Monday, November 20, 2017
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Florida quietly launched new investigation into troubled Dozier school

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TALLAHASSEE — In the past two years, Florida authorities quietly launched new investigations into homicide and sexual abuse allegations associated with a notorious and now-shuttered reform school in the Panhandle.

But despite interviewing 50 alleged victims of sexual abuse at the Marianna school, the case will not lead to any arrests.

State Attorney Glenn Hess, the lead prosecutor for six north Florida counties, told state investigators in late May there was not enough evidence to pursue murder charges and that too much time had passed to charge anyone with abuse.

"While wine may get better with age, criminal cases do not," Hess said in a May 24 letter obtained Wednesday by the Associated Press.

The existence of the new criminal investigation was disclosed during the first meeting of a task force charged with dealing with the legacy of the state-run Arthur G. Dozier School for Boys, located 60 miles west of Tallahassee. The University of South Florida late last year wrapped up a multiyear investigation of the school in which it exhumed bodies and human remains that had been buried on the school property.

The Florida Legislature this year passed a law that calls on the group to devise plans for a memorial and figure out what to do with any unidentified or unclaimed remains.

Jerry Cooper, the president of the White House Boys, a group of former Dozier students, cited the new investigation amid a heated and emotional discussion on whether any bodies should be reburied on the site.

Cooper said the inquiry was still open, but when asked about the investigation, the Florida Department of Law Enforcement released final reports on three separate but related inquiries that had been launched by the agency in early 2015.

Investigators looked into allegations of whether a onetime student had been "clubbed to death" in the late '60s and the mystery surrounding the missing remains of a former student. Agents forwarded their findings to Hess, who said there was "nothing beyond suspicion to base a claim of murder" and "further pursuit of this matter would be unnecessarily costly and nonproductive." He said that clubbing allegation also had "similar shortcomings."

FDLE agents said they interviewed former students at Dozier who alleged that school employees engaged in sexual abuse of boys including sodomy and oral sex, and the existence of an alleged "rape dungeon." Investigators said they came up with a list of complete or partial names of 23 Dozier employees who allegedly abused boys from 1949 to 1971. Only one of the employees was still alive.

Hess, in his letter to FDLE, stated that because the abuse claims remained "dormant" until after the statute of limitations "that alone should raise a red flag. Regardless, they are not now prosecutable."

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