TALLAHASSEE - In the aftermath of Martin Lee Anderson's death after he was beaten by guards at a juvenile boot camp, state officials want sheriffs to do away with the violent ways of handling kids: No more punches. No more pepper spray. No stun guns.
The Department of Juvenile Justice has told the sheriffs who run the state's five boot camps that the measures will help ensure there will never again be an incident that resembles the videotaped beating of the 14-year-old at the Bay Boot Camp by a scrum of kneeing and punching military-style drill instructors.
Among the measures DJJ wants:
''These sound like good things. The question is: Where have they been all this time? A lot of those things, I'm shocked they're talking about this late in the game,'' said state Rep. Dan Gelber, a Miami Beach Democrat who is a former federal prosecutor who helped convict police officers in brutality cases. DJJ officials told The Miami Herald they would not discuss the policy changes, which still must pass muster with legislative leaders.
Gelber and the rest of his colleagues on the House justice appropriations committee were surprised Thursday when DJJ's number two man, Chris Caballero, refused to say whether boot-camp guards were legally allowed to inflict pain on nonthreatening children who won't comply with simple commands, such as running laps.
Caballero said he wasn't sure what use-of-force policies applied to which boot camps and when. The camps, which sheriffs run under contract with DJJ, are allowed to use more-violent means to control kids than other lockups.
While refusing to tell lawmakers about the policy overhaul, Caballero ducked specifics, saying an answer to the pain-infliction question could affect the investigation into Martin's death on Jan. 6. Caballero said use-of-force standards generally forbid the nonmedical use of ammonia agents on kids as well as knees to the back -- both of which Martin apparently sustained. He added that pain infliction can be used in some cases, but wouldn't say whether it can be used on kids who are nonviolent. Miami Beach Democrat, on proposals to ban boot-camp guards from punching and using other violent techniques
answer that's applicable here,'' he said. ``It depends on the situation. If it's appropriate to use hammer strikes [punches] or knee strikes, then it is used. If it's not appropriate then someone is acting outside of the scope of their employment and therefore it's outside the scope of the employment and is breaching the curriculum and their training.''
Caballero would not say what's ''appropriate,'' saying such a definition was ''in the standards'' -- referring to the state's voluminous Criminal Justice Standards and Training Commission, a Florida Department of Law Enforcement group that develops guidelines for law-enforcement officers. But the training-commission standards may not apply to most of the guards at Florida's juvenile boot camps.
Bay County Sheriff Frank McKeithen has decided to close the Panama City boot camp within 90 days. Before announcing he would close the camp, McKeithen also said he banned the use of ammonia agents, which are supposed to be used to revive kids. In the tape showing Martin's manhandling, guards appear to shove the ammonia repeatedly in his face. Shauna Manning, mother of a 14-year-old boy who said he witnessed the incident at the boot camp, said her son told her the guards used the tablets all the time to instill discipline -- and fear. ''They're real sick. They get pleasure out of torturing children,'' she said. Caballero suggested to the legislative committee that the use of ammonia agents in that fashion wasn't permitted for guards.
''Ammonia is not considered a part of their training and their curriculum. Therefore, it can only be used for medical purposes,'' Caballero said. ``It's not part of their everyday behavior modification program as it relates to this particular training program with which this staff is certified.''
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