By Martin Merzer Associated Press
By Martin Merzer
TALLAHASSEE, Fla. — Federal officials will not pursue civil rights violations or other charges against the boot camp employees implicated in the videotaped death of a 14-year-old who was hit and kicked by guards while a nurse looked on, the Justice Department said today.
Despite a lengthy investigation, prosecutors could not establish that the seven guards and the nurse willfully deprived Martin Lee Anderson of his civil rights, the department said, and the probe has been closed.
“They have all the evidence in the world and still no one is held accountable,” said Ben Crump, an attorney for the teen’s parents.
Anderson died Jan. 6, 2006, a day after being hit and kicked by the guards. A videotape of the 30-minute incident attracted national attention and led to the closure of Florida’s boot camps for juvenile offenders.
Anderson had just been assigned to the Panama City camp after he was caught trespassing at a school, which violated his probation on another charge.
Crump said the family was told of the decision during a lengthy, emotional meeting with U.S. prosecutors at the federal courthouse in Tallahassee. About 30 family supporters gathered outside the building. Some carried signs: “Murder on TV.” “Justice is not blind. Watch the video.” “No Justice, No Peace.”
“What did they want, 45 minutes more (of videotape), another hour?” Crump asked. “This was the one time we had such hope, such faith.”
He said the federal officials invited Anderson’s relatives to discuss the decision directly with U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder Jr. in Washington, D.C., “and that’s our next stop.”
“It’s not over,” said Gina Jones, the boy’s mother. “It’s not closed and I’m going to make sure it stays open. That was my baby. There was no reason to be beaten like that.”
A state court jury acquitted the guards and nurse of manslaughter on Oct. 12, 2007. Federal authorities then began investigating whether the boy’s civil rights were violated.
The Justice Department said in a news release that investigators did not have enough evidence to pursue criminal charges. Prosecutors would have had to prove that the boot camp employees’ intent was willful — the highest standard imposed by the law, the release said.
The video showed the seven men punching Anderson and using knee strikes against him. It also showed them pushing ammonia capsules into his nose and dragging his limp body around the camp’s yard. The nurse did not appear to intervene during the incident.
A coroner initially ruled that Anderson died because of a fatal hemorrhage related to a previously undiagnosed case of sickle cell anemia trait.
Protests of that ruling inspired then-Gov. Jeb Bush to order an independent prosecutor to look into the case.
A subsequent autopsy determined that guards killed Anderson by depriving him of oxygen when they pushed the ammonia tablets into his nose and covered his mouth.
The acquittal in the state’s manslaughter case came after a two-week trial in Panama City. Jurors said they agreed with the contention of the guards’ attorneys that the men were employing widely accepted boot camp tactics and that the death was caused by the sickle cell trait.
The family also filed civil lawsuits against the state and Bay County that ultimately resulted in a $7.4 million settlement.