PENSACOLA, Fla. – A former juvenile boot camp guard cleared in the beating death of a teenager sued the Bay County Sheriff's Office on Friday, claiming his due process rights were violated when he was fired.
Charles Helms Jr. wants the sheriff's office to give him a proper notice of the allegations against him and an opportunity to respond, said his lawyer, Danielle Joyner Kelley. She said he is not seeking reinstatement at this time.
Helms, 53, was among seven former guards and a nurse at the Bay County Juvenile Boot Camp acquitted in October in the 2006 death of Martin Lee Anderson, 14, of Panama City. A video showed the guards slamming the teen on the ground and dragging his limp body around an exercise yard. The nurse watched and did nothing during most of the 30-minute altercation.
Jurors agreed with defense attorneys that the teen died of complications from sickle cell trait, a previously undiagnosed blood disorder. Civil rights leaders have pushed for federal charges against the eight.
Sheriff Frank McKeithen did not return phone messages seeking comment about the lawsuit, filed in state Circuit Court in Panama City, about 100 miles east of Pensacola.
Helms told The Associated Press he sued because the case damaged his reputation and finances, and caused his family emotional pain.
"I am really disappointed by the lack of support the sheriff has given us throughout this whole process," he said.
Helms said McKeithen opted to fire the eight employees instead of suspending them without pay, and did not give him an administrative hearing.
Unlike the others, Helms was a sheriff's department lieutenant and had the authority of a law enforcement officer. The status should have entitled him to an administrative hearing, Joyner Kelley said.
"Should this action be successful, he would be entitled not only to his job back but for additional relief for the stress he has suffered," Joyner Kelley said.
Helms, who had worked for the sheriff's department since 1994, now works as a laborer at a Panama City chemical plant. He said he has been unable to seek another law enforcement job because of publicity surrounding the Anderson case.
The case led to the demise of Florida's juvenile boot camps, and the jury verdict resulted in protest demonstrations and allegations of racism. Anderson was black; the guards were black, white and Asian. The jury was all white.