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12/22/13 School-to-prison pipeline overflowing
Matthew T. Mangino, Opinion, The Daily Telegram, Dec. 22, 2013

There was a time when disruptive students were sent to see the princi­pal. Today in some school districts, the disruptive student is handcuffed and ushered off to court. The school-to-prison pipeline is overflowing with students.

Melodee Hanes, of the U.S. Justice Department’s Office of Juvenile Justice and Delinquency Prevention, describes the school-to-­prison pipeline as “the pervasive use of court referrals as a means of disciplining kids in school.”

According to the Washington Post, more than 3 million students each year are suspended or expelled from school across the United States. Federal data, though limited, show that more than 240,000 students were referred to law enforcement.

The school-to-prison pipeline is being fueled by “zero-tolerance” policies that accelerate the involvement of the criminal justice system in routine school disciplinary prac­tices. The involvement of law enforcement in traditional matters of school discipline has soared as school districts across the country expanded the use of armed police officers in schools.

The results, at times, have been ridiculous. Recently, the parents of a 10-year-old Pennsylvania boy, who was suspended after pretending to shoot an imaginary bow and arrow, are mulling legal action against the school district to erase the incident from his school record. The fifth-­grader was disciplined under the school district’s weapons policy.

Last year, federal civil rights lawyers filed suit against a Meridian County School District in Mississippi for operating what the government described as a school­-to-prison pipeline in which students were denied basic constitutional rights, sent to court and incarcer­ated for minor school infractions, reported CNN.

Children were handcuffed and arrested in school; often detained without a hearing for 48 hours; made admissions without being advised of their rights; and were not provided with legal counsel for hearings.

The problem goes beyond Mississippi. Wansley Walters, secretary of the Florida Department of Juvenile Justice, told the Orlando Sentinel earlier this year, “The vast majority of children being arrested in schools are not committing criminal acts.”

Sixty-seven percent of the arrests last year in Florida were for misdemeanors such as disorderly conduct — a catch-all that has been used when children are unruly or disruptive. Fewer than 5 percent of students faced weapons charges.

Some Florida school districts are beginning to question the efficacy of zero-tolerance policies. Under a new program adopted by the Broward County School District, non-violent misdemeanors — even those that involve alcohol, marijuana or drug paraphernalia — will now be handled by the schools instead of the police.

Broward County is far from the only school district re-evaluating its zero-tolerance policies. According to National Public Radio, officials in Clayton County, Ga., Wichita, Kan., Columbus, Ohio, and Birmingham, Ala., are just a few of the school dis­tricts reviewing zero-tolerance policies.

Policymakers have also taken notice. Last December, the U.S. Senate Judiciary Committee, Sub-committee on Constitution, Civil Rights and Human Rights conducted the first ever hearing on the school-to-prison pipeline.

“For many young people schools are increasingly a gateway to the criminal justice system,” Illinois Sen. Dick Durbin, who chairs the Judiciary Committee, said in a statement before the committee. “(T)his school-to-prison pipeline has moved scores of young people from classrooms to courtrooms.”

Michael Nash, the presiding judge of juvenile court in Los Angeles and the immediate past president of the National Council of Juvenile and Family Court Judges, told the New York Times, “You have to differenti­ate the security issue and the discipline issue ... once the kids get involved in the court system, it’s a slippery slope downhill.”

Unfortunately, more and more young people are sliding down that slippery slope, and the consequences are dire for the stu­dent and costly for society as well.


Matthew T. Mangino is of counsel with Luxenberg, Garbett, Kelly and George and the former district attor­ney for Lawrence County, Pa. You can read his blog at  and follow him on Twitter at @MatthewTMangino.

Read more:


11/14/13 Troubled Youth Prison Company Wins Even More Contracts
Chris Kirkham, Huffington Post

Despite voluminous evidence that inmates have suffered violence, sexual abuse and neglect inside the facilities of a private juvenile prison operator, the state of Florida has in recent weeks awarded fresh contracts to the company.

Since late October, Florida has granted Youth Services International two new contracts to operate youth prisons, while signaling that YSI is in line to win a third contract to run a facility near Miami. The decision came after The Huffington Post published an extensive investigation that documented more than two decades of abuse at the company's juvenile and adult facilities.

Florida's Department of Juvenile Justice has continued to award tens of millions of dollars worth of prison contracts to YSI, despite a civil rights investigation by the Justice Department and probes into negligence and violent conditions by authorities in at least five states. In the past year alone, the company has already received four new contracts in Florida totaling nearly $37 million.

