Friday, April 21, 2006


As students staged a sit-in at the office of Governor Jeb Bush, and civil rights leaders are preparing to march today to demand action in the case of Martin Lee Anderson, the Bay County juvenile boot camp inmate who died after being beaten by corrections officers, the continued attention likely was a factor in the resignation late last night of Florida Department of Law Enforcement Commissioner Guy Tunnell.

Tunnell opened the boot camp near Panama City while he was Bay County sheriff, and his objectivity has been questioned since he originally rejected advice from an aide to the governor to release the videotape of the incident where the 14 year old was shown being restrained, kneed, and struck by officers. The video was eventually released.

Governor Bush's office did not release a reason for Tunnell's sudden resignation, but the timing certainly would lead one to believe that it had to be a consideration.

Anderson's parents met for nearly an hour Thursday with Bush, and it was described as a "difficult" encounter. The meeting brought an end to a sit-in by up to 70 students from area colleges which began Wednesday morning. According to the Tallahassee Democrat:

According to Daryl Parks, another family attorney, Bush was apologetic, although he did not issue an apology, and he said he needs this to be over soon. He made no promises.

A public apology was one of the demands the students delivered Wednesday as they began their protest. The others included a change in venue from Bay County for any trial; release the second autopsy report; arrest of the guards; a civil suit against the Bay County sheriff's office and FDLE; removal of Dr. Charles Siebert as medical examiner in Bay County; removal of the boot-camp nurse.

The nurse in question was seen in the videotape watching during the incident, making no effort to end the situation or move in to check on the teenager.

House Speaker Allan Bense, a Republican from Panama City whose district includes the boot camp that has since been closed, told reporters that he was sympathetic with the Anderson family, but he urged the protesters to let the criminal justice system do its job.

Bense refused to comment on demands that Siebert be removed as Bay County medical examiner. Siebert's initial autopsy report said that Anderson died of complications from sickle-cell trait. Results of a second autopsy are pending (the body was exhumed and the autopsy done in Hillsborough County), and a noted pathologist who observed it said the boy did not die of natural causes and more than likely asphyxiated while being restrained.

Hillsborough County State Attorney Mark Ober, who was named by Bush to head the investigation, was asked Thursday to expidite his inqiury. The letter sent to Ober cited the increasing political pressure the governor is receiving, noting that "On a daily basis, I am contacted by members of the Legislature and the public about your investigation." The Tampa Tribune also noted:

Bush called on Ober to examine whether Bay County State Attorney Steve Meadows had improperly deleted e-mails that relate to the Anderson case.

"As I am sure you are aware, these e-mails are public records as defined by Florida law, and public officials have a legal duty to retain such documents," Bush wrote. "I also request that efforts be made to retrieve these e-mails."

In March, Ober removed the FDLE from leading the investigation, citing communications between FDLE Commissioner Guy Tunnell and Bay County Sheriff Frank McKeithen.

Tunnell had forwarded e-mails to the sheriff that criticized those who questioned the effectiveness of the boot camp concept.

Ober asked everyone to be patient while his office continues the investigation.

"As I told the [Anderson] family, when it's all said and done, I will look them in the eye and tell them I ethically and honestly did the very best job," Ober said. "I intend to get to the bottom of this - it's going to take awhile."

A march will be held this morning from Florida State and Florida A&M universities, meeting at the Tallahassee-Leon County Civic Center. Speakers for the event will include two nationally known civil rights leaders, Rev. Jesse Jackson and Rev. Al Sharpton. The event is expected to attract up to 5,000 people.

Meanwhile, there are five other juvenile boot camps remaining across Florida. In this morning's Tampa Tribune, the one in Polk County is featured. Officials here are saying that their facility in Bartow should not be seen through the same glass as the former Bay County boot camp.

"Most people consider a boot camp to be a place of compliance," said Sgt. Alvin Mitchell, who has worked at the Polk County Juvenile Boot Camp since 1994. "We don't want compliance here. We want change."

The 110-bed facility, managed by the Polk County Sheriff's Office, is designed to change criminal tendencies through mentoring, education, therapy and vocational training. Children might have to do push-ups, but nobody is beaten, Mitchell said.

UPDATE: After the rally, Revs. Jackson and Sharpton met with Governor Bush to apparantly discuss the Martin Lee Anderson case. A group of legislators were also present for the meeting. The Tallahassee Democrat has multimedia coverage including video and audio clips from the rally.


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