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Wednesday, Oct 22, 2014
Editorials

Strange reasoning on Dozier School

Published:

Gov. Rick Scott surely doesn't want his administration entangled in the sordid history of the Arthur G. Dozier School for Boys in Marianna, where juveniles were abused.

But that is exactly what is occurring thanks to Secretary of State Ken Detzner, who has prevented University of South Florida researchers from exhuming bodies buried on the property.

Detzner is denying USF a permit for the work, insisting his authority is restricted to the recovery of objects solely for historical reasons.

But as USF deputy general counsel Gerard Solis wrote Detzner, the Division of Historical Resources in the Department of State possesses the authority to exhume human remains and grant permits to do so.

Moreover, as Solis points out, the USF team does not want to dig up the bodies for research purposes. It wants to inter them properly.

Detzner would have the boys' bodies remain in shallow, unmarked graves. Some are next to a garbage dump.

USF researchers have verified the deaths of two adults and 96 children from 1914 to 1973 at Dozier.

Records indicate that 45 individuals were buried at the school from 1914 to 1952, and 31 bodies were sent elsewhere for burial. So there are at least 22 bodies unaccounted for.

The school, which closed in 2011 after 111 years of operation, was accused of abusing children virtually from its start. Children sent to the school, many for minor offenses, commonly were used as slave labor.

Last year, the USF Forensic Anthropology Laboratory issued a report that detailed how inmates were used to generate profits from such ventures as timber, brick-making and cotton picking.

Beatings and brutal conditions were common. According to the report, at least seven boys died trying to escape and 20 children died within the first three months of being sent to the school.

The state Legislature has given USF $190,000 for the search and exhumation. Researchers took DNA samples from relatives of boys who died at the school to help determine who is buried at Dozier.

Those boys deserve the justice and dignity the USF work could provide.

But Detzner stands in the way.

The governor should heed Solis and Florida Attorney General Pam Bondi, who supports the USF effort, and urge his obdurate secretary of state to rethink his faulty stance.

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