Everywhere you look there are cameras -- from street corner surveillance to camcorders to cell phones. Many of these cameras are used to solve crimes, and when it comes to all the crimes caught on tape in 2006, the story of 14-year-old Martin Lee Anderson stands out. In Anderson's case, a camera actually changed the course of justice, and gave voice to a victim who could no longer speak.
You may have seen the 30-minute silent surveillance tape that captured the last conscious moments of Martin's life, surrounded by multiple sheriff's guards and a nurse at the Panama City, Fla., juvenile boot camp where he had been sent after violating probation on charges that he took his grandmother's car for a joy ride.
It's a day juvenile boot camp supervisor Charles Helms had not spoken about in public until his interview with "20/20." And he probably wouldn't be talking at all if it weren't for the grainy videotape that led to manslaughter charges for Helms, his staff, and the nurse who was there when Anderson died.
What those three cameras in the exercise yard of the boot camp recorded was the actual death of a teenager. His parents had hoped he would serve his time close to home and "come out and be a 14-year-old kid, but it did not turn out that way," they said.
'Standard Law Enforcement Techniques'?
In fact, just two hours after Anderson was processed at the boot camp, and just six laps into his first mandatory mile run, the incident that led to his death began. Helms says that Anderson refused to continue running and was deemed "uncooperative."
"He said something to the effect that 'I'm not going to do this,' or 'I'll do this tomorrow,'" says Helms. So, Helms and his men used what they claim were "standard law enforcement techniques." They punched the boy in the arms to unclench his fists and kneed him in the thighs to make him collapse to the ground.
Helms says the officers were "trying to see if the kid was faking it, feigning illness, which happens quite often with a new kid coming into the program, because a lot of these kids are used to manipulating people and the system."
Their final act was to break open ammonia tablets under Anderson's nose a total of five times, hoping to shock him back to his feet and resume the exercise. Helms admits, "it's very abrasive, if you've ever smelled ammonia while you tried to mop the floor or anything."
The officers can be seen in the videotape holding their hands over Anderson's mouth so he was forced to breath in the ammonia through the nose. But the boy was not reacting, and when Helms looked into his eyes, he says he saw something alarming that made any thoughts of Anderson faking disappear.
'I Knew He Was Not Faking'
"I saw a grain of sand touch his eye and to me, that was a shock," says Helms. "That's an irritant in your eye, and he was not trying to wipe it out of his eye, he wasn't blinking to try to get it out of his eye I knew he was not faking and I said 'That's it. Call 911!'"
But the call came too late. Anderson never regained consciousness and died. His mother and father accused the sheriff's deputies of killing their boy.
The local sheriff said on the day of the incident that Anderson simply collapsed during the run, and the local coroner ruled that the 14-year-old healthy teenager died of natural causes, blaming a sickle cell trait that made it difficult for Anderson to absorb oxygen.
The Tale of the Tape
Anderson's parents claimed conspiracy, and the case might have all gone away -- except for those surveillance cameras. Robert Anderson, the teenager's father, said that "everything had been shoved right up under the rug. Martin Anderson been forgot about if it wouldn't have been for this tape."
The tape was eventually released, and after it was widely played on television and the internet, there was a public outcry, and a second autopsy followed. Prosecutors believe that this second autopsy showed that Anderson did indeed die because of the incident: He had been suffocated to death.
A special prosecutor was appointed and Helms and his crew were charged with manslaughter and gross negligence. When asked if he thought he would have been charged had the tape not existed, Helms says, "I don't believe so."
Helms says he did not neglect Anderson once he determined the boy was in trouble. "We did not disregard the fact that he was in trouble as soon as it was recognized. We changed hats and went to a rescue mode," he says. "I feel terrible this is a devastating thing. I can only imagine what it would be like to lose one of my children, one of my sons."
The Andersons don't have to imagine -- they just have to grieve. Florida juvenile boot camps were closed after Anderson's death and the use of ammonia capsules on juveniles is now banned in that state. And Helms, along with his deputies, will go on trial in 2007.
All because what they did was caught on tape.