Local FDLE closes Dozier case; Evidence of abuse inconclusive


An FDLE investigation has concluded that there is insufficient evidence to prove or disprove allegations of
abuse at Dozier.
By ASHLEY McKEEN
Floridan Staff Writer
Published: March 12, 2010

FDLE Dozier final report

The Florida Department of Law Enforcement released its conclusions to an ongoing
investigation into alleged past abuses at what is now the Arthur G. Dozier School for Boys
Thursday.

The findings were released just weeks after a lawsuit brought by the White House Boys was
dismissed in late February.

The class-action lawsuit filed by the White House Boys — a group of men who say they were
abused at what was then the Florida State Reform School in the 1950s and ’60s — was
dismissed based on the statute of limitations and legal precedent, that claimants cannot
receive damages for constitutional rights violations.

The group filed a lawsuit against multiple state agencies and former guard Troy Tidwell back
in January 2009.

According to a press release from FDLE, Gov. Charlie Crist had directed FDLE in December
2008 to investigate the 32 unmarked graves and the entity that owned or operated the
property at that time; identification of the remains of those buried on the site; and any crimes
that may have been committed and their perpetrators.

FDLE released a comprehensive report last May, detailing the findings of its investigation
regarding the unmarked graves.

FDLE’s conclusions were based on the review of various newspaper articles, school ledgers
from the time period, and numerous other public records.

According to the FDLE final report on the unmarked graves, the entities that operated the
school during the time the graves were placed there — from 1914 to 1952 — were governor-
appointed commissioners and the Board of Commissioners of State Institutions. The
investigation identified 31 individuals purportedly buried in the school’s cemetery.

The report states that of those 31 individuals identified:
• Five individuals, between 1919 and 1925, had no listed cause of death, and their only
notation was that they were buried in the cemetery.
• 24 individuals died as a result of illness or accident.
• One death was a homicide by assailants identified as four fellow students .
• One cause of death was undetermined, due to advanced decomposition.

Following the investigation of the graves, FDLE also looked into the allegations of abuse.
The final report of these findings was released Thursday by FDLE, which basically
concluded that “with the passage of 50 years, no tangible physical evidence was found to
either support or refute the allegations of physical or sexual abuse.”  

The investigation included more than 100 interviews of former students, families of former
students, and former staff members of the Florida State Reform School.

According to the report, the interviews confirmed that school administrators did use corporal
punishment as a tool to encourage obedience. However, based on discrepancies among
interviewees, “little disagreement about the way in which corporal punishment was
administered” was found.

The report also states that former students were consistent in their accounts of how
punishment was administered by school administrators and adult staff witnesses in the
building referred to as the “white house,” as well as their accounts of the items used for the
“spankings” — a wooden paddle or leather strap.

The area of disagreement amongst former students, the report states, was the number of
spankings administered, and their severity.

Within the report, some former students claim they were “beaten” to the point that the skin of
their buttocks blistered and bled profusely. FDLE reports that there was little to no evidence
of visible residual scarring, 50 years later.

A secondary “disagreement” FDLE cites in the report was former students’ perceptions of
the punishment process.

Some former students stated that their spankings caused them no psychological harm and
that they learned from their mistakes; others told FDLE investigators that “mentally, they
suffered greatly as a result and still do so to this day.”

The report also provided findings from the investigation into sexual abuse allegations. Of the
100 associated persons interviewed by FDLE investigators, six individuals listed some
knowledge of the sexual abuse allegations; some claimed to have been sexually abused.
The report lists one named individual’s account; the others had no official statement listed.
However, in the report’s appendix the names of each person FDLE interviewed or attempted
to interview is listed. A short memo is listed with each person. One individual interviewed told
investigators he was sexually abused by other students and by a staff member known as
“Watkins.” No further information on “Watkins” was provided in the report.

Three others claimed to have also been sexually abused or touched inappropriately. Some
claimed to have witnessed sexual abuse happening to students by staff.

Even with these accounts, FDLE found that there was little to no substantial evidence to
support or deny these allegations.

Investigators also attempted to contact all former officials and administrators and staff of the
Florida State Reform School, one of whom was Troy Tidwell.

Tidwell, a former staff member and guard accused of abuse by the White House Boys,
declined an interview with investigators.

According to the report, Tidwell’s attorneys felt the FDLE investigation might result in
criminal prosecution due to the civil lawsuit against him at the time. The report states Tidwell
could not be forced to forfeit his right to remain silent.

However, Tidwell did provide a sworn video recorded statement on the issue in May 2009,
with attorneys present.

The report notes Tidwell stated in the video that students who were demoted to the rank of
“grub” (a disciplinary ranking, with “grub” being the lowest), and those who escaped were
most likely to receive spankings in the school’s “white house” building.

Tidwell also stated that written disciplinary reports were maintained on record for all those
punished. Yet FDLE notes in the report following this statement that “these records have
never been found and are presumed destroyed as per statutory guidelines.”

Tidwell ultimately denied ever physically or sexually abusing any students at the school.
Tidwell was a defendant in the lawsuit that was dismissed last month.

Former cottage father Malcolm Hill, who was on staff from 1956 to 1957, stated that he
witnessed spankings that in his opinion were “extreme.” Hill stated that although some
spankings were extreme — that is, 20 to 40 lashes — there were no other alternatives to
discipline at that time.

However ,the report does cite Hill saying he never witnessed any students who suffered
bleeding or sought medical treatment as a result of their spankings.
Beyond interviews with the White House Boys, other former students were also tracked
down and interviewed. Some had an overall positive outlook on the school and their
experience.

The report quotes some former students saying “in no way did it traumatize my life,” and
“actually enjoyed my stay — I certainly needed the discipline.”
Yet others are quoted saying “some boys could not walk under their own power after having
been spanked,” and “pieces of their underwear were embedded into their buttocks and had
to be surgically removed.”

With 50 years having passed and inconsistencies throughout the statements, FDLE has
concluded its investigation into the matter.