State verifies 4 cases of physical abuse at Dozier school
DCF investigators review 229 allegations
By Jim Schoettler Story updated at 10:45 AM on Monday, Oct. 12, 2009
The tales of teenagers being whipped in a reform school building known as the White House decades ago are being
replaced by more recent reports of abuse from the same school, though seemingly not as harsh or as widespread.
The state Department of Children and Families this week released summaries of nearly 155 investigations into
reports of abuse since 2004 at the Arthur G. Dozier School for Boys in Marianna. About one-third of the juveniles at
the 135-bed, high-risk facility were from Northeast Florida, according to a 2003 report.
DCF investigators reviewed 229 allegations and found there was enough evidence to verify physical abuse on the
part of Dozier staff in four cases, while a case of sexual abuse and one of medical neglect were also proven.
Investigators also found “some indication” of abuse or neglect in 33 other allegations, but were unable to find
enough evidence to prove the allegations in court, DCF officials said.
Among the more egregious verified cases:
- In 2007, a 19-year-old suffered a fractured jaw after being threatened with the sharp end of a broken broom, hit in
the face and put in a chokehold by a staff member who also promised to snap his neck for being in an off-limits
area. The staff member was placed on unspecified administrative leave, records show.
- In 2006, a 20-year-old sustained a broken nose after being grabbed by the neck, slammed into a wall and head-
butted by a staff member angry that he wasn’t in his room. The staff member was fired.
- In 2006, a 20-year-old diabetic suffering from low blood sugar was unresponsive and apparently left for 20 minutes
by staff who did nothing to help him. One of the staff members quit, while the other was reprimanded.
Other verified cases included two other physical attacks, a teacher having sex with a student and several students
having oral sex with each other after staff left them unsupervised. Cases with some indication of abuse include an
allegation that a staff member stuffed a student into a laundry bag and let other students abuse him.
More than 100 boys were sent to the school annually from the Jacksonville area decades ago for everything from
truancy to petty crimes. Many have told the Times-Union they felt they were beaten in an era when corporal
punishment, though legal, was used on them sadistically. Still other students have said they benefitted the school
and were never beaten.
Frank Penela, a spokesman for the state Department of Juvenile Justice, said his agency runs Dozier with a zero
tolerance for abuse and does all it can to keep such problems in check. He said one measure includes easy access
for youths to phone DCF with complaints.
“If they are verified, we administer swift and immediate action,” Penela said.
Agency Secretary Frank Peterman was in Washington on Thursday and couldn’t be reached by the Times-Union.
Marshall Drawdy, a Jacksonville man who said he was repeatedly beaten at the school in the 1950s, said he isn’t
surprised about the continued trouble.
“I guess it’s the only way they can have absolute power over the children,” said Drawdy, 70.