YSI did not respond to requests for comment about the new contracts. A spokeswoman for Florida's Department of Juvenile Justice, Meghan Speakes Collins, did not respond to questions about YSI, but wrote in an email that the agency has a system to identify contractors who "best support the Department's approach of providing the right service to the right youth at the right time."

She added that the department's "comprehensive oversight" ensures that youth housed in its facilities are "in an environment that is most conducive to their success."

Florida has renewed an additional four existing contracts with YSI over the last two years, including a $29 million, four-year contract to operate the Palm Beach Juvenile Correctional Facility, the company's largest youth prison in the state. A June report from the Bureau of Justice Statistics found that the facility had the highest rate of youth alleging sexual victimization at the hands of other youth or staff, out of 36 facilities reviewed in Florida.

"I think this shows the sorry state of affairs in Florida," said Curtis Hierro, field director for the Dream Defenders, a group of student advocates that has worked on mass incarceration issues and staged a month-long protest of the state's controversial "stand your ground" law at the Florida capitol this summer. "When it comes to incarceration, Florida continues to be at the forefront of being completely inept. The political leadership in this state on both sides of the aisle are going to have to answer to this issue -- to the horrible conditions in YSI's facilities and why they continue to get contracts."

HuffPost's investigation found that Florida's process for choosing juvenile prison contractors fails to scrutinize past problems those companies have faced in other states. For example, when YSI was bidding for a new round of Florida contracts in 2003, its application did not mention that the U.S. Justice Department was investigating rampant abuse and mistreatment of juvenile prisoners at a facility the company ran in Maryland. Nor did executives disclose that an 18-year-old inmate had died of pneumonia at one of the company's Texas boot camps, despite begging to be taken to the hospital.

The company did not mention those incidents because officials were not required to do so, according to Florida's juvenile justice contracting system. If a company currently has contracts in Florida, officials do not examine its record in other states.

Speakes Collins, the DJJ spokeswoman, said that comparisons between states can be difficult because of differing standards for juvenile justice. "Evaluating the performance of programs based on their operations in Florida allows for programs to be evaluated on the same criteria," she said.

Yet YSI's record in Florida has also been troublesome. A 2006 review of a YSI facility called Thompson Academy found that 96 percent of staff had left over the previous year, and eight cases of child abuse had been confirmed there. Yet Florida juvenile justice officials renewed YSI's contract.

Past performance counts little in a contractor's evaluation. Up until earlier this year, a company's history accounted for less than one-fourth of a potential contractor's rating. Now, it counts for just slightly more than one-fourth of the final score.

This article has been updated to include comment from the Florida Department of Juvenile Justice.

For more on Youth Services International, read HuffPost's two-part investigation, "Prisoners of Profit":

Part 1: Private Prison Empire Rises Despite Startling Record of Juvenile Abuse
Part 2: Florida's Lax Oversite Enables Systemtic Abuse at Private Youth Prisons


10/20/13 Schools studying campus arrests
Lisa Gartner, Tampa Bay Times

About 20 percent of arrests on school grounds are for disruption, an area the Pinellas County school system is examining as officials seek to reduce the number of students leaving campus in handcuffs.

Michael Bessette, the director of operational services for the district, told the School Board on Tuesday that 121 students have been arrested at school this semester.

In the same time period last year, 154 students were arrested at Pinellas schools, a 21 percent decrease.

"Is that enough? No," said Bessette, "but the focus of every meeting we have with the (school resource officers) is to talk about it."

School Board member Linder Lerner raised the issue Tuesday after hearing rumors that elementary school students were being arrested at school.

Bessette said police had been called to elementary schools 255 times already this year but that only one elementary school student had been arrested.

Meanwhile, six elementary-age children were arrested outside of school in events that "had nothing to do with us," Bessette said.

Still, Bessette said his department wanted to take a detailed look at school arrests. A student will be arrested when drugs or weapons are involved. But for problems such as disruptive behavior, less severe consequences could be looked to first.

"If we have a high number of arrests at one school we need to know about that so we can provide some help," Bessette said.

Superintendent Mike Grego said the issue was part of the district's strategic plan. The third goal of a five-pronged plan calls for the district to "develop and sustain a healthy, respectful, caring, safe learning environment" in schools.

"We're going to continue with this," Grego said.

