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Florida's Century of Abuse
February 20, 2014 10:13 AM   Subscribe

From January 1, 1900, to June 30, 2011, Florida School for Boys (aka Arthur G. Dozier School for Boys) was operated by the State of Florida as a reform school for boys ranging in the age from 8 to 21, in the panhandle town of Marianna. With a notorious reputation for inflicting severe abuses(pdf) on its minor inmates, including beatings, rape, torture and even murder, going back a century, Florida authorized archaeologists and anthropologists from the University of South Florida to conduct an investigation of the school's graveyard. Last month, after a several month long excavation, researchers and forensic anthropologists have announced the discovery of remains adding up to 55 people on school grounds, five more than previously known, and 24 more than listed in school records.

The stories from survivors are beyond harrowing.
posted by 2N2222 (81 comments total) 34 users marked this as a favorite

 
Living in North Florida, I've heard of this before, but I don't think I knew how utterly gruesome the story really was.
posted by grubi at 10:17 AM on February 20 [2 favorites]


"Locating 55 burials is a significant finding, which opens up a whole new set of questions for our team,’’ said a spokesman for the Massive Understatement Society.
posted by Sticherbeast at 10:18 AM on February 20 [44 favorites]


I remember reading about this sometimes last year, before the excavations began, when the request to excavate was being denied/dithered over by state officials.

I'd say that I'm surprised they were open and operational as long as they were, but I'm not. Completely horrified, but not surprised.
posted by rtha at 10:26 AM on February 20 [1 favorite]


I had forgotten about this horror, now revealed to be even worse.
posted by thelonius at 10:30 AM on February 20 [2 favorites]


Criminy. At least the sorts of places this FPP talks about make a pretense of trying to get your teenagers less teenagery. This is just ... what even the hell.
posted by kafziel at 10:36 AM on February 20 [1 favorite]


In August of 2013, Florida officials voted to begin exhumations of the bodies at the now-shuttered school,

"Voted?" Couldn't the Governor just order it?
posted by rhizome at 10:39 AM on February 20


Friend of the wife worked there within the last few years whilst they were finishing up their degree. I could relay questions if anyone has some really pressing or good ones.
posted by RolandOfEld at 10:40 AM on February 20 [2 favorites]


It should go without saying that, as a mandatory reporter, the friend in question would have reported anything in the present that they saw at said institution that would pinged their radar, so maybe nothing shocking at all in their particular experience but what Dozier does is exactly their specialty/field and all that, so, yea, hear it from the trenches and all that.
posted by RolandOfEld at 10:42 AM on February 20


Do note that there has been no criminal investigation opened - even though some of these bodies date from the 70s or perhaps even later.

There's no statute of limitations on murder - surely the police should automatically open a criminal investigation when they find multiple bodies in unmarked graves?

From reading these stories, there were many terrible crimes committed there for over 80 years - again, why hasn't there been any sort of criminal investigation opened?

Answer: Florida is a corrupt and festering pit of lawless behavior by law "enforcement" officials. I would believe that having "disruptive" kids murdered was a feature, not a bug, of this place, as far as Florida law enforcement went.
posted by lupus_yonderboy at 11:03 AM on February 20 [22 favorites]


"The Florida Department of Law Enforcement concluded in 2010 that, although it found dozens of graves, there was insufficient evidence to pursue criminal charges."

That and countless stories from survivors.

What exactly would have been sufficient evidence, I wonder?
posted by edheil at 11:14 AM on February 20 [17 favorites]


Gah. I almost posted the Mother Jones article yesterday (harrowing link) but honestly I was like, "I know there is somebody who will do this better than me," so well done. Cannot believe this place was operational until 2011. The part that hurt me the most is that little boys were sent there - not just teens. SO glad that this is coming to light while many of these survivors are still alive (I think it used to be worse in the 1960s era, esp. the racial stuff, so their stories are valuable.)

I know Sleepers has been debunked as "there is no evidence this happened," but it's still one of those films that has stuck with me for years, and might be among my favorites, ever and this story is the real deal version. Shudder. I hope victims, survivors and their families get some sort of ? compensation, acknowledgement, I dunno. Probably a documentary?
posted by polly_dactyl at 11:17 AM on February 20


Remember this shit btw, next time you're tempted to write off a story about institutionalized child abuse, exploitation, and even murder, as a "moral panic."

Sometimes those things are real.
posted by edheil at 11:18 AM on February 20 [26 favorites]


What exactly would have been sufficient evidence, I wonder?

Any of the things mentioned but only involving humans that were not poor, orphaned, mentally handicapped, or members of a minority. My guess anyway.
posted by RolandOfEld at 11:21 AM on February 20 [28 favorites]


trying to get your teenagers less teenagery

Just so long as they keep their damn music down, goddamn kids. Seriously, Florida is such a strange dichotomy all in itself. It's both the home to Spring BreakTM AND the home of the Zimmerman/Dunn "goddamn disrespectful kids" types. There has got to be something between sunshine and Malibu rum that does something really damaging to the brain.
posted by The 10th Regiment of Foot at 11:25 AM on February 20 [1 favorite]


"The Florida Department of Law Enforcement concluded in 2010 that, although it found dozens of graves, there was insufficient evidence to pursue criminal charges."

