No charges related to abuse allegations at Florida school

AP News
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Posted: Aug 04, 2016 1:43 PM

TALLAHASSEE, Fla. (AP) — No one will be charged in connection with allegations of sexual abuse and murder at a now-shuttered reform school for boys in Florida, with prosecutors saying the passage of time has erased crucial evidence and left many potential witnesses dead.

State Attorney Glenn Hess, the lead prosecutor for six north Florida counties, told state investigators in late May there was no way to bring charges after authorities quietly investigated for two years. Fifty alleged victims have come forward.

"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 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 probe 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 probes that had been launched by the agency in early 2015.

Investigators looked into allegations of whether a one-time 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 the clubbing allegation also had "similar shortcomings."

FDLE agents said they interviewed former students at Dozier who said school employees sexual abused boys, sometimes in what they called a "rape dungeon." Investigators said they came up with a list of complete or partial names of 23 Dozier employees who allegedly abused boys during a period dating from 1949 to 1971. Only one of the employees was still alive.

Hess in his letter to FDLE also said the sexual abuse claims were not raised until the statute of limitations had passed, meaning they couldn't be prosecuted.

This is not the first time that FDLE has investigated the reform school that was shut down in 2011. It has closed past investigations, including one ordered by former Gov. Charlie Crist, because it couldn't substantiate or dispute the claims because too much time had passed.

The reputation of the school clouded the discussions of the seven-member task force that met Wednesday. Members were split on whether unclaimed remains exhumed at the site should be reburied there or moved to a spot untainted by the allegations.

And local officials — who have been upset with the publicity surrounding the school — made it clear Wednesday that they believe a memorial should be placed somewhere else in the state. Jackson County Commissioner Eric Hill argued that it should be where a larger population could see it. A Florida A&M University history professor advising the task force argued it would be a "slap in the face" to have a memorial situated somewhere else in the state.

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