New DCF reports verify abuse at Marianna Boys School

By Ben Montgomery, Times Staff Writer
In Print: Thursday, September 24, 2009


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MARIANNA — One guard came to work at the Arthur G. Dozier School for Boys in Marianna high on marijuana and
cocaine. Another allegedly ordered a group of juvenile offenders to jump another boy in the showers, away from
surveillance cameras, and turned out the lights to facilitate the fight. Another stuffed a boy in a laundry bag, twice,
and when the boy tried to chew through the strings, the guard encouraged others to punch, pinch and kick him.

Yet another chased a boy through the dining hall with a broom, swung and broke the broom on a refrigerator, then
chased the boy with the sharp end of the broomstick, grabbed him in a headlock and fractured the boy's jaw. He
threatened to snap the boy's neck. Then he tried to sabotage the investigation.

These claims over the past five years at the state's oldest reform school in Marianna were investigated by the
Department of Children and Families and were either verified or found to have some indicators that abuse or neglect
occurred.

The DCF investigative summaries — which are normally confidential — were released to the St. Petersburg Times on
Wednesday. Circuit Judge Jackie L. Fulford ordered that redacted versions of the reports be made public after the
Times argued, and DCF concurred, that the public has good reason to see the records.

Though the school has changed names through the years — Florida School for Boys, Florida Industrial School, and,
now, the Arthur G. Dozier School for Boys — it has for a century been a place of abuse and neglect. In 1903, an
investigative committee found kids as young as 5 in shackles. In the 1940s, '50s and '60s, boys were beaten bloody
with a leather strap in a building called the White House. In the 1970s, a state employee found that boys were being
hogtied and kept in solitary confinement for more than 30 days, and a class-action lawsuit brought sweeping reform
to the state's juvenile justice system.

But aside from a handful of isolated scandals in the past five years, the school has operated beneath the public
radar. The Department of Juvenile Justice has refused to let the Times visit the campus or interview current staff or
juvenile offenders.

But the reports shed light on the recent history of the school, which is tucked into the pines of North Florida, a few
miles north of Interstate 10.

Verified: In January 2006, a guard noticed a boy outside his room and confronted him, according to one summary.
The officer grabbed the boy by the neck, and when the boy struggled, the officer slammed him against the wall and
head butted him, breaking two bones in the boy's nose.

Verified: In July 2006, a diabetic boy whose blood sugar was low was unresponsive for 20 minutes and two staffers
did nothing. The boy's peers called for help.

Verified: In March 2008, a sexual offender performed oral sex on two others in the showers, though showers are
supposed to be supervised. "Interviews with other offenders in the cottage revealed that certain staff members will
sleep at night while the offenders are sleeping," the investigator noted, "and some will allow people to go into the
bathroom at the same time."

Verified: In August 2008, a guard attacked a boy who had run out of his cottage, slamming him against a fence and
punching the boy. The boy suffered a broken nose and cuts on his hands. The guard was fired and criminal charges
were filed against him.

Verified: In October 2008, a guard pushed a boy and then jumped on his back, hurting his neck. The incident was
caught on camera and the guard resigned during the investigation.

In December, two boys told investigators that a staffer showed them porn on his cell phone, even though phones are
prohibited. During the investigation, other boys said the same officer talked about receiving oral sex from a female
staff member. DCF found "some indicator."

Department of Juvenile Justice spokesman Frank Penela said the culture at Dozier and at other juvenile programs
has improved since Gov. Charlie Crist appointed former state Rep. Frank Peterman to head the department in 2008.

"There's a tremendous cultural change that has happened," Penela said. "It's needed to happen for a long time."

He said he would review the DCF reports today to make certain abusive employees were punished appropriately or
fired.

"Secretary Peterman has a zero-tolerance policy for hurting kids," Penela said. "If any (allegation of abuse) is
substantiated, it will usually result in a termination."

Penela added that the Department of Juvenile Justice trains its employees to deal with youth verbally and that the
number of injuries to staff and youth, and the number of abuse claims statewide has been in decline. He added that
the department has in place a system that gives youths access to a phone to report abuse to DCF. Youths also can
file written grievances about conditions or perceived abuse and those grievances are investigated.

"Now, especially with Dozier being under the microscope, we are doing what should have been done years ago,"
Penela said. "I could sit here and say that our systems in place are so perfect that no kid will ever be hurt again, but
that would be naive. However, the secretary has a policy against any kid getting hurt."

Ben Montgomery can be reached at bmontgomery@sptimes.com or (727) 893-8650.