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Boot-camp death, boy was suffocated by guards
Lawrence Albright
May 9, 2006

Back in Coahoma County, Mississippi, where I lived back in the 1960s, a troublesome prisoner might not survive his six-month sentence in the county jail. The official cause of death would be listed as ``sunstroke.''

The jail population suffered a suspicious epidemic of sunstroke, but it was a place and a time when no one was much interested in digging out the brutal truth. Especially not for some dead black guy. It was Mississippi. It was the 1960s.

The local medical examiner listed the official cause of death for Martin Lee Anderson, who died in custody on Jan. 5 in Bay County, as a complication of sickle cell anemia. Might as well have been sunstroke. But this was Florida, 2006, where truth still has its champions.

The Miami Herald's Carol Marbin Miller and Rep. Gus Barreiro of Miami Beach raised so much hell over the 14-year-old kid's beating and death that the Bay County Sheriff's Office Boot Camp was closed, reform legislation was passed, the Florida Department of Law Enforcement was tossed off the investigation, a special prosecutor was appointed, the FDLE commissioner was pushed into resignation, Anderson's body was exhumed and a second autopsy was performed by another medical examiner.


On Friday, the brutal truth came out. Martin Lee Anderson suffocated when boot camp guards, after beating the kid limp, covered his mouth and stuffed ammonia vials up his nose.

The truth prevailed, but not until a newspaper 600 miles down the road, and two state representatives from Miami Beach, Republican Barreiro and Democrat Dan Gelber, shook the real facts out of the Panhandle.

The other hell-raiser in this story, the Anderson family's attorney Ben Crump, practices in Tallahassee, but he's a graduate of South Plantation High School. It's hard to escape the notion that if not for meddling South Floridians, folks around Panama City would have gladly let Martin Lee Anderson pass quietly from memory. ''This whole thing could have easily been swept under the rug,'' Crump said Monday.

Rep. Barreiro talked about the disturbing reluctance he found in Bay County to challenge local authority, even when it was apparent that something was terribly wrong with the official explanation for the death of a young teenager. It's almost like: How dare you question what's going on here?'' Barreiro said Monday. ``I was told I should be careful because people's lives and careers would be affected.''

To Barreiro, it began to sound like a threat. He said, ``They just didn't want a lot of questions asked up there.''

Questions were asked.

But most of the inquiries originated in South Florida.


Up in the Panhandle, hell was not raised. Officials seemed to be wondering what all the fuss was about.

FDLE Commissioner Guy Tunnell, who just happened to be the former sheriff of Bay County and was the founder of the boot camp where Martin Lee Anderson was killed, fired off a series of chummy e-mails to his successor in Bay County and to other state officials indicating that he thought the whole Anderson dust-up was a nuisance.

He made it clear that he didn't like those two Miami Beach state representatives and The Miami Herald sticking their noses in his investigation.

Tunnell then secured his place in the good ol' boy hall of fame when he disparaged U.S. Sen. Barack Obama and civil rights leader Jesse Jackson, in Tallahassee last month to lead a protest over the death of young Anderson, as ''Osama bin Laden and Jesse James'' at a meeting of state agency heads.

When The Miami Herald asked Tunnell about his remarks, he abruptly resigned.

The official reason for his resignation was not disclosed.

I figure it was an acute case of sunstroke.

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