Posted May 6, 2006 — The parents of a 14-year-old boy who died following a beating by guards at a Florida boot camp never bought the story that their son’s death was the result of a usually non-fatal disorder and had nothing to do with getting kicked and punched.
The family, which had dismissed the state coroner’s sickle-cell-trait story as a cover-up, said Saturday that they were vindicated by a report from a second medical examiner, concluding that the violent encounter with guards caused Martin Anderson’s death.
"Martin Anderson's death was caused by suffocation due to actions of the guards at the boot camp," Dr. Vernard Adams wrote in a statement.
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Adams was asked to perform the second autopsy by Hillsborough County State Attorney Mark Ober, who was appointed by Gov. Jeb Bush to investigate the death.
The Rev. Al Sharpton, the Rev. Jesse Jackson and throngs of protestors had demanded that the initial findings, by Bay County Medical Examiner Dr. Charles Siebert, be re-investigated.
“The release of Martin Lee Anderson’s second autopsy leaves no doubt that a savage beating at the hands of Panama City Boot Camp guards -- and not some mysterious ailment – was what killed this 14-year-old young man," Sharpton said Monday.
"Though a videotape capturing the guards kicking, dragging and kneeing Martin one day before he died left little doubt in our minds about the cause of Martin’s death, this autopsy is proof positive."
In his report, Adams said Martin’s suffocation was triggered when the guards’ hands blocked Martin’s mouth and the youth was "forced” to inhale ammonia fumes. Ammonia capsules, apparently used to keep Martin conscious, caused his vocal cords to spasm and clogged his air passage, Adams concluded.
Adams, however, did not say whether he thought the boy’s death was an accident or homicide.
"I assure the family of Martin Anderson and the people of the state of Florida that my office is working diligently to aggressively investigate all aspects of this case," Ober said in a statement.
Gina Jones, Martin’s mother, said, "All you do bad, the good will come out. And so the truth is out now.”
His father, Robert Anderson, speaking on ABC News Saturday, said the first autopsy was a cover-up.
Siebert, also interviewed by an ABC reporter, said it would be premature to fire him and stood by his findings that Martin’s sickle-cell trait had caused him to collapse prior to the beating and noted that the boy likely would have died anyway.
Jackson, who led a recent protest, said earlier that Martin’s disorder had nothing to do with his death. “I have sickle-cell trait,” Jackson said. (Having the trait is not the same as having sickle-cell disease, which hinders oxygen in the blood and often causes death at an early age.)
“This is unbelievable,” the family’s attorney said, pointing out that the guards had “shoved ammonia tablets up this young fella’s nose. This is outrageous!”
Said Gov. Bush Friday: "I am disturbed by Dr. Adams' findings and consider the actions of the Bay County boot camp guards deplorable."
No one has been arrested in Martin’s death so far, but Attorney General Charlie Crist called for Siebert’s suspension as the matter is investigated and said there would likely be arrests.
Do you believe the initial report was a cover-up, or was the second report the result of political pressure?