THE harrowing images captured by a surveillance camera showed that the black teenager was beaten to death by drill instructors at a Florida boot camp. An official coroner blamed natural causes, but yesterday the truth began to emerge as a second post-morten established that Martin Anderson, 14, had met a violent death. His tragic fate and the subsequent cover-up have renewed calls for boot camps to be closed across the US.
The boy’s parents had asked for the body to be exhumed after footage from security cameras was found showing seven instructors raining down “hammer strikes” on his limp body. A camp nurse is seen in the video standing by and watching with her hands on her hips.
“My opinion is, he died because of what you see in the videotape,” Dr Michael Baden, a former New York City coroner hired by the boy’s family to help to conduct the second examination, told investigators.
The post-mortem disproved a pathologist’s previous ruling that the boy died of a blood disorder unrelated to the assault.
Gina Jones, his mother, said: “I’m glad that I did make the right decision to pull my baby out of the ground. Now that the truth is out, I want justice. I want the guards and nurses to be arrested. It’s time.” Martin Anderson entered the Bay County boot camp near Panama City, Florida, in January after violating a probation order for stealing his grandmother’s car from a church parking lot with his cousins.
On his first day, January 5, he collapsed while being made to run laps. Security cameras showed that the instructors had earlier beaten, kneed and choked the boy. Their punishment left his limp body “flailing like a rag doll,” Dr Baden said.Yet Charles Siebert, the Bay County medical examiner, had ruled that Anderson’s death was caused by a pre-existing blood problem known as sickle cell trait.
His conclusion prompted an outcry and claims of a cover-up. Dr Siebert’s reliability was further called into question when a woman came forward to reveal that in 2004 he conducted a post-mortem on her daughter in which he wrongly said that the woman had testicles and a prostate gland.
Boot camps operate on the philosophy that offenders must be broken down through military-style drills before they can be built back up. Almost a third closed between 1995 and 2000 after opening in 27 states from the 1980s.
Accusations of brutality by guards, and statistics proving the inefficacy of a system that had been heralded as a means of reducing crime, saw the regime fall from favour.
A report commissioned by the US Department of Justice in 2003 concluded that while participants recorded positive changes in attitude, behaviour, problem-solving and coping skills, the benefits were only short term. In the long term, there was no impact on recidivism rates, it said.
Two years later, the US Bureau of Prisons decided to close its 14-year boot camp programme, which at its peak involved 7,000 inmates in 27 states. But a number of states have stuck by their own programmes, including Florida, despite figures from the Juvenile Justice Department showing that the state’s recidivism rate has increased.
The Bay County camp is being closed but others in Florida will remain open. Prosecutors have opened an investigation into Martin’s death, as has the US Justice Department’s Civil Rights Division, which is looking into whether the youth’s race was a factor.
HAVE YOU BEEN|
TO THE NEWSROOM?