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Florida Boot Camp Shut Down Over Teen Death Controversy

7:28 PM, Feb 21, 2006   |    comments
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PENSACOLA, FL (AP) -- Amid national scrutiny surrounding the death of a 14-year-old boot camp detainee, Bay County Sheriff Frank McKeithen told the state Department of Juvenile Justice on Tuesday that the county plans to end its contract with the state to operate the camp. In a letter faxed to DJJ Secretary Anthony Schembri, McKeithen gave the department 90-days notice that the Bay County Sheriff's Office "will no longer participate or be involved with the Department of Juvenile Justice Boot Camp Program." The letter also stated that the county would develop its own juvenile program. "Since our youth in Bay County are of the utmost importance, we hope to soon institute a newly designed program upon which we have been working for several months," the letter stated. Officials with the Bay County Sheriff's Office refused to answer questions about the letter, saying only that McKeithen would issue a written statement on Wednesday. Juvenile Justice officials did not immediately return phone calls from The Associated Press. Meanwhile, Gov. Jeb Bush agreed on Tuesday to transfer responsibility for the criminal investigation into what happened at the camp to a prosecutor in another part of the state. Bush press secretary Russell Schweiss said State Attorney Steve Meadows, the prosecutor whose jurisdiction includes Panama City, asked that the investigation be transferred. Schweiss said that while Bush agreed, a decision on which state attorney will get the case hadn't yet been made by Tuesday afternoon. Martin Lee Anderson, 14, died early on the morning of Jan. 6 at a Pensacola hospital, hours after he collapsed after doing push ups, sit ups, running laps and other exercises that were part of his admission to the Panama City boot camp. Security camera videotape taken at the camp on Jan. 5 and released Friday shows that Anderson was struck and kneed several times by guards during a half-hour encounter. The guards said he was not cooperating during an exercise drill shortly after he checked in. The video shows a limp Anderson being drug around the grounds by up to nine guards. An autopsy performed by the medical examiner for Bay County, Charles F. Siebert, found Anderson died of hemorrhaging caused by sickle cell trait, a usually benign blood condition that one in 12 African Americans has. Sickle cell experts have called the supposed cause of death extremely unlikely. In the letter McKeithen sent to Schembri on Tuesday, he said he would terminate the county's contract with the state regardless of the outcome of the ongoing criminal investigation into Anderson's death. "I believe the integrity of the boot camp in Bay County has been compromised, leaving the effectiveness of this program virtually paralyzed," McKeithen wrote. The U.S. Justice Department is also investigating possible civil rights violations associated with Anderson's death. The boot camp concept for juveniles began in Florida with nine facilities in 1993, but will soon be whittled to three if the Martin County camp closes as scheduled later this year and the Bay County Camp ends its relationship with the state. About 600 boys between ages 14 and 18 are currently in the camps. Anderson was the third young black male to die in state custody in the past three years. Willie Lawrence Durden III of Jacksonville was found unconscious in his cell at the Cypress Creek Juvenile Offender Corrections Center in Citrus County last October and Omar Paisley, also 17, died from a burst appendix that went untreated in June 2003 at a juvenile detention facility in Miami.

Associated Press

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