Guard testifies in teen boot camp death

This video released Wednesday, March 14, 2007, by the Florida State Attorney's Office in Tampa, Fla., shows boot camp guards manhandling 14-year-old Martin Lee Anderson, who later died.
This video released Wednesday, March 14, 2007, by the Florida State Attorney's Office in Tampa, Fla., shows boot camp guards manhandling 14-year-old Martin Lee Anderson, who later died.

PANAMA CITY (CBS/AP) -- A guard charged with killing a 14-year-old boy at a juvenile boot camp choked up as he told jurors Monday that the teen's death troubled him deeply.

Charles Helms, a former Army drill instructor who had worked at the now-closed Bay County Boot Camp since its opening in 1994, said he stayed with Martin Lee Anderson from the moment paramedics put the teen on a stretcher and carried him away from the camp.

"You never leave a man behind," Helms said.

Helms, six other guards and Kristin Schmidt, a nurse from the now-closed camp, are charged in Anderson's death. A 30-minute surveillance video shows the guards hitting, kneeing and dragging the limp boy in the camp's exercise yard as Schmidt looked on. Anderson died the following day.

The eight defendants face up to 30 years in prison each if convicted of aggravated manslaughter of a child.

Helms said their actions depict training designed to protect themselves and the child. The reason for the large number of officers on the exercise yard is to deter the teens from violence, he said.

"They will look around and say 'there's too many of them, I'd just better do what I should do,"' Helms said.

He later demonstrated the hammer strike blows, and knee strike techniques the guards used to gain a youth's compliance. The blows were a method of gaining control without seriously hurting them, he said.

Ammonia capsules also were used to get the attention of an uncooperative youth he said.

Prosecutors say the guards suffocated Anderson by covering his mouth and forcing him to inhale ammonia fumes.

Defense attorneys say Anderson's death was unavoidable because he had undiagnosed sickle cell trait, a genetic blood disorder. The usually benign disorder can cause blood cells to shrivel into a sickle shape and limit their ability to carry oxygen under physical stress.

Helms entered the exercise yard near the end of the videotaped encounter between Anderson and the other guards.

When he arrived, Anderson was resisting, Helms said.

"I heard the offender say something along the lines of, 'I'm not going to do this', or 'I'll do it tomorrow,"' Helms said.

He said he used an ammonia capsule to get Anderson's attention and watched as the other guards moved Anderson and made him walk.

Helms said he was on the exercise yard for a few minutes before he realized something was wrong.

"I attempted to reapply the ammonia capsule the second time and there was no reaction," he said.

Anderson had sand in his eye but was not blinking, Helms said.

He and Schmidt looked at each other, "and said 'call 911' at the same time," he said.

Helms followed Anderson to Bay Medical Center in Panama City and drove to Pensacola after he was life-flighted to hospital where he died the next morning on Jan. 6, 2006.

Earlier Monday, Defense attorney Walter Smith opened the defense argument by telling jurors the video taped altercation was just "a day at the office" for the drill instructors and the nurse.

The videotape evokes an emotional reaction in people who don't understand the "paramilitary" environment that was required at the now-closed camp, he said.

"It makes you want to reach into the screen and say, 'Why isn't someone calling 911?"' he said in beginning the defense's case.

But Smith, who represents guard Charles Enfinger, said the guards saw Anderson not as a 14-year-old child, but as "a 6-foot, 168-pound, adult felon." He had been sent to the camp for a probation violation after trespassing at a school and stealing his grandmother's car from a church parking lot.

"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."

Michael Thompson, former commander of the boot camp and a deputy with Bay County Sheriff's Office, detailed the camp's "matrix for passive resistance," which guards followed when a youth did not obey an order.

He said the matrix, which includes securing the youth against a fence and applying pressure with the thumb to the back of the head behind the ear, was used when a youth refused to unclench his fist - something the guards said Anderson did during throughout their encounter.

"If the fists stay clenched, he is choosing to disobey an order," he said.

And he said guards could usually tell from a youth's physical demeanor if he was going to be combative.

"You can look at the jaw line muscles, if they are licking their lips a lot. You can tell if they are getting angry," he said.

Smith asked how the guards would react if the fist clenching continued.

"If he is clenching his fist, it is non compliance. The use of force is going to be stepped up," he said.

Prosecutor Scott Harmon asked whether the guards were trained to use the least amount of force necessary to accomplish their objective under the matrix.

Thompson said they were.

"The behavior matrix didn't say 'Don't use your God-given commonsense' did it?" he asked.

Thompson said it did not.

Anderson's death prompted Florida lawmakers to dismantle the military-style youth camps in the state, and the chief of the state's Department of Law Enforcement resigned.

His family also received a $5 million settlement from the state.

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The Associated Press and CBS News contributed to this report.