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USFs Dozier Report Long On Allegations, Short On Facts

The Dozier reform school excavation project has been understood by many local residents to be a taxpayer-funded archeological dig for the purpose of identifying half-century and century-old gravesite remains. But the three-year effort is turning out to be equally a forensic examination, complete with calls for renewed criminal investigations, warranted or not. A state-required report issued last week from Prof. Erin Kimmerle and the University of South Florida to the Florida Cabinet—and released to frothing news media reps as well--makes it clear that the USF Dozier reformatory project is nothing short of a multiple cold-case crime scene investigation, just like on TV’s CSI programs, and just as lucrative to those pursuing fame as detectives and writers. However, as the claims regarding beatings, rape, torture and murder grow wilder and wilder, the evidence remains as always, scant to non-existent. That is not a problem for USF; they are still on the case.

Kimmerle’s Feb. 5, 15-page report contains only two new revelations pertinent to the task of identifying the deceased for their longsuffering families, neither of which regard a client of Dozier at the time of death.

The news involved the identifications of two sets of remains buried in the Dozier campus cemetery—those of an employee (Bennett Evans, confirmed by DNA) and a one-time client of the reform school who returned to work there apparently of his own free will (Sam Morgan, confirmed by DNA samples). And the identification of Evans, wrote Kimmerle who has been working on the excavation project since September 2013, is only “presumptive.” Buried in the report but dug out by the media are some of the most lurid and sensational allegations and suppositions made public since the “White House Boys” group began its campaign in 2007, allegations which typically appeared in the headlines of newspapers and the internet last week from Florida to California.

dozier leadThere were reports of “possible buckshot” found among the remains of a “victim” (not Morgan or Evans or the three other identified former clients). Also, Kimmerle says she was told by “men who were sent to the school as boys and former staff” that an old gym (no longer in existence) had a basement that “was referred to as the ‘rape room’ or ‘rape dungeon’ by several men who reported to us that they were raped or molested while incarcerated at the school.” Kimmerle adds the following sentence, without attribution or confirmation, “Some of these men were under the age of 12 years old at the time of their abuse, others name specific perpetrators.” Kimmerle does finally acknowledge that the “rape dungeon” allegations may be false, but not with the use of the word false: “It should be further stated that while we did not find physical evidence to substantiate such claims—though it was not our intent to do so—we did not find credible evidence to disprove or discredit the testimonies we did take.”

Still, Kimmerle calls repeatedly for renewed criminal investigations by the state: “A review of the facts surrounding certain students’ deaths reveals a compelling need for further investigation in some cases,” she says on page 7. On page 10, after airing the lurid reports of the “rape room” (located among no- longer-existent “underground tunnels,” no less), USF’s famed forensic anthropology teacher says that “Since the investigation of abuse, sexual assault and rape is beyond our expertise and may have criminal or other civil consequences, particularly because several of the men were under the age of 12 years at the time of the incident and at least one of the named perpetrators is still living to our knowledge, we recommend sworn statements be taken by qualified law enforcement.” The “perpetrators” are not named.

On page 2, Kimmerle explains that “justice” is one of her motivations for the project. “After three years, our focus is more than ever on the present—educating the living about what happened in the past through our research and scholarship, mourning with families of those who died at Dozier and supporting them as they seek justice and facilitating processes of memorialization that serve to bring communities together and creating a more affirming future for all citizens of Florida.” Though there was a session between a member of Kimmerle’s staff and members of the Marianna, Jackson County, community in 2013, USF has released no report of that session. Nor has Kimmerle made public any comprehensive study of the thousands of clients served by Dozier in its century of existence, or the economic impact to the community when the state closed the facility amid the negative publicity in 2011, costing more than 150 persons their jobs. Kimmerle and USF, as well as the Tampa Bay Times newspaper have rejected repeatedly documentation and evidence from Jackson County historian Dale Cox that further criminal investigation may not be warranted. The Dozier buildings today, some modern, some ancient but remodeled, sit on more than 100 acres off Penn Avenue between downtown Marianna and I-10, with no prospects on the table for their future use.

