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Abuse Guardians
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Marianna, FL – In a significant development, Florida State lawmakers are on the brink of passing legislation to compensate hundreds of living abuse survivors who suffered at the infamous Florida School for Boys, also known as Arthur G. Dozier School for Boys. The Florida Senate’s unanimous approval of a $20 million compensation bill signifies a significant step towards acknowledging and addressing the injustices faced by survivors. The legislation now advances to the governor for approval.

Historical Background: A Century of Abuse at Florida Reform School

The Dozier School for Boys, which operated from 1900 to 2011, has gained infamy for its harsh conditions and brutal treatment of its inmates. Established in 1900 as the Florida State Reform School, the institution was located on a vast 1,400-acre property west of Tallahassee. Over the years, reports and commissions have consistently called for reforms, but little has changed.

Abuse Survivors Speak Out: The White House Boys

A group of survivors known as the “White House Boys” consists of approximately 300 men who were sent to the reform school mainly in the 1950s and 1960s. They have shared their stories of violence and abuse endured in a building within the school known as the White House. Disturbingly, 81 boys are known to have died at the institution, but the whereabouts of their remains remain a mystery. Many remains have been found on the property in the school cemetery; however, only 31 were identified.

Reform School Abuse Survivor Testimony: Living with the Horrors

Melvin Wilder, aged 63, arrived at the Dozier School in 1973  for rehabilitation. However, even after 50 years, the scars on his face and head remind him of the horrors he experienced. Wilder expressed optimism that the compensation bill would be passed, bringing justice to the hundreds of surviving abuse victims. He vividly recounts the near-daily beatings he endured at the Marianna, Florida facility during the early 1970s.

One particularly haunting incident involved a staff member violently assaulting him with the end of a mop, a brutal attack that could have cost him his life had he not acted swiftly. Another harrowing episode unfolded when he was viciously beaten for discarding a rotten peach. These stories paint a grim picture of the relentless pain, suffering, and fear that plagued Wilder’s existence during his time at the institution.

Abuse Survivors Fight to Seek Justice

Survivor Jerry Cooper, now 67, was sent to the school in 1961 and witnessed and experienced brutal beatings by the administration. Cooper vividly recalls a horrific incident that unfolded in the dreaded White House. School staff abruptly dragged him out of bed at 2 a.m., forcibly taking him to the ominous room. There, they callously threw him onto a bed, tightly bound his feet, and commenced a merciless assault with a leather strap. The first blow struck with such force that it lifted Cooper a staggering foot and a half off the bed. The sound of their shoes sliding on the concrete floor echoed with each strike, creating an eerie symphony of “shoosh, shoosh, bam.” The intensity of the beating became unbearable, causing Cooper to lose consciousness. Later, a fellow inmate in the adjacent room revealed that he had counted a horrifying total of 135 lashes inflicted upon Cooper.

Cooper emphasizes that many boys were sent to the institution not because of any crimes they committed but due to reasons such as being orphans or running away from home. He believes it is his duty to seek justice for the boys who did not survive and to raise awareness about the atrocities committed at the Dozier School.

FL State Investigation: Insufficient Evidence or Avoiding Liability?

Reports dating back to 1901 documented distressing accounts of children being shackled to walls with irons, subjected to brutal whippings, and enduring the oppressive practice of peonage at the Dozier School. Former Florida Governor Charlie Crist initiated a state investigation into the allegations of abuse, torture, and deaths at the Dozier School in 2008. However, the Florida Department of Law Enforcement’s interviews with the White House Boys and former staff yielded insufficient evidence to support the claims. Some survivors, including Roger Kiser, question the state’s findings and allege an attempt to avoid civil liability.

A Long-Awaited Compensation Bill for Dozier School Abuse

After years of advocacy and efforts by the survivors, the Florida Senate has unanimously approved a $20 million compensation bill for the victims of the Dozier School. The bill has now advanced to the governor’s desk for final approval. If passed, the Department of Legal Affairs will review the applications and determine the beneficiaries. Additionally, the Commissioner of Education may award a standard high school diploma to the compensated individuals.

Abuse Victims Hope for Restitution and Closure

This proposed legislation marks a significant step towards providing restitution to the survivors who suffered decades ago at the Okeechobee and Marianna sites of the Dozier School. The bill offers an opportunity for these victims to seek redress from the government for the harm they endured. With the bill’s passage expected, it seems that the survivors may finally receive the compensation they have long sought, bringing them a measure of restitution and closure.

Discover the Ongoing Abuse Following the School’s Expansion to Okeechobee:

Systemic Abuse Exposed at Florida School for Boys in Okeechobee

Were You Abused at a Reform School? Legal Options Are Available

In a revealing interview, experienced child sex abuse attorney Mike Haggard, based in Florida, provides valuable guidance to victims of sexual abuse at reform schools. Haggard discusses the legal avenues available to survivors seeking justice against responsible parties. With a focus on practical advice and actionable steps, this interview sheds light on the civil case process, empowering victims to assert their rights and hold accountable those who allowed such abuses to occur.

Laurence Banville, Esq. (LB): Thank you for joining us, Mr. Haggard. As an experienced child sex abuse lawyer in Florida, could you elaborate on what victims of sexual abuse at reform schools, like the Dozier School, can do in terms of pursuing civil cases against those responsible?

Mike Haggard, Esq. (MH): Absolutely, Mr. Banville. Victims of sexual abuse at reform schools have legal options to seek justice. They can file civil lawsuits against the liable parties, including the institution itself, staff members involved, and any other individuals who may have been complicit in the abuse.

LB: That’s important to know. What factors come into play when determining the liability of these parties?

MH: In civil cases, liability is established by proving that the responsible parties had a duty of care towards the victims and that they breached that duty, causing harm. In the case of reform schools, these institutions have a duty to protect and provide a safe environment for the children entrusted to their care. If they fail to do so and allow sexual abuse to occur, they can be held accountable.

LB: How can victims gather evidence to support their claims?

MH: Gathering evidence is crucial in these cases. Victims should preserve any documentation, photographs, or other records related to their time at the reform school. They should also try to locate any witnesses who can corroborate their experiences or provide additional information about the abuse. Additionally, seeking medical and mental health evaluations can help establish the impact of the abuse on their well-being.

LB: And what about statutes of limitations? Do they pose a challenge for victims seeking justice?

MH: Statutes of limitations can vary depending on the jurisdiction and the specific circumstances of the case. However, there have been significant changes in recent years to extend or eliminate statutes of limitations for child sex abuse cases in many states, including Florida. It’s crucial for victims to consult with an attorney to understand the applicable laws and any potential avenues for pursuing their claims.

LB: Thank you, Mr. Haggard, for providing valuable insights into the legal options available to victims of sexual abuse at reform schools.

MH: Thank you, Mr. Banville. It’s essential to shed light on these cases and empower victims to pursue justice through civil litigation. Together, we can work towards holding liable parties accountable and providing support to survivors as they heal and rebuild their lives.

Abuse Survivors Can Contact Us for a Free Consultation

If you or a loved one have been a victim of sexual abuse at a reform school, we are here to help. Our experienced team of attorneys understands the complexities of these cases and is committed to fighting for justice on your behalf. We offer a free consultation to discuss your situation, answer any questions you may have, and provide guidance on the legal options available to you. Don’t wait to seek the justice you deserve. Contact us today to schedule a confidential and no-obligation consultation. Together, we can work towards holding the responsible parties accountable and securing a brighter future.


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