin@MiamiHerald.com, Miami Herald, February 15, 2006

As state lawmakers gathered for a hearing on controversial boot camps, members of the legislative black caucus called for closing the boot camp where a teenager died and for an independent investigation.

TALLAHASSEE - Black lawmakers called on Gov. Jeb Bush and his troubled youth corrections agency on Tuesday to shut down a controversial Panama City boot camp where a 14-year-old boy died last month, hours after an altercation with guards.

At a news conference in Tallahassee, Florida's Conference of Black State Legislators also called for the appointment of a special statewide prosecutor to look into the state's embattled juvenile justice system and petitioned the Florida Human Relations Commission to conduct a civil-rights investigation.

One South Florida lawmaker who has lobbied fiercely in recent years to improve the state's child welfare and youth corrections agencies, Sen. Fredericka S. Wilson, also demanded that the Bay County Sheriff's Office suspend the seven guards involved in restraining Martin Lee Anderson on Jan. 5.

''There needs to be a complete investigation,'' Wilson said. ``Anyone who was involved in striking this young man, resulting in his death, needs to be criminally charged. . . . I just can't fathom something like this happening to children in our state, children we have placed in a facility we are paying to rehabilitate them.''

Members of the legislative black caucus were to have dinner Tuesday night with Gina Jones and Robert Anderson, Martin's parents, and have called on the Florida Department of Law Enforcement to allow the parents to view the 20- to 30-minute video of Martin's last moments at the camp. Wilson said the FDLE rebuffed her request to see the video.

''The family should see it, and it should be released into the public domain,'' said Sen. Tony Hill, a Jacksonville Democrat.

Sen. Gary Siplin, an Orlando Democrat, said that ''race is an issue'' because the dead teen was black. Two other black youths have died in Department of Juvenile Justice custody in the past two years, including Omar Paisley, an Opa-locka youth who succumbed to a ruptured appendix at the Miami lockup in 2003.

Martin, 14, stopped breathing shortly after drill instructors at the Panama City boot camp attempted to restrain him. Officials at the boot camp, which operates under contract with the Florida Department of Juvenile Justice, said Martin was not cooperating with demands that he perform strenuous exercises.

Two state representatives who saw the video -- Republican Gus Barreiro and Democrat Dan Gelber, both of Miami Beach -- told The Miami Herald last week they saw officers at times punch, kick and choke Martin. They said a nurse on the compound appeared to wait 20 minutes before seeking medical aid, even though Martin appeared to be in distress.

At least four members of Gov. Jeb Bush's staff also viewed the video.

Bush said Tuesday that the investigation into Martin's death would be finished soon, and he defended the FDLE's decision to withhold the video from public scrutiny until then. Bush refused to comment on what his staff told him about the video.

Bush also said that Juvenile Justice Secretary Anthony Schembri talked with sheriffs around the state on Monday about boot camps. Bush defended the idea of keeping boot camps as one of the juvenile justice programs offered by the state.

''It's got a proven record of success; it may not be for every young person who has committed a crime,'' he said. ``I think it is appropriate to use as part of our strategies.''

Some lawmakers, however, view the camps in a different light. The House Criminal Justice Appropriations Committee, which Barreiro chairs, will discuss the military-style camps at a 9 a.m. hearing today. Like members of the black caucus, Barreiro has called on the Department of Juvenile Justice to shut down the state's boot camps.

House Speaker Allan Bense said he wants to review the results of the committee's workshop, which will include Department of Juvenile Justice research showing that a large number of youths who graduate from boot camps commit new crimes. ``I know we have residential programs out there that have, some say, even better results and I want to see that and look at that. . . . I'm not sure [boot camps] are cost-effective.''

Bense was dragged into the controversy last week when FDLE Commissioner Guy Tunnell complained after Barreiro and Gelber discussed the video with The Miami Herald -- prompting the newspaper and other media to request copies of the recording.

''He didn't do back flips over that, I can tell you that,'' Bense said.

At Tuesday's news conference, Hill said lawmakers were ''concerned'' with the close ties Tunnell has with the Bay County Boot Camp, which he founded when he was sheriff there. Most of the staffers involved in the altercation were hired during Tunnell's tenure. Tunnell has said the FDLE investigation would be fair and impartial.

Dale R. Landry, chairman of the juvenile criminal justice committee for Florida's NAACP, said at Tuesday's news conference the group wants all boot camps shut down. ''The death of the 14-year-old, Martin Lee Anderson, is an outrage,'' Landry said, reading from a statement by Florida NAACP President Adora Obi Nweze.

''Many of the youths in the juvenile system are at critical stages in their lives. They need counseling, direction and tough love. Not abuse, and definitely not to be killed,'' the statement said. ``Daily we are bombarded on the news with comments about right-to-life and life issues. It's sad that in our state that our children are the ones that are dying.''

Herald staff writer Mary Ellen Klas contributed to this report.

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