The Florida Department of Law Enforcement already has become involved in the forensic side of the Dozier excavations project. Kimmerle explains what the Tampa Bay Online media website and others papers are calling the “possible projectile” on page 4: Kimmerle writes that among the remains in one still unidentified grave “was a small lead ball consistent with a projectile. It was submitted to the FDLE crime lab in Tampa by the Hillsborough County Sheriff’s Office. FDLE ballistics experts concluded the following: “The exhibit lead ball cannot be definitively determined to be an ammunition component due to damage and corrosion; however, it is consistent with 000 Buck size shot pellets for various muzzle loading balls based on weight, size, and physical appearance.” Although Kimmerle states that “The conditions of the remains was poor due to erosion of the tissues from root damage (and) cause of death could not be determined,” she somehow determined that the piece of metal was found “along with the remains near the left lower abdomen/upper thigh region of the body.” She also points out that the remains of the “most likely of African American ancestry” from a “14-17 year old child” buried probably “during the latter part of the period in which the burial ground was in use” was buried in a casket “with clothing, evidenced by buttons and a metal belt buckle.” Kimmerle’s report did not include the comment of a law enforcement officer at the Thursday press conference, Greg Thomas of HCSO, who pointed out at the press conference that the piece of metal could have been from the boy’s pocket.

The FDLE investigated the allegations of the White House Boys group in 2009 and a lawsuit was filed by former clients against a former Dozier employee. The lawsuit eventually was dismissed by a judge and the FDLE concluded that it could not prove or disprove any wrongdoing at the institution—ever. All investigations were hampered by the fact that many persons accused as perpetrators long since have passed away. Kimmerle’s report says the USF team will be back at Dozier in the spring for “additional fieldwork” but that their “access to the property ends on August 6, 2015,” two years after the excavations began. Though a $200,000 grant from the Florida Legislature for the gravesite identifications may be expired soon if not already, USF also in 2013 was awarded a federal grant from the US Department of Justice in excess of $400,000.

According to author and historian Cox, Sam Morgan was not a client of Dozier when he died and was buried there. Cox’s just-released book entitled “Death at Dozier School, The Attempted Assassination of an American City,” says Morgan was a free and grown man at the time of his death in the 1920s. “They call him a child (in the USF report),” Cox said last week in a statement to the Jackson County TIMES, “but he was a grown man that chose to stay behind and live and work in Jackson County. He was not an indentured servant (as the report suggests). He fell ill with a severe fever and the family that he was living with rushed him to the infirmary at the school. He was unconscious when he arrived and died while receiving medical care. He is in the ledgers and appears in a report to the state.” And concerning the “buckshot” case; what else, besides “a projectile,” could the metal have been? “FDLE has determined that the lead shot found with the unidentified body could have been from a muzzle-loading weapon. Muzzle-loading weapons went out of use locally 30 years before the school was even built.” Cox said.

Bennett Evans was Dozier employee believed to have died in a dormitory fire in 1914.

See Also Dozier Media Circus

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Dozier Media Circus

The word from the Florida Department of Law Enforcement was final; it was clear: The tiny single lead ball found in one of the Dozier gravesite excavations “could NOT be definitively determined to be an ammunition component due to damage and corrosion.” However, the FDLE report sent back to the source, Erin Kimmerle and her University of South Florida Dozier excavation added that: “However, it is consistent with 000 Buck size shot pellets for various muzzle-loading balls based on weight, size and physical appearance.”

That’s all the newspapers and internet media reporters needed to know. Ignoring the puzzling “muzzle-loading” description, the Tampa Bay Times headline, based on reporter Ben Montgomery’s Feb. 5 article, read: “Dozier Investigation Finds Possible Buckshot in Boy’s Remains.” It’s “possible” but evidently the truth never may be determined, according to the FDLE conclusion. Since the “buck size pellet” may have been from a “muzzle-(loader)”, is it possible the object could be from a weapon used during the Civil War? How about Jackson County author and historian Dale Cox’s guess that it was possibly a lead weight out of a fishing tackle box, since a Hillsborough County (Tampa) law enforcement officer said it may have been in the buried person’s pocket? Of course, newspapers are printed to be sold, however, and “Possible fishing tackle found in boy’s pocket,” well, that just doesn’t have the same ring as “buckshot and victim.”