That and countless stories from survivors.

What exactly would have been sufficient evidence, I wonder?


Well, presumably, something pointing to a specific culprit to charge would have helped.
posted by kafziel at 11:25 AM on February 20


Well, presumably, something pointing to a specific culprit to charge would have helped.

Like witness testimony from survivors? Linked above?
posted by Slap*Happy at 11:29 AM on February 20 [11 favorites]


"Voted?" Couldn't the Governor just order it?

It wasn't a legislative vote- the Governor and the cabinet were approving a land use agreement, acting in their capacity as the state's Board of trustees, after the Florida Department of State declared it didn't have the legal authority to give permission.
posted by zamboni at 11:30 AM on February 20 [2 favorites]


Well, presumably, something pointing to a specific culprit to charge would have helped.

All moral outrage aside, that would be correct. Was the crime something that could be pinned on any specific person or people? Can they even identify the remains or when historically they died? Was the specific crime murder or just terrible record keeping in 1912 and who gets punished for a crime that old?
posted by The 10th Regiment of Foot at 11:30 AM on February 20


Folks, be careful about this being all about Florida. I suspect that this type of abuse of children and power could be identified in many, many other institutions in other states and countries. The problem when we attribute the problem to "Florida" or "Texas" or whatever state is our current whipping boy (and, I'm not saying the reputation is or isn't deserved, that's not my point) is that when we've cleaned up Florida, or Texas, we tend to brush the dirt off our hands and consider the problem solved...and, it probably isn't.
posted by HuronBob at 11:32 AM on February 20 [38 favorites]


yeah... this shit happens in every state from liberal to conservative. (remember Willowbrook ?
posted by edgeways at 11:34 AM on February 20 [5 favorites]


"Of the many employees the now grown students accuse of torturing and killing boys, only one is alive. A class action suit was brought against Troy Tidwell, but a court found the statute of limitations had run out. That suit was thrown out. And after that an attempt was made to pass a bill in the Florida legislature giving compensation to the victims and their families, but that proposal never made it to a vote."
posted by polly_dactyl at 11:35 AM on February 20 [8 favorites]


"Well, and [you] pushed to have Dozier looked at. The state finally agreed to send investigators in. The press found out about these unmarked graves that were on the campus, and the ball starts rolling to where we are today. Investigators found records indicating how people died, 96 people died, all young people except for two adults, disease, trauma, drowning. Seven young boys died trying to escape. One 16-year-old was shot."
posted by polly_dactyl at 11:38 AM on February 20 [1 favorite]


Yeah, I like to rag on Florida too, but we can't pin all the horrible shit in this country on Florida and Texas and Kansas. "Between 2008 and 2011, more than seventy children who passed through the Los Angeles County Department of Children and Family Services have died due to child abuse or neglect." Red states don't have a monopoly on failing their children.
posted by yasaman at 11:39 AM on February 20 [6 favorites]


> ...five more than previously known...

Somehow this brings a whole new level of fucked-uppedness to the story. And I don't know whether it's because of the twist-of-the-knife of "oh yeah, and also five more dead" or the implication that not only was the place nasty enough to have a body count that high, but that they couldn't be bothered to keep an accurate count.
posted by ardgedee at 11:41 AM on February 20 [2 favorites]


this shit happens in every state from liberal to conservative.

Sure. Titicut Follies is from MA, and is not the only such horror, or the worst, that happened there. Institutions tasked with dealing with non-standard humans cannot be trusted to be humane. They have to be closely watched.
posted by Kirth Gerson at 11:45 AM on February 20


The horrific abuse in the name of "treatment" is still going on right now.

Teens Tied Down and Shot Up With Drugs at Pembroke Pines Facility
posted by Daily Alice at 11:45 AM on February 20


they couldn't be bothered to keep an accurate count

If the survivor stories of e.g. finding a human hand in the garbage and a human foot in the pig trough are anywhere near true, they had pretty good reason to not keep an accurate count...
posted by ook at 11:47 AM on February 20 [1 favorite]


this shit happens in every state from liberal to conservative

You got that right, but you can also almost be guaranteed it happens in Florida.
posted by The 10th Regiment of Foot at 12:04 PM on February 20 [2 favorites]


> "The Florida Department of Law Enforcement concluded in 2010

From the original article:

"On Tuesday [January 26, 2014], researchers and forensic anthropologists moved a step closer to providing answers. The remains of 55 people have been uncovered on school grounds, University of South Florida researchers announced – five more than previous field work had indicated and 24 more than listed in school records."

