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Reform school abuse claims lack evidence

TALLAHASSEE — Investigators have been unable to substantiate or refute claims that students were abused physically and sexually some 40 years ago at a state reform school, according to a final report issued Thursday.

A letter from a prosecutor issued along with the report said there was insufficient evidence to charge anyone with a crime.

Gov. Charlie Crist in 2008 ordered the Florida Department of Law Enforcement to investigate allegations by former inmates from the 1950s and ’60s who call themselves the White House boys.

The ex-students have said they and other inmates were abused by staffers at the Arthur G. Dozier School for Boys in Marianna. Some even allege students died as a result of beatings or other abuse.

Last year, investigators announced they had found evidence of foul play in the death of only one of 32 boys that staff members buried in unidentified graves on school grounds.

One boy was killed by four other students in 1944 to prevent him from telling authorities about their escape plan.

Death certificates and other records, media reports and interviews with former staff members and inmates show the others died from illness and accidents, including a 1914 dormitory fire.

The investigation, though, continued with agents interviewing more than 100 former staff members and ex-students and their family members.

The interviews confirmed administrators beat inmates with a wooden paddle and leather strap to encourage obedience.

Most of the alleged abuse took place in a white cinder block building dubbed “the White House” that was sealed in 2008.

nmates were taken there for beatings or what the report frequently terms “spankings.”

The former students said the punishment often left them bruised and bloodied, but the report said “there was little to no evidence of visible residual scaring.”

Chemical tests were conducted at the White House but all were negative for blood, including on spots that appeared to be a bloody hand print or smears.

Some former students told investigators they continue to suffer great psychological harm from the beatings.

“They really twisted things,” said Roger Dean Kiser of Brunswick, Ga., who heads The White House Boys, one of three groups of former students from that era.

“We do know where there’s a body and we’re going to get it.”

Robert Straley, another former student and spokesman for the White House Boys Survivors Organization, said he “was kind of in a state of shock from reading” the report.

“I found the report fair but somewhat biased toward toning down the severity of the beatings,” Straley said. “I don’t think they tried hard enough” to verify the allegations.”

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