Not to be outdone in sensationalism and eye-catching news reporting, WTSP, Tampa Bay’s Channel 10 News website, ran the headline the next day, Friday, saying: “USF: Possible Buckshot found in Dozier Victim.”

The Jan. 21, 2015,USF report, turned in as required to the Florida Cabinet last week and announced dramatically at, of course, the required live press conference in Tampa, also contained some lurid allegations of a room once located among “underground tunnels” below a gym at Dozier that Kimmerle dubbed the “rape room” or “rape dungeon.” She cited stories told to her by former Dozier clients as the source of the unsubstantiated hearsay. Although she did state in her report that “we did not find evidence to substantiate such claims,” she also pointed out that, “(neither did we) find credible evidence to disprove or discredit the testimonies we did take.”

That’s all the newspapers needed. From the Tampa Bay Tribune came the headline grabber: “USF team urges Dozier school probe amid ‘rape room’ claims” and from the UK Guardian (that’s right, it’s based in London England): “’Rape dungeon’ allegations emerge in abuse report on Florida’s notorious Dozier School for Boys.”

In the 15-page USF report, Kimmerle repeatedly cited poor record keeping in the century-old Dozier reform school, (1900-2011) and pointed out the innumerable allegations of abuse and legal corporal punishments (corporal punishment was not banned until the late 1960s) and poor management. Apparently the report was more than the Associated Press could take without gushing in a headline: “Report describes horrific treatment, deaths at reform school”--an article, and headline, which appeared in the Friday edition of the Panama City News Herald and the Jackson County Floridan. Notice that the AP decided to forego the lengthy “allegations” language and just went with the assertion, in the headline, that the “horrific treatment” was acknowledged by all and simply needed to be “described.” News4JAX in Jacksonville picked up on the horror motif, headlining its Feb. 5 story: “Report: Horrific treatment, deaths at reform school.” The AP story also included a sentence which read: “Other boys died after severe beatings, being smashed in the head or other injuries.” The sentence was attributed to no one and did not point out the reason one boy was killed, according to other published and undisputed reports, was that he was beaten by other clients.

It is true that the “White House Boys” group the group that includes former juvenile clients of the reform school, have been making wild allegations since it was formed circa 2007. Their allegations, including treatment from guards that rivaled what the Jews went through in WWII Nazi concentration camps, resulted in an investigation in 2009 by the Florida Department of Law Enforcement which finally reached the conclusion that too many former guards and administrators had died for any of the allegations to be proven or disproven. But Cox, former employees of Dozier, former clients of Dozier and four local Chamber of Commerce citizens of the year have argued for years that the stories of beatings and rape may be exaggerated and that claims of murder may be false. They cite state investigations prior to the FDLE in 2009, the latest FDLE report and their own firsthand knowledge.

However, in more than two long years of sordid headlines and even claims from a “Black White House Boys” group that the KKK was involved, no television, radio, newspaper or internet media outlet ever has reported the community’s side of the argument. This is so despite the publication in 2014 of a book written by the purported original founder of the White House Boys. (The name comes from a detention area on the Dozier campus.) In “Crimes against the State: The Official White House Boys Organization Holding the State of Florida Hostage,” Roger Dean Kiser writes, “When I wrote my book called The White House Boys—An American Tragedy,” the purpose was to tell my personal story as I saw it as a child. After the release of that book many men came forward (calling themselves the “Official” White House Boys) and began spouting fabricated untrue stories just to get even with the state for punishments administered to them as children by the school staff for infractions they themselves most likely deserved.

“Several men secretly gathered in a Kissimmee motel room,” Kiser continues, “and decided to take over the White House Boys Organization deciding that this was a perfect opportunity to receive large compensations from the state if they stuck together by enhancing the original allegations of abuse brought forth by (myself), the original founder of the White House boys.” There’s more: “Later that evening the wives of these same men began to discuss ways, after the organization was securely in their hands and fully operational,” Kiser wrote, “they would form a non-profit allowing them to solicit large donations from large corporations (such as Wal-Mart) which would be a way to collect large amounts of monies in donations and in turn pay themselves ‘high salaries of $100,000 a year as Elizabeth Dole was receiving’ who formerly headed up the Red Cross.” Kiser concluded the book preface with a troubling account of his recent years: “As I continued to try to get the organization back on the right track, threats of physical harm and death threats against me and my grandchildren began to occur.” Kiser has asserted that the corporal punishment of the day at the hand of the guards was brutal and wrong, but it was mostly the extent of any abuse at the facility.