So four years later, a large number of bodies are found in unmarked graves. Surely this is significant enough new information that that convenient 2010 "conclusion" should be re-opened?

---

> Well, presumably, something pointing to a specific culprit to charge would have helped.

Your opinion is that you can't open a criminal investigation until you have something pointing to a specific culprit?

---

> "Between 2008 and 2011, more than seventy children who passed through the Los Angeles County Department of Children and Family Services have died due to child abuse or neglect.

Apples and oranges. These children were killed by their private caregivers, probably due to inadequate screening by the state - and many, perhaps most of these caregivers were charged with serious crimes.

This is deplorable, but not at all the same as state employees deliberately killing a lot of children and getting away with it completely.
posted by lupus_yonderboy at 12:09 PM on February 20 [7 favorites]


So, just so I'm clear, they have this sort of a ladder for counting bodies:

Officially dead < unofficially dead < number of dead we know about, buried on our property < buried on our property.

Should I just assume that there's a larger category out there of "not buried on our property"?
posted by fatbird at 12:16 PM on February 20 [8 favorites]


Well, presumably, something pointing to a specific culprit to charge would have helped.

Is there no law requiring the warden or whoever to account for children who die under their watch? "I have no idea where that boy went," before the official continues his life with impunity. How do we know that Florida hasn't employed a serial killer, and could that person be collecting a pension right now?
posted by rhizome at 12:22 PM on February 20 [7 favorites]


the school's graveyard

That is a very chilling combination of words.
posted by malocchio at 12:34 PM on February 20 [18 favorites]


Should I just assume that there's a larger category out there of "not buried on our property"?

That would be the ones fed to the pigs
posted by edgeways at 12:35 PM on February 20 [1 favorite]


when we've cleaned up Florida, or Texas, we tend to brush the dirt off our hands and consider the problem solved...and, it probably isn't.

When did we clean up Florida?

I was born in Ft Lauderdale in 1973. I spent the first 17 years of my life there. I got the hell out of that damned state as soon as I could. Absolutely nothing I hear from my black friends and my family who are still there makes me think I made a mistake in leaving. I was telling my wife last night as we discussed the latest news in the Dunn case that most people have no idea just how bad things are down there.

This story is utterly horrific and I am not at all surprised by its provenance or the lack of consequences for the responsible parties. Florida is proof to me that if there are such things as ghosts, those which arise from the souls of the wrongfully killed lack any power whatsoever to exact vengeance on the living from the other side of the veil, despite what horror novels and movies tell us.

There's a reason the state has its own tag on the far-from-progressive Fark.com.
posted by lord_wolf at 12:41 PM on February 20 [19 favorites]


So four years later, a large number of bodies are found in unmarked graves. Surely this is significant enough new information that that convenient 2010 "conclusion" should be re-opened?

> Well, presumably, something pointing to a specific culprit to charge would have helped.

Your opinion is that you can't open a criminal investigation until you have something pointing to a specific culprit?


The articles don't say that there was no investigation, what they say is "there was insufficient evidence to pursue criminal charges". That is different. Your opinion is that law enforcement should persue charges against people without sufficient evidence simply because of the horrendous nature of the alleged crimes?
posted by The 10th Regiment of Foot at 12:46 PM on February 20


Your opinion is that law enforcement should persue charges against people without sufficient evidence simply because of the horrendous nature of the alleged crimes?

My sense is that they probably could investigate it more thoroughly, and that they would, given pretty much any other circumstances.
posted by rhizome at 12:48 PM on February 20 [2 favorites]


ardgedee: "And I don't know whether it's because of the twist-of-the-knife of "oh yeah, and also five more dead" or the implication that not only was the place nasty enough to have a body count that high, but that they couldn't be bothered to keep an accurate count."

This is all extremely fucked up, but the stories specifically mention a grave from 1914, so we can assume at least some of the other ones are similarly old, and over the course of 100 years, yes, there's lost records and laws for recording deaths/gravesites have changed over time. My husband works for our state's historic preservation agency, and there is an entire full-time person with the title "human skeletal remains" whose job is NOTHING BUT dealing with surprise dead bodies (sometimes in concert with police, sometimes not, depending on the find). A lot of surprise dead bodies are routine surprise dead bodies (excavating new roads through old farmland, they run across a lot of forgotten, unregistered family farm graveyards), but I'd say at least once a month they have really SURPRISE dead bodies, ranging from extra people in graves to bones some unlucky gardener found while planting a tree to bodies washed out of unmarked burial sites in floods to mass graves from diptheria epidemics where nobody thought to write down where the hard-pressed town buried the bodies. The largest group in the past five years in my state was 300 surprise dead bodies, resulting from cemetery management malfeasance 150 years ago. Anyway, the adults in this story are all terrible people who did terrible things, but a lot of people in the past just kept really bad burial records regardless of their goodness or awfulness.

