The state needs to find the appropriate way to bring closure to one of the most horrifying chapters in Florida history.
University of South Florida investigators have uncovered 55 shallow, unmarked graves on the former grounds of the Arthur G. Dozier School for Boys and are attempting to identify the remains.
According to a USF report, children sent to the Panhandle reform school were brutally beaten and used for slave labor. Some died attempting to escape, while many others died within months of arriving. The facility finally closed in 2011, after 111 years of operation.
Thanks to the investigators’ persistence, the families of the boys who never returned from Dozier might finally have a chance at a proper burial. Now it’s up to the state to apologize to the those families and the former attendees who survived, and to acknowledge the state’s failures from decades long ago.
Sadly, as the Tribune’s Jerome R. Stockfisch reports, that’s about all the families and former Dozier attendees can expect.
A state attorney in 2009 found there was insufficient evidence to bring criminal charges related to the abuse. That same year, a lawsuit against the state filed by Dozier attendees was dismissed by a judge who cited, among other reasons, a statute of limitations on assault and battery. Legislative attempts in 2010 and 2011 to compensate Dozier attendees stalled, although a lawyer involved in the 2009 suit says it’s possible another claims bill could be filed.
But that would take an interest in justice that the state has been shamefully slow to exhibit. In fact, the state seemed determined to obstruct efforts to identify the bodies buried at Dozier. It had identified only 31 graves, 24 fewer than USF investigators ultimately found. USF’s initial attempts to exhume the bodies for a proper burial were blocked by Secretary of State Ken Detzner for bureaucratic reasons that defied logic.
Former state Sen. Mike Fasano, who filed the claims bills that stalled, still holds out hope that the Legislature will find a way to compensate the Dozier survivors and the families of those who never returned. “No one could even come close to imagining what those young boys had to deal with,” he said. A ‘sorry’ is not enough.”
But as Stockfisch reports, the focus for many of the families now is to have the remains identified and returned. They are already making plans to bury the remains in family plots.
It appears that measure of comfort will be delivered because of USF and its investigators. We encourage Gov. Rick Scott and the Legislature to find a way to deliver what comfort they can.