No Charges Will Be Filed in Teen’s Boot-Camp Death

The United States Department of Justice has announced that it will not file federal criminal civil rights charges against eight staffers at a Florida boot camp where a 14-year-old boy died.

Martin Lee Anderson had been sent to the Bay County Sheriff’s Office Boot Camp, a disciplinary facility where teenagers underwent military-style training, after his arrest for theft. On his first day at the camp, January 5, 2006, Anderson was ordered to go for a run, then beaten and harassed when he complained of fatigue. He eventually collapsed and was taken by ambulance to a Pensacola hospital, where he was pronounced dead the next day.

A videotape of the incident shows drill instructors and other staff members punching Anderson, yelling at him and forcing smelling salts up his nose in an attempt to get him to resume physical activity. Two separate autopsies on his body yielded conflicting results; one medical examiner ruled that he had died from complications of sickle-cell trait, while another ruled that boot camp staff members suffocated the teenager.

Eight staff members were tried for manslaughter and related charges in 2007, but a Florida jury found all of them not guilty. During the trial, staff members testified that although Anderson had complained of fatigue, they thought he was faking it. A nurse who had briefly examined him said that he was fine.

The Department of Justice said in a press release that prosecutors would have had to establish, beyond a reasonable doubt, that the boot camp employees willfully deprived Anderson of a constitutional right.

“Neither accident, mistake, fear, negligence nor bad judgment is sufficient to establish a federal criminal civil rights violation,” said the release.

Anderson’s family has settled lawsuits to the tune of $7 million against both Bay County and the state of Florida.

In part because Anderson was black, and some of the guards at the boot camp were white, the teen’s death ignited a public outcry in Florida and around the nation, leading then-Governor Jeb Bush to appoint a special prosecutor in the case. This, in turn, resulted in the exhumation of the boy’s body and the second autopsy.

The controversy over the way Anderson was treated eventually led to the Bay County boot camp, and others in the state, being shut down.

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