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Outrage builds over beating tape

Pressure mounted on state officials Tuesday to release the videotape showing what some have described as a brutal beating of a 14-year-old boy by guards at a boot camp for troubled youths.

Members of the Legislature's black caucus demanded the tape be made public, called for the immediate shutdown of the state's five boot camps and requested an independent investigation into the death of Martin Lee Anderson.

"I am outraged," said Sen. Frederica Wilson, D-Miami. "Why is that boot camp still operating? Why is it still open? We ought to start walking now over to the FDLE and demand that they let us see the tape."

The teenager's parents also have called for the release of the tape, and two news organizations filed a lawsuit to obtain it.

But the Florida Department of Law Enforcement has refused to release the video, saying it has to finish the investigation.

"I don't believe it should be made public until the investigation is complete, which will happen hopefully in the next few days," Gov. Jeb Bush said Tuesday.

Renewed calls for release of the tape, captured by security cameras, came as a state House committee prepared to convene today to discuss boot camps and more details emerged about how Martin Anderson ended up in a camp near his Panama City home.

Said Benjamin Crump, the Tallahassee lawyer representing Martin's parents: "People say, "I know a lot of people who are way worse than him and they don't get boot camp.' "

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Chewy SweetTarts. Pencils. Balloons.

The clerk at the Quick Way on Eleventh Street in Panama City said she caught three boys walking out of the store with those items in their pockets - $6.23 in merchandise.

One of them was 8-year-old Martin Anderson, according to a June 1999 arrest report.

A Panama City police officer brought the trio to Bay County jail and they were later released to their parents. The State Attorney's Office declined to file charges, letting the parents hand out discipline.

Six years later, Martin was not as lucky.

He was arrested last June on a charge of grand theft after the Springfield Police Department said he and five others stole his grandmother's 1996 Jeep Cherokee during Sunday church services and drove it to a nearby Kmart, where they took CDs.

"The alarm went off and they ran out of the store," said Martin's grandmother, Reto Williams, who said her grandson did not take a CD. She said one of Martin's friends panicked behind the wheel and ran into a concrete pole. Everyone took off but a girl, who was hurt.

"But Martin came back for her," Williams said. "That's what kind of boy he was."

Williams, 61, said she agreed to press charges, but only if the children were given community service. "I felt like they needed discipline. You discipline them, but you discipline them out of love."

Last week, Martin's mother told reporters his grandmother did not want to prosecute. Williams clarified Tuesday that she did, but disagreed with the grand theft charge.

Is stealing grandmother's car a typical reason to go to boot camp? A felony such as grand theft meets the qualification under state law, but in Martin's case, what happened later is what landed him in boot camp.

He violated probation by missing a curfew and by showing up at a school he was not supposed to be at, family said.

"In most instances, before a person goes to a commitment program, that is not their first interaction with the juvenile justice system," said Assistant State Attorney Jeffery Smith, who handles juvenile cases in Citrus County.

Boot camps such as Bay County's are aimed at moderate-risk youths who could benefit from "militaristic" discipline, he said.

Juveniles who have used weapons in their crimes or who have committed sex offenses aren't typically the sort of offenders assigned to boot camps. "Usually, guys that go to boot camp aren't that major of a threat," Smith said.

Parents have some say in their child's assignment, he said, but the final decision is up to the Department of Juvenile Justice. Before making a decision, officials meet with parents, probation officers and judges to determine what programs are the best fit.

Going in, Martin's mother thought the boot camp would do her son well.

"I told him, "You're not really a bad child . . . you will learn how to do things the right way.' "

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Martin Anderson died Jan. 6 at a Pensacola hospital after collapsing the day before while doing physical exercises during the intake phase of his boot camp commitment.

Two lawmakers who saw the video last week say drill instructors used extreme force, pummeling Martin even as it appeared he lost consciousness.

Rep. Gus Barreiro, R-Miami Beach, likened it to the Rodney King video, "only worse" because the boy died. Rep. Dan Gelber, a Miami Beach Democrat and a former federal prosecutor, was more measured but still alarmed.

"It was not a bloodlust," he said. "But it seemed to be excessive by any definition."

Barreiro, chairman of the state's Criminal Justice Appropriations Committee, asked to see the video last week and brought Gelber along, saying it was important as the panel prepared for today's workshop on boot camps.

The lawmakers angered state officials after they described the video to the Miami Herald. The newspaper and CNN filed a lawsuit Monday against FDLE to obtain the tape. The agency said Tuesday that it had not yet been served with the lawsuit.

At the news conference Tuesday, members of the black caucus said that since some of Bush's staff had seen the video as well, it should be available for all.

"Obviously, there's something to hide," said Rep. Audrey Gibson, D-Jacksonville.

She noted other young black males have died in state custody in the past three years, including 17-year-old Willie Lawrence Durden III, who was found unconscious in his cell at Cypress Creek juvenile center in Citrus County last October.

Sen. Gary Siplin, D-Orlando, said Bush should visit Martin Anderson's parents and offer a financial settlement, adding, "$10-million is a start."

Rep. Dorothy Bendross-Mindingall, D-Miami, said federal authorities should investigate because the FDLE may be "beholden" to the state.

The Panama City boot camp was started under then-Bay County Sheriff Guy Tunnell, who is now FDLE commissioner.

"We're going to handle this investigation with the utmost integrity, as we would with any investigation," said FDLE spokeswoman Kristen Perezluha.

The Florida State Conference of the NAACP also called for the boot camps to be closed.

"This is the latest in a series of deaths across the nation in boot camps," president Adora Obi Nweze said in a statement. "We need not wait or stall for time."

Gov. Bush, however, said the FDLE needs to complete its review. He agreed boot camps need to be evaluated, but not done away with.

"It may not be for every young person," Bush said, "but I think it is an appropriate to use as part of our strategy to deal with juvenile crime."

Times staff writer Joni James contributed to this report.

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