Did any of the stories say there was no police involvement? The stories talked about "multiple agencies" and my experience is that the police would at least be liaising with the archaeologists, and the researchers are identifying cause of death and actively seeking DNA to identify remains specifically. It's unclear how old all of the graves are, but it's not at all impossible that charges could still be possible, depending on the final reports of evidence and identity, and whether any of the specific perpetrators are still alive.

It's also possible that this evidence could be used in civil lawsuits against the state by more recent victims of this "school."
posted by Eyebrows McGee at 1:20 PM on February 20 [14 favorites]


The real problem is that suffering from mental health difficulties is stigmatized. This is merely a historical example of that.

It's all on the same spectrum - abusing kids in state schools back then or emptying the mental care facilities back in the eighties or the mentally ill homeless now.

I know this isn't lilkely to be news to anyone here.

My aunt lived under a bridge in the summertime for twenty years till she got help with getting her meds right and she was an extreme case that the government was interested in.

We do, as a society, seem to be gettiing better at acknowledging mental illness as legitimate but at the same time the big pharma will prescribe a pill for any woe.

I think the reduced stigma is, on balance, probably better for society but I worry about the big business aspect.

I'm likely average here.
posted by vapidave at 1:26 PM on February 20 [1 favorite]


My sense is that they probably could investigate it more thoroughly, and that they would, given pretty much any other circumstances.

As horrendous as this is, it looks to me like:

-there is little to no physical evidence of how many of these boys died, given the age of the remains;
-while there are eyewitness to physical abuse and sexual assault, along with eyewitness to boys being taken away who never come back, it doesn't seem to me that we have an eyewitness who saw one of the boys get murdered in the way of "I saw Mr. X do Y to Z." Without the physical evidence, they are going to need witnesses and need witnesses who saw the murders take place. Which is likely former staff, as opposed to the students.
-"Of the many employees the now grown students accuse of torturing and killing boys, only one is alive. A class action suit was brought against Troy Tidwell, but a court found the statute of limitations had run out." If there is only one person alive from the staff for those days, there is a dearth of people to investigate and prosecute. I'm no lawyer, but I'm guessing if a civil suit got thrown out for statue of limitations purposes, that the charges the eyewitnesses could bring against this man would face the same problem - their statements don't have him doing anything for which he could still be charged because too much time has elapsed.

It sucks. It's hard to accept, but there might be no justice here that the justice system can mete out.

The only "justice" I can see from this is other jurisdictions having a closer look at facilities like this, tightening up regulations and performing regular investigations. However we are looking after our vulnerable members of society needs a heck of a lot more attention than it gets.
posted by nubs at 1:31 PM on February 20 [4 favorites]


Florida never ceases.
posted by tommasz at 1:33 PM on February 20


What boggles my mind is why "reform" schools seem to always be awful - I don't know of any at all that achieve their supposed mission, and while I'm sure they exist, I can't fathom why it's those schools that inflict the most abuse. Why do the adults do it? What leads a person to become and remain an employee of these institutions? Why aren't there any genuinely-successful reform schools speaking out against these practices?

How can an adult ever be okay with being involved in these in any way?

How can a politician ever be okay with allowing these to exist in their political district?
posted by LSK at 1:42 PM on February 20 [6 favorites]


I'm amazed that a school of any sort can have a "reputation" for violent abuse, rape, etc. Are there places that have this reputation today that are still open!?!?!?
posted by cell divide at 1:48 PM on February 20


I was born in Ft Lauderdale in 1973. I spent the first 17 years of my life there. I got the hell out of that damned state as soon as I could. Absolutely nothing I hear from my black friends and my family who are still there makes me think I made a mistake in leaving.

I was raised and live in Florida as well, only 10 hours away from you. I could almost drive to DC in the amount of time it takes me to get to Ft. Lauderdale.

This is a horrific story. It would be a horrific story anywhere. But in most places, people wouldn't then condemn the entire state because of it. Or believe they have a handle on a state as large and populated as Florida from talking to a few friends and family. That's almost comical.

Again, horrific story. Could happen anywhere. I don't think it helps to take out some childhood grudge on the state you grew up in. And I'm ignoring the irony of you moving to Texas and condemning Florida. I'm guessing if there's any state that gets more grief than Florida, it's Texas. Might want to look in your own back yard before throwing stones. Because condemning the state is missing the point entirely.
posted by justgary at 1:51 PM on February 20 [5 favorites]


Nobody's condemning Florida on the basis of this one story.

People are condemning Florida on the basis of uncountable terrible stories, of which this is merely the latest.
posted by kafziel at 1:56 PM on February 20 [5 favorites]


What exactly would have been sufficient evidence, I wonder?

The same evidence in some other state.
posted by lodurr at 2:00 PM on February 20 [5 favorites]


I'm guessing if there's any state that gets more grief than Florida, it's Texas.

