Boy, 14, tells of boot camp beatings. A boy who says he witnessed the beating of Martin Lee Anderson recalled what he saw and heard at the Panama City boot camp.
By Marc Caputo, Miami Herald, February 26, 2006

Martin Lee Anderson, 14, died after being beaten by guards at the Bay County Boot Camp on January 5. The boot camp is operated by the Bay County Sheriff's Department and overseen by Florida's Department of Juvenile Justice.

The screaming guards. The pressure points. The knee takedowns. The acrid ammonia stick shoved in the face of a rubber-legged 14-year-old named Martin Lee Anderson.

Aaron Swartz can't forget any of it. Not because he saw it all the way most people did -- in a grainy videotape of the guards and Martin before his death -- but because Aaron was there, at Bay County Boot Camp, receiving much of the same violent treatment that still makes him shudder miles away from it all.

''They killed that boy. They didn't help him. They beat him,'' Aaron, also 14, told The Miami Herald in one of the first eyewitness -- and earwitness -- accounts of the dehumanizing experience of life at the Panama City lockup before, during and after Martin's arrival.

Like every kid who's about to enter the Bay Boot Camp, Aaron said Martin lost his first name. From the moment he arrived Jan. 5, he was called ''Offender Anderson,'' just like Aaron was ''Offender Swartz.'' Actually, the names -- and slurs and everything else -- were screamed at them by ''drill instructors,'' who slammed boys against concrete walls, shoved their thumbs in a painful pressure point behind their ears, and forced them to respond with a ``Sir, yes sir!''

And just like every kid's hair, Martin's braids were shaved off aggressively by a mocking DI. It was there, as Martin sat in the barber chair, that Aaron first saw him. And Martin had the look: ''scared, like everybody else,'' Aaron said.

As Aaron tells it, time at the camp was measured in fear and pain, in increments of forced exercise, wall-slams, pressure points, knee takedowns and hammer-fist punches by DIs who video-taped it all. When the boys would go to bed, he said, they could hear the DIs watching the tapes in a nearby room, cheering on their greatest hits as if watching a sporting event.

''The stuff they did to him, they do to everybody everyday. I've never seen somebody get pressure-pointed that many times at once, but it's pretty much like that everyday,'' he said.

The medical treatment wasn't much better. Aaron said the camp is a place where the nurse, Kristin Schmidt, more often dispensed the term ''malingerer'' -- rather than medicine -- when kids said they were hurt or sick.

Despite suffering from asthma and a chest infection, he said, Schmidt refused to give him anything but Sudafed for more than a month. After Martin's death, a doctor finally saw him and put him on antibiotics.

Martin's death is under investigation. No charges have been filed. A new medical examiner will review the autopsy -- and might exhume Martin -- to verify whether he died from an exertion-related blood disorder, as the Bay County medical examiner found. Sheriff Frank McKeithen said last week he'll soon close the camp.


Like Martin's family, Aaron thinks there's a coverup. He believes he overheard one guard repeatedly talking of ''revising'' and changing a report or reports, but he doesn't know which ones. He said around 6 p.m. on Jan. 6 a camp counselor told the boys Martin had died of natural causes -- only about two hours after Dr. Charles Siebert finished the autopsy.

Siebert said Saturday that nobody could determine the cause of death that soon, and he later thought a sickle-cell trait might be to blame. But he had to wait for lab results.

''I had no physical evidence of any trauma or injury that could have caused or contributed to his death, therefore I had to wait for further evidence to determine his cause of death,'' Siebert said in an e-mail of his controversial autopsy report, which Martin's family disputes. Siebert said he later reviewed reports from the guards saying Martin resisted them. Siebert said the reports indicated Martin was aware and able to respond verbally.

The Bay County Sheriff's Office will not discuss the case. The DIs could not be reached. The nurse won't comment.

Florida public-records laws prohibit access to juvenile records for living children such as Aaron. He was convicted for a store break-in; Martin for joyriding in his grandma's car. Aaron's mother, Shuana Manning, spoke in general terms last week to the news media about what her son saw. She produced copies of handwritten letters that Aaron sent from the camp -- signed: ``Offender Swartz.''

Aaron spoke to The Miami Herald for more than an hour at his mother's Tallahassee-area home during a weekend break Saturday from a Panhandle wilderness camp. He was sent there three weeks after Martin's death.

Aaron said he hasn't seen the video of Martin's beating.

The video opens up with youths running around in a circle, typical on ''intake day'' when the DIs made them run 16 laps and perform multiple push-ups and sit-ups. Martin was doing well, but then he staggered, stopped and fell.

''They should have known he wasn't faking because it was his last lap,'' Aaron said.

DI Charles Steven Enfinger made a beeline for Martin and ''slammed him up against the wall,'' he said.

''He's one of the most violent ones, he likes to slam you and stuff. They all come to work, every day, and try to slam somebody. It's like you can tell by the way they act,'' Aaron said.

DI Henry Lincoln McFadden soon joined Enfinger, said Aaron, noting the two men yelled in Martin's face.

Soon, everyone had finished their exercises and had to sit down nearby, eyes forward. Aaron said he shifted his glance slightly to watch Martin. He said he was too far away to hear everything Enfinger and McFadden were yelling, but never heard any type of response from Martin.

Here's what he heard: ''Point 99 on Offender Anderson.'' It was McFadden and Enfinger reporting in radio code that they had applied a pressure-point behind Martin's ear. After seven of those, Aaron stopped counting. He said he also saw and heard the ''knee takedown'' on Martin.

One DI watching over Aaron and the others laughed: ''Offender Anderson's going to have a long day.'' Aaron said multiple guards joined in, and Cpl. Joseph Walsh used so much exertion that he worked up a sweat. He said Enfinger struck Martin repeatedly on the arm, which is reflected in the video.

''And the nurse comes over there. She's watching. She's standing there,'' he said. Soon she applied an electronic pulse reader to Martin's finger that beeps with every heart beat. ''It was like beep-beep-beep-beep,'' Aaron said quickly.


Finally, the tone of the DI screaming started to change from angry to concerned when Walsh said: ''Get the red bag!'' The bag had ammonia sticks in it, which the guards would crack open and press against the offenders' noses to revive them to perform more exercises. A DJJ official said last week that using ammonia in this nonmedical way was against policy. Aaron said he had been dosed once when he was about to pass out from exercise. ''It burns,'' he said.

But the ammonia didn't revive Martin. And soon they could hear the sirens. The boys were led inside. Martin was whisked away only hours after arriving at the camp.

The following evening, about 15 hours after Martin was pronounced dead, Aaron said, the mental health counselor named ''Ms. Miki'' told them that ``it was completely medical. . . . Athletes die every day, all the time, for medical reasons -- that healthy athletes stop and die so it's not unusual.''

Said Aaron: ``I don't think that's true at all. Even if it was medical, when he passed out, if they would have set him down and then gave him medical help right then, I think they could have saved his life and everything. But instead, they did all pressure-pointing, slammed him, beating up on him and everything.''


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