Tuesday, December 11, 2012

Leg Irons, Fires, Unexplained Deaths At Florida School

Four Years After Criminal Investigation, More Boys' Graves Found

MARIANNA, FL. -- Investigators are taking a second look at the 122-year old Arthur G Dozier School for Boys in Marianna, Florida for evidence of unmarked graves. A team of archaeologists from the University of South Florida has discovered more graves than a previous state criminal investigation revealed.

The archaeology team says they have found 50 shallow graves on the site using ground penetrating radar, more graves than investigators found four years ago in a Florida Department of Law Enforcement investigation.

Known as the Florida Industrial School for Boys in 1900 and the North Florida Youth Development Center when it closed in 2011, the "reform school" facility for delinquent boys in Northwest Florida was a residential school run by the Florida Department of Juvenile Justice.

The school has been the subject of a series of scandals over the treatment of boys confined there including allegations of beatings by leather straps and torture at the "White House," a small building on the grounds of the school, as well as allegations of a "rape room." 

As far back as a hundred years ago controversial treatment of the boys was being reported. In 1903, an inspection reported that children at the school were commonly kept in leg irons.

In a report published by the U.S. Department of Justice in 2010, 11.3% of boys surveyed at the school reported that they been subject to sexual misconduct by staff using force in the last twelve months, and 10.3% reported that they had been subject to it without the use of force. 

2.2% reported sexual victimization by another inmate. But the report said these percentages showed the home was deemed to have neither "high" nor "low" rates of sexual victimization compared with the other institutions.

Authorities say there may be a second grave site, as yet undiscovered at the school, since at the time, black and white students were buried separately. Although more evidence of graves has presumably been indicated by the radar equipment, permission would have to be given by authorities and families to exhume the graves to determine if anyone is buried there and how they may have died.

Previous Criminal Investigations Revealed 32 Graves

Official criminal investigations started four years ago on Dec. 9, 2008, when then Governor Charlie Crist directed the Florida Department of Law Enforcement to investigate 32 unidentified graves at the school. 

Crist asked the FDLE to find the location of graves on the grounds and to identify where possible the remains of those buried on the site. The FDLE was also charge by the governor to find out if any crimes were committed, and if possible, the perpetrators of those crimes.

On May 15, 2009, FDLE released a comprehensive report detailing the graves found, all dug between 1914 and 1952 and on January 29, 2010 concluded its investigation into the allegations surrounding criminal abuse of students at the school. 

The investigative findings were provided to State Attorney Glenn Hess of the Fourteenth Judicial Circuit. On Feb. 25, 2010 State Attorney Hess advised there was insufficient evidence to pursue criminal charges.

During the course of the investigation, FDLE interviewed six former staff members and more than 100 former students and their relatives regarding beatings, methods of discipline and sexual abuse alleged to have taken place at the school. 

FDLE also conducted a forensic examination of the White House building, which is the location discipline was typically administered to students.

The FDLE report showed:

· Twenty four of the individuals died as a result of illness or accident. Of the 24, eight students and two staff members were killed in a dormitory fire in 1914. Twelve students perished as a result of influenza, pneumonia, tuberculosis, or other medical conditions. Two students died of accidental deaths: one drowned and another fell from a mule and ruptured a lung.

· In 1944, one student was murdered by four other students who were planning an escape. Accounts indicate the victim was killed because of his knowledge of the escape plans. The four involved were charged in the death.

· In September 1940, an individual ran away from the school and was later found deceased four months later under a Marianna residence. Records reflect a coroner’s inquest but determination of death could not be made due to decomposition.

· Five individuals, all of whom were buried from 1919 – 1925, had no listed cause of death. The only notation found in records indicated that they were buried in the cemetery.

In addition to identifying the 31 individuals buried at the cemetery, the investigation documented 50 student deaths that occurred from 1911 to the last known death at the school in 1973. These deaths were mostly accidental or illness-related and their circumstances are documented in school records and death certificates. 

Two of these deaths are cases in which students murdered other students. In one case, an escapee from the school was shot and killed by a sheriff’s deputy. The records available document all of these student deaths. There is no information indicating burial in the cemetery.

The investigation found no evidence that the school or the staff caused, or contributed to, any of these deaths. The investigation found no evidence that the school or its staff made any attempts to conceal the deaths of any students at the school. In all cases, the deceased were accounted for in official records.

In conducting the investigation, FDLE interviewed former students and staff and reviewed records from school ledgers, student record books, the school’s newspaper (The Yellow Jacket), local and national newspapers, the Florida Department of State Library and Archives and the Florida Department of Health’s Division of Vital Statistics. The Department of Juvenile Justice cooperated fully in the investigation and provided FDLE with access to all available records, files and documentation.

FDLE’s investigation also found that during the time the graves were placed (1914 – 1952), the school was owned or operated by the Governor Appointed Commissioners and the Board of Commissioners of State Institutions.

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