Probably true. There's probably not a whole lot of countries "getting more grief" these days than North Korea too. Now Florida and Texas aren't North Korea by any stretch, but there might just be some reason why they get a lot of negative press and for two states that rely so much on tourism, that's an extra large problem.
posted by The 10th Regiment of Foot at 2:09 PM on February 20 [1 favorite]


> The articles don't say that there was no investigation,

"We don't know they didn't investigate," isn't very satisfying. I was unable to find any evidence of a criminal investigation at all.

> what they say is "there was insufficient evidence to pursue criminal charges".

As I pointed out before, that was in 2010, before they found a lot of unexpected dead bodies.

> If there is only one person alive from the staff for those days,

They closed in 2011, and there's no evidence that they cleaned up their act before that.

> I'm guessing if a civil suit got thrown out for statue of limitations purposes, that the charges the eyewitnesses could bring against this man would face the same problem - their statements don't have him doing anything for which he could still be charged because too much time has elapsed.

The very link you posted points out that there is no statute of limitations on murder.

> there might be no justice here that the justice system can mete out.

Absent an official investigation, how could we possibly know? Surely the system failed - surely there must be some way to prevent this happening again?

I really don't understand the apologists for the state of Florida here.

For decades there are reports of murders and abuse - but apparently never an investigation. One day some academics investigate and find a lot of dead bodies - but still apparently no criminal or official investigation of any type is started. How is this possibly defensible?
posted by lupus_yonderboy at 2:15 PM on February 20 [5 favorites]


What gets me about the "5 more than previously thought" or "24 more than previously reported" is that this is based on archaeological excavation, which is extremely imperfect.

So IOW, we can be assured there will be still more, and that barring the whole grounds being sifted, we'll never know the total toll.
posted by lodurr at 2:18 PM on February 20


"Florida's Dozier School For Boys: A True Horror Story" (from the comments):
I grew up in Florida in the 60s and 70s. It was a common practice, in the public schools I attended, to threaten misbehaving students with "send you to Dozier" or "send you to the Ranch" (Fla Sheriff's Boys Ranch, another state "reform school" with a reputation for atrocious conditions). Everyone knew what this threat meant, and it terrified us.
The horrors of Florida's state reform schools are a notorious part of the historical narrative. Yes, the state was aware of it. Everyone was.
From the main article:
"It all boils down to civil liability," says Roger Kiser, a White House Boy who helped form the group and who has written about his experiences at the school in the late 1950s. "They do not want anybody to be able to have factual evidence that would make them pay for these — what I consider to be crimes."

The state report also found no evidence indicating a staff member was responsible for any student deaths. Kiser doesn't accept the state's conclusion.

"There's just too many stories," Kiser says. "I know of one that I personally saw die in the bathtub that had been beaten half to death. I thought he'd been mauled by the dogs because I thought he had ran. I never did find out the true story on that. There was the boy I saw who was dead who came out of the dryer. They put him in one of those large dryers."
So, yeah, there have been eyewitness accounts of actual deaths that ought to be sufficient to provoke a murder investigation. And the proposed explanation for why there hasn't been, I'm afraid I find all too plausible.
posted by lodurr at 2:23 PM on February 20 [7 favorites]


> The articles don't say that there was no investigation,

"We don't know they didn't investigate," isn't very satisfying. I was unable to find any evidence of a criminal investigation at all.


That's not what they said either, what they said was: "The Florida Department of Law Enforcement concluded in 2010 that, although it found dozens of graves, there was insufficient evidence to pursue criminal charges." Which is shorthand for what historically happened. A quick Google search takes us magically back in time to 2010 when then Governor Charlie Crist ordered The Florida Department of Law Enforcement to investigat the school and the human remains in conjunction with the US Department of Justice Civil Rights Division. The investigation found evidence of abuse and the school was closed in 2011, but there was not enough abuse to pursue criminal charges either on the state or Federal level.
posted by The 10th Regiment of Foot at 2:26 PM on February 20


Coincidentally, a finding of criminal wrongdoing might well have hurt the state's case in any hypothetical lawsuits.

Also coincidentally, Crist and his successor are law-&-order conservatives who think kids sent to a place like that are scum we shouldn't have to care about.
posted by lodurr at 2:43 PM on February 20


This is really an insane story, I guess being a reform school, the kids sent there aren't really cared about by their parents or relatives? I'm trying to imagine a situation where a kid gets shipped off to school, never comes back, and no one reports anything to anyone for over 100 years.
posted by mathowie at 2:52 PM on February 20


The hell of it is that they often did. You can see that in the NPR and Mother Jones stories. They were just ignored. Poor trash. Nobody gave a shit what they thought.
posted by lodurr at 2:55 PM on February 20 [7 favorites]


So they found abuse, but it wasn't enough abuse to be criminal? How is that even logically possible? There is some level of abuse that's acceptable? And people are in here defending Florida? If this were a story about something in New York absolutely I'd be in here shaking my head going "What the fuck is wrong with my state?"
posted by bleep at 3:02 PM on February 20 [4 favorites]



> If there is only one person alive from the staff for those days,

They closed in 2011, and there's no evidence that they cleaned up their act before that.


