Fla. Senate Approves $5 Million for Boot Camp Death Claim

May 1, 2007

The Florida Senate has passed a $5 million claims bill between the state and family of a Panama City teenager who died after being roughed up by boot camp guards last year.

The bill (SB 2968) must now win passage in the Florida House before going to Gov. Charlie Crist for his signature.

Crist proposed the $5 million settlement with the parents of 14-year-old Martin Lee Anderson, who died a day after guards kneed and struck him and forced him to breathe ammonia at the boot camp in Panama City in January 2006 — events all caught on videotape by a surveillance camera.

The state has already paid Anderson’s parents $200,000, the most allowed by law without legislative approval. The bill would pay the remaining $4.8 million of the proposed settlement.

“It’s been a terrible injustice that occurred with this young person, 14 years old,” Sen. Al Lawson, D-Tallahassee said. “No one really knows what this young man would have been capable of.”

The Senate passed the claims measure with a 28-6 vote.

“He was already a convicted shoplifter and a car thief, that’s a tragedy too,” said Sen. Bill Posey, R-Rockledge, who voted against the measure.

A message left after-hours Friday for Benjamin Crump, the attorney representing Anderson’s parents, was not immediately returned. The family had originally sued for $40 million.

Although run by the Bay County Sheriff’s Department, the camp was part of a state program under the Department of Juvenile Justice, which did not contest the settlement. The sheriff’s office has separately settled with the Anderson family for $2.4 million.

Senators rejected a recommendation from a pair of attorneys appointed to review the case on behalf of the House and Senate to reduce the settlement by half. The attorneys, known as special masters, concluded that the state was only 25 percent at fault for Anderson’s death, and that the sheriff’s office, the seven guards who were involved and a camp nurse who stood by without intervening should shoulder the rest of the blame.

The guards and nurse are facing manslaughter charges.

An initial autopsy report blamed the teen’s death on complications from sickle cell trait. A second autopsy, though, found Anderson died from suffocation due to being forced to inhale the ammonia.

The Legislature dismantled the military-style youth boot camps last year after Anderson’s death.

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