Dr. Kimmerle, in three years of research and writing, has not commented on whether she thinks Kiser’s story is credible, whether it can be proven or disproven.

Ben Montgomery and the Tampa Bay Times were turned down for a Pulitzer Prize when they applied for one in 2010 based on Montgomery’s melodramatic and emotive coverage of the Official White House Boys allegations, the sensational ones, in a series named “For their own Good.” Perhaps the submission received only a runner-up mention because Montgomery seemed to at once take for granted everything the former delinquents told him. Montgomery apparently refers to it as “narrative journalism” since he has a website touting the method called Gangrey.com, according to his TB Times bio. In Montgomery’s “narrative” reporting, once a source makes an allegation to him, the writer is then free to use the material as though it actually happened, no need for mundane attributions such as, “according to the allegations,” reportedly, or “allegedly.” Perhaps they get in the way of the narrative, screenplay-style penmanship.

Montgomery has visited Marianna on a number of occasions, but relied on a press report not from the Jackson County TIMES to comment on the gathering at the courthouse steps last year. Those Jackson County Chamber of Commerce citizens of the year, including Cox, held a press conference of their own in which they decried what they consider the false and defaming allegations of the White House groups. Montgomery’s article/commentary on the gathering appeared in the Miami Herald on January 4, 2015. “The good people of Jackson County were fed up,” Montgomery wrote in the “narrative” style. His next sentence showed possible contempt for anyone with the bad fortune to live anywhere near Dozier and stick up for its reputation. “Five white dignitaries, all former Jackson County Chamber of Commerce ‘Citizen of the Year’ winners, gathered in front of the county courthouse in Marianna,” wrote Montgomery, “not far from a Confederate monument and not far from an oak tree where a black farmhand was lynched in front of 2,000 people on Oct. 26, 1934…” Anyone who likes Jackson County and who continued reading the article may have ended up being sorry they did. To a comment made at the gathering by an eyewitness during the 1960s, a nurse who worked there, Montgomery doubted her veracity. “It infuriates me that former students would come in a make the accusations that they’ve made without substantiating the proof. Prove it,” said the nurse. To her statement, Montgomery wrote, “It had been proven, over and over again,” and cited his series in the Tampa Bay Times as that proof.

In arguments back and forth between Cox and Montgomery, which Cox has revealed in published emails and discussed in conversations, Montgomery and his superiors repeatedly have told him they are after “the truth of what happened at Dozier.” The writings of Cox in his books, the book by Kiser and any number of the numerous lengthy, annotated and documented research papers Cox has published at http://dozierdefense.blogspot.com, also known as “Truth & the Dozier School for Boys, never have made it into the writings of Kimmerle, the Tampa Bay Times, or Ben Montgomery. Perhaps their descriptions of the truth don’t fit “the narrative.”

See Also USFs Dozier Report Long On Allegations, Short On Facts

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Dozier Not Involved In Empty Coffin Case

By Dale Cox and Cindy Sloan

Chattahoochee – A wide array of media outlets have tied Marianna’s Dozier School for Boys to an empty coffin found last week in Pennsylvania. Original documentation, however, shows that the school was not involved.

The allegations surround the grave of Thomas Curry, who walked away from the unfenced campus of the Florida Industrial School for Boys in Marianna on December 10, 1925. The school was later renamed in honor of longtime superintendent Arthur G. Dozier.

Employees from the University of South Florida (USF) exhumed an unmarked grave in Philadelphia hoping to find Curry’s remains. They found surviving pieces of a coffin similar to those used at the Marianna reform school but found no evidence of human remains in the grave.

The failure of researchers to find Curry’s body ignited a wave of sensational headlines. Newspapers and television stations around the world published details under such headlines as “Infamous Florida reform school sent family coffin full of wood instead of son’s body” (WXIN-TV) and “Casket belonging to boy killed at horror reform school in 1925 found empty” (New York Daily News).