Pinellas taking closer look at reasons for arrests at schools 10/18/13 [Last modified: Friday, October 18, 2013 7:02pm]

© 2013 Tampa Bay Times


08/06/13 Cabinet agrees to let USF researchers exhume bodies at Dozier
Ben Montgomery, Tampa Bay Times

TALLAHASSEE — They call themselves the White House Boys, but they're old men now. Gray hair falls from their ball caps. They have bad backs and failing hearts and pictures of grandchildren in their wallets.

Tuesday morning, they slid into chairs before the Florida Cabinet. In the 1940s, '50s and '60s, Florida carried them away from their families and deposited them at one of the country's largest reform schools, in the Panhandle town of Marianna, a place where, some of them say, they were beaten so badly they can still feel it.

Many of them never told a soul what happened inside a dank building called the White House, where the boys bit a pillow and tried to pray the pain away. Their secrets gathered dust. But decades later, when a group of them reunited on the campus and discovered a backwoods cemetery, where crude pipe crosses marked clandestine graves, they set to find out what happened to the boys who never left.

Their petition, spearheaded by anthropologists and archaeologists at the University of South Florida, finally landed before the top four officials in a state they say has failed them at every turn. And finally, the state didn't let them down.

"In a state as old as Florida is, we're going to have chapters in our history we're more proud of than others," said Agriculture Commissioner Adam Putnam, "but there is no shame in searching for the truth." The issue, he said, has been ignored too long by state officials.

The Cabinet voted to approve a use agreement that gives USF a year to excavate the little cemetery in the hopes of finding all burials and identifying the remains. In some cases, researchers said, they'll rebury boys in their home towns, beside their families.

Led by forensic anthropologist Erin Kimmerle, USF researchers will start excavations this month.

"We've very grateful to (Attorney General) Pam Bondi for helping to make this happen," Kimmerle said after the meeting. "And we're thankful to the Cabinet and the governor. It's been a long process."

The researchers have already used ground-penetrating radar to count some 50 burial shafts surrounded by thick pines, 19 more than state investigators found in an earlier investigation ordered by former Florida Gov. Charlie Crist.

But some believe there are even more, and USF is searching for a second burial site.

"There's not going to be enough crime scene tape in the state of Florida to take care of this situation," said Jerry Cooper of Cape Coral, who received more than 100 lashes during a beating at the school.

About two dozen former wards of the school, known recently as the Dozier School for Boys, stood and clapped and wiped their eyes when the Cabinet's decision was announced.

"I'm numb," said Roger Kiser, 67, of Brunswick, Ga., who was sent to Marianna after running from an abusive orphanage. "I don't know what to say. I'm just glad that Florida is finally doing the right thing."

"We have fought so hard to get to this point," said Bryant Middleton, 68, of Fort Walton Beach. "They're going to find out the truth."

"Marianna made slaves out of us. I cut my toes in the fields of Marianna at 11," said Richard Huntly, president of the Black Boys at Dozier Reform School. "They were supporting their finances on the backs of us children."

Some of his classmates, he said, disappeared.

"We all came back for them. We remembered," he said. "If they could hear us today. We came back for you. You boys can go home today."

Antoinette Harrell, a genealogist and peonage researcher, said the decision, and USF's continuing work, will go a long way toward bringing closure to the men who still live with trauma from beatings at the school.

"It was slavery. It was one big plantation," she said. "The ones who survived, they deserve closure."

The school opened in 1900 and was shuttered in 2011, after a century of scandals involving claims of sexual abuse, neglect and severe belt beatings. In 2008, five men went public with stories of abuse at the hands of guards. Hundreds more came forward with similar stories. Several recall their classmates disappearing, and a few even claim to have dug boy-sized holes on command.

Some locals in Jackson County dispute those claims and say the corporal punishment, common at the time, is misremembered, that their friends and relatives and neighbors would never have treated boys in that fashion. A handful made efforts to stop any further research into the graveyard. The USF team, with the backing of the local medical examiner and the state Attorney General's Office, have seen their project delayed by a circuit judge, and more recently the secretary of state, who said it wasn't within his power to allow them to exhume the remains.

What is known is that school records show nearly 100 boys died on school grounds or while trying to run away, but questions persist about where many of them are buried. Andrew Puel, who was sent to the school in 1966, says he has found the names of 169 boys who school records show were not discharged. He wonders what happened to them.

USF's Kimmerle said she shared the news with Ovell Krell of Lakeland. Her brother died at the school under suspicious circumstances, and the loss, she says, crippled her mother. Krell was overjoyed.

Kimmerle said she's not certain how long the process —which includes forensic examination, identification and DNA testing in some cases — will take.

