Boot camp boy died under 'routine' control

By Mark Tran and agencies
Guardian Unlimited
Oct. 09, 2007

An incident at a US boot camp in which a 14-year-old was hit, kneed and given ammonia capsules was "a day at the office", a defence lawyer for one of seven guards accused of manslaughter said yesterday.

Charles Helms, a former army drill instructor, and six other guards at Bay County boot camp, Florida, are charged with aggravated manslaughter in connection with the death of Martin Lee Anderson in January last year.

A 30-minute surveillance video shows them hitting, kneeing and dragging the limp boy in the exercise yard as Kristin Schmidt, a nurse from the now-closed camp, looked on. The child died the following day. Ms Schmidt has also been charged.

When Martin Lee collapsed, complained of shortness of breath and refused to continue a run, several guards approached him because that was the policy at the juvenile boot camp, Mr Helms told the court.

He later demonstrated for jurors the blows and knee jabs the guards had used to get control of the youth. He said the blows were designed not to seriously hurt. Ammonia capsules were used not to punish, but to determine whether a child was pretending to be unconscious.

Prosecutors say the guards suffocated Martin Lee by covering his mouth and forcing him to inhale ammonia fumes. But the defence says his death was unavoidable because he had undiagnosed sickle cell trait, a genetic blood condition that can cause problems breathing.

Walter Smith, a lawyer representing one of the guards, Charles Enfinger, told jurors that the incident was "a day at the office" for the guards, who saw Martin Lee not as a 14-year-old child, but as "a six-foot, 168-pound, adult felon".

He had been sent to the camp for violating probation after trespassing at a school and stealing his grandmother's car from a church car park.

"These are not rogue officers who are trying to punish a kid," he said. "Nobody is going to say that those hammer strikes or knee strikes were unlawful, they were strictly according to procedure."

Inmates at the camp were labelled under a colour-coded dot system according to their backgrounds as juvenile offenders. Martin Lee had been given a red dot, the highest of five levels, because he had gang activity and violence according the file given to the camp by the department of juvenile justice.

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