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Examiner: Guards suffocated boy at boot camp

Martin Lee Anderson died shortly after a videotaped beating at his Florida boot camp in January.Mari Darr-welch / AP
/ Source: The Associated Press

A 14-year-old boy beaten by guards at a juvenile boot camp died because the guards suffocated him, a medical examiner said Friday.

The findings of the second autopsy on Martin Lee Anderson conflict with the initial ruling from a different medical examiner that the boy died from complications of sickle cell trait, a usually benign blood disorder.

“Martin Anderson’s death was caused by suffocation due to actions of the guards at the boot camp,” said Dr. Vernard Adams, who conducted the second autopsy. The boy’s body was exhumed after a camp surveillance videotape surfaced showing the guards beating him the day before he died.

Adams said the suffocation was caused by hands blocking the boy’s mouth, as well as the “forced inhalation of ammonia fumes” that caused his vocal cords to spasm, blocking his upper airway.

The videotape shows Anderson being kneed, struck and dragged by guards on his first day at the Bay County Sheriff’s boot camp for juvenile offenders. He was eventually taken to a Pensacola hospital, where he died a few hours later, on Jan. 6.

No arrests made
No one has been arrested in connection with the death, which sparked protests at the state Capitol, forced lawmakers to scrap the military-style camps and led to the resignation of the state’s top law enforcement officer.

Gov. Jeb Bush also ordered an investigation after Anderson’s family questioned the finding by Bay County Medical Examiner Charles Siebert that sickle cell trait was to blame for the boy’s death. Bush appointed Hillsborough County State Attorney Mark Ober to lead the investigation, and Ober ordered the second autopsy.

A forensic pathologist hired by Anderson’s family observed the second autopsy, Dr. Michael Baden, said afterward that he believed Anderson didn’t die from natural causes.

Siebert had ruled that physical exertion had triggered sickle cell trait and ultimately caused small blood clots to develop in Anderson’s bloodstream, which resulted in internal bleeding.

Anderson had collapsed while doing push-ups, sit-ups, running laps and other exercises that were part of his admission process at the camp. He had been sent there for violating probation by trespassing at a school after he and his cousins were charged with stealing their grandmother’s car from a church parking lot.