PENSACOLA, Fla. – Of eight former staff members arrested in the death of a 14-year-old boy who was pummeled at a juvenile boot camp, one of them did not knee, hit or otherwise strike the youngster during the videotaped melee.
Nevertheless, Kristin Anne Schmidt, a nurse, was charged along with the seven former guards with manslaughter.
She and the seven men arrested this week could get 30 years in prison if a jury decides they caused the Jan. 6 death of Martin Lee Anderson through culpable negligence -- that is, by failing to provide for his well-being or to make a "reasonable effort to protect" him.
In the footage of the 30-minute scuffle, Schmidt appears to be administering care to Anderson only at the end of the video, just before the paramedics arrive. At other times, she enters the scene, checks Anderson briefly and leaves.
"A prosecutor will argue that she had a legal duty to intervene. They will say she should have known the boy was being severely hurt," said Jack King, spokesman for the National Association of Criminal Defense Lawyers.
Schmidt's attorney, Jim Appleman, did not return repeated calls for comment. His office staff said he was in a murder trial.
Anderson, who authorities said was beaten because he would not take part in exercises, died at a hospital the morning after. An initial autopsy found he died of complications of sickle cell trait, a usually benign blood disorder. But a second autopsy by another medical examiner concluded the guards suffocated him.
Anderson's death prompted the state to dismantle its boot camp system for juvenile delinquents, sparked protests at the state Capitol and led to the resignation of Florida's chief law enforcement officer.
The standard of "culpable negligence" could be more applicable to Schmidt because she had a higher level of professional responsibility at the boot camp, said Jeff Harris, president of the Florida Association of Criminal Defense Lawyers.
Moreover, Thomas Plante, a psychologist and ethicist at California's Santa Clara University, said a jury might place an extra burden on Schmidt as a woman.
"You kind of wonder about her reaction, because she is a health care professional and because she a woman. Female beings are generally viewed as more nurturing," he said.
But King said a defense attorney could argue that there was little Schmidt could have done to stop the guards: "They might say she was just one woman surrounded by a bunch of crazed men, by these goons that were going crazy."
Los Angeles defense attorney Mark Geragos suggested prosecutors might have charged Schmidt to pressure her to testify against the guards.