A special prosecutor investigating the death of a 14-year-old boy beaten by guards at a juvenile boot camp said Thursday that an “independent law enforcement agency” will help with the probe because he has concerns about the Florida Department of Law Enforcement.
Mark Ober cited recently disclosed e-mails from the FDLE’s commissioner to the boot camp operator that Gov. Jeb Bush has agreed were inappropriate.
FDLE Commissioner Guy Tunnell had started the Bay County boot camp when he was sheriff there, and the Bay County office under current Sheriff Frank McKeithen was running it when 14-year-old Martin Lee Anderson died Jan. 6.
In e-mails to McKeithen, Tunnell criticized those who questioned the effectiveness of boot camps.
Tunnell’s e-mails with McKeithen and others also discussed FDLE’s effort to withhold a video showing guards kicking, hitting and dragging the boy during a 30-minute encounter on Jan. 5.
After two lawmakers asked to see the video, Tunnell wrote in an e-mail to department staff: “Ain’t gonna happen.”
The department later released the video.
Bush has said Tunnell should not have communicated privately with McKeithen about the investigation. He appointed Ober as special prosecutor for the case after Bay County’s prosecutor asked to be removed citing close ties with local law enforcement.
Ober, who is Hillsborough County’s state attorney, said Hillsborough County Sheriff David Gee had agreed to assist with the investigation. He didn’t say whether Gee would replace FDLE.
“I have determined that it is in the best interest of this investigation that an independent law enforcement agency assist my office in completing this investigation,” Ober said in a statement. His Tampa-based office declined to comment further.
Tunnell offered Ober his agency’s continued assistance and support.
“I express my regret for the unfortunate perception that has developed in recent days that may have caused there to be doubt about my personal integrity, and more importantly, that of my agency in regards to this critical investigation,” he said in a statement released Thursday.
Bush told The Associated Press he still has confidence in Tunnell but supports Ober’s decision.
‘The right decision,’ Gov. Bush says
“Perception matters when you’re dealing with sensitive investigations, and the fact that Mr. Tunnell was the former sheriff of Bay County, then the e-mails, I think it was the right decision by Mr. Ober. It doesn’t mean Guy has done anything wrong, it doesn’t mean FDLE was derelict in its duties,” Bush said.
Benjamin Crump, an attorney for Anderson’s family, said he believed Tunnell’s e-mail exchanges compromised the investigation. He said Ober’s announcement was encouraging.
“I think it is a positive step on behalf of the governor and the prosecutor so that they can try and restore public confidence so people can believe the system is fair,” Crump said.
In the initial autopsy, the Bay County medical examiner ruled Anderson died of complications from sickle cell trait, a common but rarely deadly blood disorder. Other experts have since challenged that conclusion, and results of a second autopsy are pending.