The article that discusses only one surviving staff member is dated August 2013. It very clearly says there is only one person that these survivors have identified as taking part in these abuses as being still alive. If there's evidence of staff committing an offense on the last day they operated, then I hope they nail those staff to the wall, but based on what I'm reading here they do not seem to currently have that evidence - only evidence against much older people, most of whom are dead.

That doesn't mean nothing happened in the intervening years. It only means there isn't evidence that can be acted on. If there is evidence for things happening more recently, I would love to see it brought forward. At the moment, this does not seem to be the case. It does seem to me that this forensics team isn't done yet either. More excavations are being planned, and it also looks like they are bringing in K9 and underground radar to keep looking. And perhaps this gaining more attention will give other survivors the courage to speak up as well - although I won't blame people who've been subjected to this from deciding to keep what peace they've found and not revisit this.

I'm guessing if a civil suit got thrown out for statue of limitations purposes, that the charges the eyewitnesses could bring against this man would face the same problem - their statements don't have him doing anything for which he could still be charged because too much time has elapsed.

The very link you posted points out that there is no statute of limitations on murder.


The point I'm trying to make is that I'm guessing the difficulty being encountered with the statute is because they do not have a clear piece of testimony or other evidence linking this man - or anyone else still living - to committing a murder, only other offenses for which the statute has, unfortunately, elapsed. If they cannot clearly say that they saw a person commit the murder, then murder cannot be charged.

I'm not trying to defend what happened here, just point out that there are some limits to what it might be possible to accomplish. Sometimes there is no justice possible through the laws of society because we need evidence against an individual, not just the knowledge that horrible things happened. If there's not enough evidence for a reasonable chance at conviction, are prosecutors going to go forward?

Maybe I'm wrong and there's mass corruption and cover-up at the heart of this, in which case a pox on everyone's house and I hope somebody burns everything down. A coverup on something like this would be a great thing to see Anonymous or Wikileaks or Snowden pull the rug out from under. I would be happy to be wrong, because I want someone to twist in the wind on this. I want someone to answer for a great number of cases of horrible abuse and murder. But some, most, or all of those people may be beyond societies reach, in which case I hope my atheism is also wrong because there is surely a special hell for them.
posted by nubs at 3:12 PM on February 20


So they found abuse, but it wasn't enough abuse to be criminal? How is that even logically possible?

They found evidence of abuse, but not enough to link specific acts of abuse to specific perpetrators at a level of certainty that a jury would be expected to consider to be beyond a reasonable doubt.

There is a vast gulf between "We know some fucked-up shit went down" and 'We have enough of the right kind of evidence to successfully prosecute a criminal trial against specific people.'
posted by Tomorrowful at 3:20 PM on February 20 [2 favorites]


Also coincidentally, Crist and his successor are law-&-order conservatives...

I think I'd have to disagree with that... In my mind being 'law and order' would mean trying to prosecute murders of children.
posted by el io at 3:56 PM on February 20


sorry, my mistake. I should have said "law-&-order [sic]".
posted by lodurr at 3:57 PM on February 20


To all you folks apologizing for the state of Florida: There's not much evidence to indicate that much of an investigation ever actually happened. For example, it wasn't until private interests (in no small part survivors of the school) got a stink up that forensic archaeologists were allowed to go in. Evidence suggests that the state worked pretty hard to pass the buck and pretend there was no issue.

Yes, there are specific problems in tieing specific activities to specific people for specific prosecutions. But until there's a substantive investigation, those are just preemtive excuses for not doing anything.
posted by lodurr at 4:03 PM on February 20 [5 favorites]


I'm sorry - not one of these arguments convinces me that finding unexpected dead bodies in unmarked graves does not warrant any investigation "because we investigated three years before".

A law enforcement agency that shows no interest at all in this - not even enough to re-open the investigation, add this evidence to the data files, and see if anything else new has come in - is a broken law enforcement agency.

I would also re-emphasize a point I made above - there's no evidence that there was any change in procedures in Florida because of this, or indeed, that any institutional lesson was learned at all.

Were I a victim of this "school", even a non-binding result like, "It is our belief that children were in fact murdered during these years even though the culprits are now dead," would be tremendously helpful to me.

But given what actually happened, the only logical conclusion would be that the authorities didn't care at the time, and they still don't care now.
posted by lupus_yonderboy at 4:24 PM on February 20 [5 favorites]


for two states that rely so much on tourism, that's an extra large problem. Well, people still keep visiting us here in increasingly record numbers.

