updated 7/12/2006 10:31:10 PM ET 2006-07-13T02:31:10

The family of a 14-year-old boy who died hours after being roughed up by guards at a juvenile boot camp filed a lawsuit Wednesday seeking more than $40 million in damages, their attorney said.

Ben Crump, who represents the family of Martin Lee Anderson, filed the lawsuit against the Department of Juvenile Justice and the Bay County Sheriff's Office, which ran the camp under contract with the state. He said Bay County sheriff's officials rejected an offer to settle for the county's insurance policy limit of $3 million.

Anderson's January death led to protests in the Capitol and Florida Gov. Jeb Bush's office, the resignation of the head of the state's law enforcement agency, and the enactment of a law to eliminate military-style boot camps. The boy died in Pensacola after his videotaped ordeal with guards in the Panama City boot camp.

"A video proves that as seven guards punished Martin by kicking, punching, kneeing, choking and slamming him while they jammed ammonia tablets up his nose and covered his mouth, a nurse watched him slip in and out of consciousness," Crump said. "These heinous, malicious, and torturous treatments led to his death."

The lawsuit was filed late Wednesday in Leon County Circuit Court, which includes the capital city of Tallahassee.

"Our thoughts and prayers remain with the family of Martin Lee Anderson," Department of Juvenile Justice Secretary Anthony Schembri said. "While unable to comment on the pending lawsuit, the department remains committed to the safety of the youth in its care."

Sheriff: ‘Investigation is incomplete’
Bay County Sheriff Frank McKeithen said no settlement has been reached because it would be premature to do so.

"The investigation is incomplete and still pending at this time," McKeithen said in a statement released from his office Wednesday.

State Rep. Gus Barreiro, a Miami Beach Republican who led the push to revamp the juvenile program, was outraged that Bay County officials had rejected the settlement offer.

"It's a disgrace," Barreiro said. "You're asking a community to put a value on a kid and they're saying he's not even worth $3 million? That's unacceptable."

Crump said he based the $40 million damage figure largely on a similar Texas case where a jury in 2003 awarded the family of Bryan Alexander $40.1 million after the 18-year-old died after two months in a boot camp.

Death after a workout
Anderson collapsed after an intense workout at the camp, where he was sent for a probation violation for trespassing at a school after he and his cousins were charged with stealing their grandmother's car from a church parking lot.

An initial autopsy found Anderson's death was natural, caused by complications of a blood disorder called sickle cell trait. His body then was exhumed and a second autopsy concluded he died of suffocation when guards covered his mouth while forcing ammonia capsules up his nose trying to revive him.

A special prosecutor is still investigating the death to determine whether to charge any of the guards.

Waylon Graham, the attorney for Lt. Charles Helms, the highest ranking officer who was in the exercise yard with Anderson, said the case appears to be about money.

"None of these officers set out to harm this young man in any way," Graham said. "I think this has turned into a game of money and that is what this is all about at this point, is how much money are they going to get."

The head of the Florida Department of Law Enforcement, Guy Tunnell, resigned in April after questions arose about his involvement in the investigation. He started the boot camp in his previous job as Bay County sheriff.

State lawmakers passed a bill to replace the state's remaining boot camps with residential facilities for juvenile offenders. Physical discipline will be prohibited and the focus will be on education, job training, community service and counseling.

Florida had five juvenile boot camps at the time of Anderson's death.

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