The state of Florida is now going to have to pay a multi-million dollar settlement because prison guards allegedly murdered another prisoner last year – only this time it was a 14-year-old boy.
According to the Associated Press, Bay County authorities were ordered to pay a $2.425 million settlement Tuesday for the death of Martin Lee Anderson, a 14-year-old boy from Panama City who was allegedly murdered in January 2006 by guards at a state-supervised boot camp. The money will go to Martin Lee’s family, who is understandably seeking punitive compensation for the tragedy. That penalty is in addition to a $5 million settlement that State Senate President Ken Pruitt, R-Port St. Lucie, has sponsored in conjunction with Gov. Charlie Crist to resolve the issue. When Martin Lee’s death in the boot camp was discovered, the Florida legislature shut the camp down. The guards, as well as a nurse, have all been charged with manslaughter and face up to 30 years in prison.
Frankly, the death of prisoners in Florida at the hand of guards has happened far too often. In addition to the more recent, highly publicized case involving Martin Lee, there was the case of Frank Valdez, who was beaten to death by Florida State Prison guards in 1999. According to the New York Times, guards refused to cooperate with authorities, including some from the Federal Bureau of Investigations, which became involved in the case.
Despite their unwillingness to cooperate, “jurors acquit(ted) one officer in 2000 and three more in February 2001. In May 2002, State Attorney Bill Cervone drop(ped) charges against the remaining defendants, citing the two previous acquittals and problems with keeping the trial in Bradford County, where numerous prisons are located,” according to the Florida Department of Corrections.
It’s very easy to merely shrug off the problem as something that criminals “deserve.” After all, it’s hard to argue that many of these people don’t belong in prison. But in the process of incarcerating prisoners for their crimes, the state of Florida is under an obligation to protect those prisoners, and not just from other prisoners. That sort of problem could at least be understood.
But when the alleged murder of a prisoner occurs not at the hand of a fellow prisoner, but an employee of the Department of Corrections itself, the state is, purposely or not, entering into a policy of brutality. The fact that Martin Lee was a 14-year-old boy with a full, long life ahead of him illustrates the atrociousness of that policy more explicitly than anything else ever could.