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Panama City News Herald, Florida, 11 March 2010
Hess: No criminal case at reform school
FDLE issues final report on 15-month inquiry into alleged abuse
By Andrew Gant News Herald Writer
MARIANNA -- The state announced Thursday its long investigation into years of alleged abuse at the Arthur G. Dozier School for Boys won't result in any criminal charges.
"In a nutshell, citizens are protected from being prosecuted for crimes that occurred so long ago that preparing a defense would be difficult or impossible," State Attorney Glenn Hess wrote to the FDLE in response to the state's investigation. "The claims presented here provide an example."
Hundreds of men who were students at the reform school (once known as the Florida School for Boys) have long alleged they were beaten there, mainly in the 1950s and 1960s, beyond the realm of corporal punishment. Some alleged sexual abuse; some said they witnessed deaths.
In its report, the FDLE cited no evidence of any such crimes.
Many of the accusers, nicknamed "the White House Boys" for the 11-room white building where they claim they were beaten with a metal-reinforced leather strap, maintain their accusations.
"The FDLE report is just bogus, it's just fraud," 68-year-old Dick Colon, who spent three years at the Marianna school, said Thursday. "And they're going to continue doing that to try to save their asses."
Gov. Charlie Crist ordered the FDLE's investigation 15 months ago in December 2008.
In late January, the FDLE delivered an investigative summary to Hess, who responded this week.
Hess wrote the abuse charges are "extremely generic" and "time has blunted even the accuser's memory."
"Due process," he continued, "demands that the accused be informed of the charge he is to answer with specificity."
Besides that, Hess wrote, offenses not punishable by death must be prosecuted within four years of the offense (and in 1969, around the time of the alleged abuse, the statute of limitations was two years and "much more restrictive.")
The FDLE's 17-page summary report of its investigation included interviews with 102 former students, their family members and former staff (those who still are alive). The agency also sent a forensic analyst to examine the White House itself and found no evidence of blood on the walls.
Some ex-staff members confirmed there were lashings on campus.
Some of the former wards had "positive views of the school and its discipline," according to the FDLE. The report quotes former students as saying "I certainly needed the discipline," "It was common sense to behave" and "No student was sent to the White House without specific cause."
One former student told investigators Troy Tidwell (a former warden named as a defendant in the White House Boys' class-action lawsuit against the state) "did for me what my parents never did."
Tidwell's attorneys declined an FDLE interview with him, but in a video of his statement for the civil proceedings, he denied any abuse. A judge later tossed the lawsuit.
Still, the White House Boys are pursuing a claims bill in the Florida Legislature that would provide compensation for alleged victims.
A press release from "The Official White House Boys Organization" this week said the group has established a humanitarian award for people who protect children from abuse. The first recipient will be state Rep. Gus Barreiro, who was fired from the Department of Juvenile Justice in January 2009 but advocated for the White House Boys in his time there.
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