I have been raised and have raised my children here in north Florida. We have terrible things happen here, in fact my connections to the Jordan Davis case are creepily intimate in multiple ways and there are many many times I think about how much I would love to move to a liberal paradise like Portland or Vermont. But we aren't ALL crazy gun toting racists here and it does get really really old being painted with that broad brush by smug people around the country.
posted by hollygoheavy at 5:03 PM on February 20 [10 favorites]


The problem with the "oh man, Florida/Texas/etc" is so bad narrative is that it allows people elsewhere to pat themselves on the back about how not terrible wherever they live is when in reality just because one place is horrifically racist/homophobic/transphobic/awful to marginalized groups in other ways does not mean that the rest of the culture isn't sick with the same disease.

What boggles my mind is why "reform" schools seem to always be awful - I don't know of any at all that achieve their supposed mission, and while I'm sure they exist, I can't fathom why it's those schools that inflict the most abuse.

"Reform" students tend to belong to marginalized groups in the first place and the double offense of being children and being labeled as "bad" or "irredeemable" children means that they're unlikely to be believed when they complain. If you're someone who wants to abuse children, this kind of environment is a perfect place for you.
posted by NoraReed at 5:27 PM on February 20 [6 favorites]


Another problem with the "oh man, Florida" narrative is that it doesn't take that much for it to shift into "well, that's Florida, what do you expect". Like, at the very least, I think it's important to remember that all the marginalized people getting screwed by state policies are also Floridians. They deserve better from their state.

I'm guessing the "civil liability" theory is the ultimate explanation for the coverup, which to me seems so much worse than if there were some sinister conspiratorial explanation. This is all the worst of humanity, here.
posted by vogon_poet at 7:20 PM on February 20 [2 favorites]


The comment quoted by lodurr above is right on. I grew up in Tallahassee, and the boys' ranches there (that's how we referred to them) were open secrets. In fact, a law enforcement officer I knew very well during my teenage years spoke of it, and the abuses there, in direct terms. Trouble youths in my social group were regularly threatened with being sent there. Having them around was seen as a deterrent.

Nothing here is surprising. Nothing here is revelatory. Everybody knew. Nobody did anything.
posted by TheNewWazoo at 8:19 PM on February 20 [2 favorites]


I won't get caught up in "lol florida", but the authorities in Florida deserve heaping and burning derision for this place's existence. Prosecutions should, in my opinion, be brought along the lines of convicting military commanders for not stopping soldiers' atrocities, or for things like RICO. The authorities knew. Nobody did anything.
posted by TheNewWazoo at 8:22 PM on February 20 [1 favorite]


People are condemning Florida on the basis of uncountable terrible stories, of which this is merely the latest.
posted by kafziel


Again, and I'll bow out now since the story isn't, and shouldn't be 'look at how horrible Florida is / isn't'. Condemning any state as terrible is simply dumb, no matter how you write the words. It's a copout. Instead of actually looking at the problem, it's much easier to say 'that's just Florida'. Florida is a mixture of good and bad, like most states. Like every state.

And I know how bad the bad is, because I live here. But I've also spent plenty of time in many other states, and they've all got their own problems. But only a few of them do we condemn completely. So whatever. Metafilter has always been hypocritical in that way; you can condemn whole groups of people and generalize and make absolute judgments, as long as they're the right group of people to condemn.

You're not condemning Florida on the basis of 'uncountable terrible stories' kafziel, you're condemning Florida because you're ignoring everything that happens in Florida except for the bad stories you hear. That's your right, of course. But it has nothing to do with a realistic view of Florida.
posted by justgary at 9:39 PM on February 20 [10 favorites]


I've heard a lot of bad stories about a lot of institutions, but this is the first time I've heard allegations about mass graves ,and human remains in the pig slop. So on the one hand, all those bad institutions really need investigation. On the other hand, this is so extraordinarily bad that it needs forensic examination so that we know exactly what went on and how it was allowed to happen.
posted by Joe in Australia at 10:32 PM on February 20 [4 favorites]


I can't imagine. This should not happen to anyone. The survivors' efforts to speak out and make sure this doesn't happen to others are very commendable. So awful that they're necessary.
posted by salvia at 12:26 AM on February 21 [1 favorite]



I think I'd have to disagree with that... In my mind being 'law and order' would mean trying to prosecute murders of children.


In this context "law & order" doesn't refer to the rule of law, but rather to reinforcing hierarchies and keeping the minorities in their place at the very bottom.
posted by acb at 3:40 AM on February 21 [1 favorite]


...human remains in the pig slop.

what's interesting to me about this detail is that it sounds like a hallucination. It could still be real, but it does have that ring of PTSD bleed-over to it.
posted by lodurr at 5:44 AM on February 21


Imagine the PTSD you would get from being sent to a place where your daily environment resembles a PTSD hallucination.
posted by bleep at 8:35 AM on February 21 [4 favorites]


Metafilter has always been hypocritical in that way; you can condemn whole groups of people and generalize and make absolute judgments, as long as they're the right group of people to condemn.

Hold on a second. There's a discursive focus on Florida as an example of shoddy state youth correctional facilities, but I don't really see there being a, "there go those clowns in Florida again," theme dominating so much as that that's the state, so it's gonna be named. I don't think the thread would be much different if it happened in many other states. It's also a pretty god damned insane story, so I think shock plays a role in hunting for blame.