Lurid headlines aside, the evidence shows that the Boys School was not involved in the Philadelphia “empty grave” situation. Here are the facts:

Thomas Curry, a native of Philadelphia, was around 15 years old when he was sentenced to the Florida Industrial School for Boys by a judge in Dade County, Florida. The school at that time was not fenced and had just passed a medical inspection by Dr. J.H. Colson of Tallahassee. He reported to the Board of Commissioners of State Institutions that the “health of the inmates as a whole was good, and they seemed happy and contented.”

Curry walked away from the school on December 10, 1925, as news reached Marianna that students from the Miami area were being ordered back to that city. Dade County’s sheriff and several other officers were accused of murder and juveniles from the School for Boys were being called to testify against them.

A search was conducted for the young runaway, but he could not be found.

The next day, as Curry tried to cross the long railroad bridge and trestle over the Apalachicola River at Chattahoochee, a train rolled into sight. Local residents of the River Junction community saw him either leap or fall and rushed to his assistance. They carried him to the Florida State Hospital in Chattahoochee, a facility that often provided emergency treatment for area residents in that era.

Curry was still alive when he was brought to the medical ward at the hospital, but died a short time later as Dr. B.F. Barnes and other medical professionals tried to save his life.

A coroner’s inquest was convened and Gadsden County authorities determined that the teenager had died as a result of his fall from the railroad trestle. The Gadsden County Times, a Quincy newspaper, reported at the time that Curry “died from the effect of a crushing blow on the forehead received when he hit the ground or a timber.”

This was the conclusion reported in the Boys School ledger books, which note that Curry was “killed on R.R. bridge in Chattahoochee, Fla. Dec. 11, 1925.” Last week’s headline claim by the New York Daily News that the youth was “killed at horror reform school” is not supported by any of the original information.

The Gadsden County coroner had no association with the Florida Industrial School for Boys. Neither did law enforcement in that county. Both confirmed in written reports that Curry fell from a railroad trestle nearly 25 miles from the school.

The surviving records show that Thomas Curry’s body was never returned to Marianna. There is no substance to last week’s media claims that the “Infamous Florida Reform School sent family coffin full of wood instead of son’s body.” Records clearly show that the school was not involved in the coffin shipment.

Dr. Barnes indicated in 1925 that the teenager’s “body was embalmed and efforts made to secure his parentage.” The only involvement by the school following Curry’s death came when officials in Marianna provided Barnes with a letter to the young man from his grandmother.

Susanna O’Connell, the teenager’s widowed grandmother, had sent a note to Curry at about the time he ran away from the school. Dr. Barnes described it as being of a “kind, but reproachful tone and full of good advice.”

Using the return address on the letter, Dr. Barnes and the staff of the state hospital were able to locate Mrs. O’Connell and notify her of Curry’s death. They discussed “the disposition of her grandson” with her. Barnes’s 1925 account indicates that Mrs. O’Connell requested that the remains be sent to Philadelphia and that he agreed to “comply with her wishes in the matter.”

Thomas Curry’s death certificate is public record and was signed by Dr. Barnes and Coroner L.H. Sanders. It indicates that the young man died from a “wound to the forehead” and that his “skull was crushed from an unknown cause.”

The University of South Florida and others have made much of the “unknown cause” notation, but it simply meant that the doctor and coroner were not sure whether the wound was caused when the body struck the ground or whether Curry’s head had collided with part of the trestle on the way down causing the injury. Dr. Barnes was clear that the teen’s death took place following a fall from the railroad bridge.

The death certificate shows that Thomas Curry’s body was turned over to a private funeral home. The mortician removed the body from the Florida State Hospital morgue on December 26, 1925.

What happened to Curry’s body is a mystery. Whether he was buried in Chattahoochee or in a different grave in Philadelphia is not known. Neither is it known whether he might have been cremated, which would explain the failure of the USF employees to find bones in his assumed grave. A search of mortuary records is currently underway in the hopes that they might answer that mystery.

Known records, however, clearly indicate that neither Florida State Hospital nor the Florida Industrial School for Boys was involved in the shipping of the body.

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