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Feds: No civil right charges in teen's Florida boot camp death

By Rich Phillips, CNN
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No charges in boot camp death
STORY HIGHLIGHTS
  • U.S. Department of Justice closes case without filing charges
  • Investigators found insufficient evidence to support civil rights violations
  • Videotape captured Martin Anderson's collapse, guards' tactics at juvenile boot camp
  • Eight staffers were investigated in January 2006 incident
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Miami, Florida (CNN) -- More than four years after the death of 14-year-old Florida boot camp inmate Martin Lee Anderson, the U.S. Department of Justice has announced no federal criminal civil rights charges will be filed against eight staff members.

The announcement effectively closes the case.

"After a careful and thorough review, a team of experienced federal prosecutors and FBI agents determined that the evidence was insufficient to pursue federal criminal civil rights charges. Accordingly, the investigation into this incident has been closed," the Justice Department said in a news release.

In 2007, a Florida jury found seven guards and a nurse not guilty of manslaughter and related charges in Anderson's death. Anderson was African-American, and the guards were white and African-American.

"There was never any intent other than to straighten this young man out," said attorney Hoot Crawford, who represents Henry Dickens, who was one of the guards.

"They were gonna have a bad day in court if they tried to try this case," Crawford said.

Anderson died on January 5, 2006. It was his first day at the Bay County Sheriff's Office Boot Camp, and after orientation, a security camera showed he was sent to the yard for a run, with other inmates

He complained of fatigue, but staff members testified at the state trial that they thought he was faking.

A nurse checked his vital signs and said he was fine.

The guards could then be seen, on videotape enhanced by NASA, using a series of techniques used to gain Anderson's compliance. The tactics included pushing smelling salts up his nose and punching him.

The 30-minute video shows that an ambulance was later called. Anderson was taken to a hospital, where he died.

The Bay County medical examiner ruled that Anderson died from complications of sickle cell trait, a genetic disorder that prevented him from breathing.

But after a public outcry and demonstrations, then-Florida Gov. Jeb Bush appointed a special prosecutor, who had the boy's body exhumed. A second autopsy found that Anderson suffocated from the actions of the guards.

The Department of Justice said it met with the Anderson family this morning to inform them of the decision not to pursue charges.

"It's a slap in the face," said family attorney Benjamin Crump, who was present for the meeting. He called the meeting tense, and said that Anderson's mother, Gina Jones, and father, Robert Anderson left the meeting in disgust, but he said, he convinced them to return.

"When you have a miscarriage of justice in the deep south, and they don't do anything, who polices the police, if it's not the justice department," he told CNN.

"It was the only hope that the Anderson family had to hold these people accountable. It says the police can do anything they want," he said.

Anderson's family has already settled lawsuits against Bay County and the state of Florida for more than $7 million.

The death sparked protests in Florida's capital, Tallahassee, and eventually led to the dismantling of the military-style boot camps in Florida.

In its news release, the Department of Justice said prosecutors must establish, beyond a reasonable doubt, that an official willfully deprived an individual of a constitutional right.

"Neither accident, mistake, fear, negligence nor bad judgment is sufficient to establish a federal criminal civil rights violation," the release said.

"You can't have a crime without intent," said Crawford, the defense attorney who represents the former guard.

"The results are tragic ... a tragic accident that's messed up a lot of lives."

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