This absolutely is not a Florida Man thing, it's a corrections, law enforcement, and marginalized people thing. These children were basically thrown away, killed, and the state is just shrugging their shoulders. All states would do this, I feel, and that's the problem. "Oh, but whaddya gonna do? It only looks like a season of Dexter."

I think the fundamental issue here is that it brings to light how long corrections has not been about rehabilitation. These were children that the capital-s State thought they could do whatever they wanted with, and what they wanted to do was as little as possible. This is certainly an outgrowth of my personal politics, but it throws the entire correctional system into question, because the answer the State simply cannot give is whether it is still occurring, could occur, and the more they have to delve into this situation the more it becomes connected to current practices and attitudes still in effect. The fact that this happened is a problem, but was anything learned about preventing it from happening again? I don't think closing this particular location answers that question, which is why they want to leave the questions in a three year-old investigation that resulted in bupkis.

Funny how regular citizens can be convicted on the thinnest of evidence and hearsay, but once the State is involved they practically need video of the actual murders and an officer recorded screaming, "MY NAME IS SGT. JOE SMITH AND I'M GOING TO MURDER BILLY JOHNSON RIGHT NOW," in order to bring charges. "Sorry, no evidence!"
posted by rhizome at 10:22 AM on February 21 [4 favorites]


bleep: exactly.
posted by lodurr at 11:09 AM on February 21


This is really an insane story, I guess being a reform school, the kids sent there aren't really cared about by their parents or relatives? I'm trying to imagine a situation where a kid gets shipped off to school, never comes back, and no one reports anything to anyone for over 100 years.

This would be its own (heartbreaking) investigation, and I'm guessing it would include a good number of boys who were loved, and missed, but whose parents were so disenfranchised (race, socioeconomic status, or even merely being the "kind of family" that produced a juvenile delinquent taken in by the state) that it didn't seem conceivable or even safe to question the official line about "runaways" and "accidents." Particularly in the case of African American families. In Florida.
posted by blue suede stockings at 11:21 AM on February 21 [1 favorite]


... a good number of boys who were loved, and missed, but whose parents were so disenfranchised (race, socioeconomic status, or even merely being the "kind of family" that produced a juvenile delinquent taken in by the state) ...

a facebook-friend frequently reposts stuff from a page called something like "missing black teens." Mostly they're things from her area (a small city in the hudson valley of NY).

there's a surprisingly large number of teenage black girls that go missing.

I don't remember any of them ever being a stink. But a pretty blonde white girl goes missing...

so, yeah, it happens elsewhere and a big part of it is probably 'these people don't matter so why should we care?' don't make it right.
posted by lodurr at 11:25 AM on February 21


I'm willing to condemn the entire state of Florida on the grounds of the Baker Act, alone.
posted by vitabellosi at 11:31 AM on February 21


"I'll be deep in the cold, cold ground before I recognize Missourah!"
posted by rhizome at 11:53 AM on February 21


The problem with the "oh man, Florida/Texas/etc" is so bad narrative is that it allows people elsewhere to pat themselves on the back about how not terrible wherever they live is when in reality just because one place is horrifically racist/homophobic/transphobic/awful to marginalized groups in other ways does not mean that the rest of the culture isn't sick with the same disease.

Sorry, not buying it.

This is the same logic as the "how dare you complain about XYZ, people elsewhere in the world have it way worse!" kind of garbage. You can criticize something without being perfect yourself. Shitty things happen everywhere, that doesn't mean that we don't get to go "Wow, a lot of shitty things happen in this one place".

No one complaining about this that i've seen in here has said, or even really implied that the rest of the country is some jetsons liberal wonderland. There's just an abnormal grouping of fucked up shit in the states that everyone is saying we're criticizing "too much".

Why is it so wrong to accept that a lot of shitty things just happen in those places? Why are people who lived there and moved the fuck out because they couldn't deal with the way it was unreliable narrators? Shit, i work with someone who grew up there and joined the armed forces to get out.

This is like "leave britney alone!" level tiresomeness to me.
posted by emptythought at 4:07 PM on February 21


This shit is still going on today in facilities across the country. No need to make this about Florida.
posted by Twang at 5:18 PM on February 21 [1 favorite]


This shit is still going on today in facilities across the country. No need to make this about Florida.

I was curious, so I did a 30 second peruse of Google. Damn.

http://nospank.net/camps.htm

http://amarillo.com/stories/2000/02/09/tex_LD0638.001.shtml

http://www.sltrib.com/news/ci_7139316

Pretty easy to find examples of this, way more than I can link here.
posted by jeanmari at 7:51 PM on February 21 [3 favorites]


Also:

http://nospank.net/boot.htm

That is one long list of media reports.
posted by jeanmari at 7:55 PM on February 21 [1 favorite]


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