White House Boys reach end of a weary road
Final attorney finds insufficient evidence of abuse after state probe.
Bitterness consumed Roger Kiser on Thursday when his long wait for justice ended with news there would be no
prosecutions for abuse claims made by hundreds of former students of a Florida reform school.
“The evidence is overwhelming that the beatings were brutal, bloody and in some cases life-threatening,” said
Kiser, 64, a Brunswick author and founder of a group of former students known as the White House Boys.
A 15-month state investigation into the group’s allegations, however, found insufficient evidence to file criminal
charges against officials of the state-run Marianna school, the Florida Department of Law Enforcement said
State Attorney Glenn Hess said he couldn’t prove or disprove criminal wrongdoing after reviewing a 13-page
summary of the FDLE report. He said he also interviewed investigators and attorneys representing both the
White House Boys and an administrator.
Hess said he believes some of the allegations would be considered abuse by today’s standards. But he said
those cases would likely not have been found criminal decades ago, when they were used as corporal
punishment, in an era when such treatment was accepted as a way to encourage obedience.
Hess oversees prosecutions in the judicial circuit encompassing Jackson County, where the school is located. It
remains open as the Arthur G. Dozier School for Boys, a state-run maximum security facility for at-risk youth.
“If you take and transport yourself to the 1950s to a rural, non-fenced boys detention center, given the
standards of discipline that was acceptable in the home and in the schools … I doubt it would have been
considered criminal back then,” Hess told the Times-Union.
Hundreds of Northeast Florida boys were among those sent to the school, known at one time as the Florida
Industrial School for Boys. Dozens of those students who attended the school in the 1940s, ’50s and ’60s were
part of a recently dismissed class-action lawsuit filed by the White House Boys against the state and a former
Those students alleged they were abused as part of the school’s program of corporal punishment. But other
students said they were either not punished or were justly spanked and didn’t feel abused. A judge dismissed
the lawsuit, saying that the statute of limitations for any crimes that may have occurred had passed long ago.
Gov. Charlie Crist ordered the FDLE in December 2008 to investigate allegations that students buried at the
school were murdered and that those who lived were abused. Crist’s order came after he received complaints of
abuse made by Kiser, a student at the school from 1959 to 1961, and a handful of other White House Boys.
The graveyard investigation found that none of the students were harmed by school officials.
The abuse investigation involved interviews with six former school officials and about 100 former students or
relatives of former students, the report said. The FDLE turned its findings over to Hess in late January and he
advised the agency late last month that the case was closed.
The White House Boys now plan to seek compensation from the Legislature through a claims bill, Kiser said.