"Our goal is to identify every individual," she said. "That's probably not possible, but we're going to try. Those not identified will be reinterred at the location."

Florida CFO Jeff Atwater said he hopes the Legislature, which already approved spending $190,000 on USF's project, will continue to fund it until all the remains are reunited with families.

"This is a historic day," said Robert Straley, 66, of Clearwater. "We finally found an administration with the guts to go back in time to help the boys who couldn't help themselves."

Ben Montgomery can be reached at or (727) 893-8650.

White House Boys | Christopher Sholly/Justin Caldwell | top

08/05/13 "Over 12,000 school kids were arrested in Florida. It makes Florida the nation's leader in that area."
PolitiFact Florida, Tampa Bay Times

"Over 12,000 school kids were arrested in Florida. It makes Florida the nation's leader in that area."
Dream Defenders on Monday, July 22nd, 2013 in a meeting with Wansley Walters, Florida Department of Juvenile Justice Secretary 

'Over 12,000 school kids were arrested in Florida. It makes Florida the nation's leader in that area,' says Dream Defenders


Meet the Dream Defenders -- a group of young people camped out in front of the office of Gov. Rick Scott seeking to overturn Florida’s "stand your ground" law and draw attention to issues such as racial profiling and arrests of school children.

The group has been attracting national attention in the wake of the July 13 acquittal of George Zimmerman, a white Hispanic neighborhood watchman, in the fatal shooting of Trayvon Martin, an unarmed black teenager in Sanford on Feb. 26, 2012.

Martin’s case has shined a spotlight on the intersection of race on the criminal justice system and school discipline. (Martin was serving an out-of-school suspension when he was shot while walking to his father’s home after buying Skittles and a drink.)

On July 22, Florida’s Secretary of the Department of Juvenile Justice, Wansley Walters, met with the Dream Defenders to talk about how to keep children out of the criminal justice system.

"Over 12,000 school kids were arrested in Florida," said Monique Gillum, one of the leaders of Dream Defenders during the meeting. "It makes Florida the nation's leader in that area."

Arrest data on Florida students

To back up her claim, Gillum pointed to a Florida Department of Juvenile Justice report that states that 12,520 youth were arrested for school-related arrests during the 2011-12 year. (School-related includes arrests at school, the bus or bus stop, and school-sponsored events.) About two-thirds were for misdemeanors.

The department pointed us to the same report to show that the number of youth school-related arrests have declined 48 percent since the 2004-05 school year.

One reason for the decline is that the majority of Florida school districts have started using civil citations for non-violent misdemeanors. The citations include penalties such as community service. If the student complies, no arrest goes on their record.

Being arrested at school can be traumatic. Even if the arrest doesn’t ultimately lead to a conviction, it can still hurt students because they may have to disclose it on job or college applications.

The Miami-Dade school district, the largest in the state and the one where Martin was a student, was the first to implement civil citations -- and that could be why it had far fewer arrests than several smaller districts. (Walters was at the Miami-Dade County Juvenile Services Department at the time and led the effort to push for civil citations.)

The report shows school-related arrests by sheer numbers and by rate per 1,000 students in counties in 2011-12. We will cite a few examples: 

Miami-Dade: 552, three per 1,000
Broward: 1,062, eight per 1,000
Hillsborough: 1,046, 10 per 1,000
Pinellas: 846, 15 per 1,000
Pasco: 316, 9 per 1,000

Though the numbers of arrests statewide dropped in recent years after the state relaxed its "zero tolerance" policy, critics say schools have still gone too far in criminalizing typical youthful behavior. We found arrests for infractions such as throwing spitballs, hitting someone with a tootsie pop or even for repeatedly "passing gas."  (The 13-year-old boy busted for flatulence never went before a judge; the Martin County school district told us the case was "diverted/dropped with no record for the student.")

"The vast majority of children being arrested in schools are not committing criminal acts," Walters told the Orlando Sentinel earlier this year.

National comparison data lacking

So the 12,000 figure isn’t in dispute. But comparing Florida’s school-related arrests to the rest of the nation was far more complicated. 

National "data-keeping in this realm is indeed pretty awful," said Kevin G. Welner, professor and director of the National Education Policy Center at the University of Colorado. That sentiment was echoed by multiple experts we interviewed.

Also, Florida does a better job than most states at compiling the data. An expert at the Southern Poverty Law Center said the state has the most comprehensive data in the nation.

The Dream Defenders sent us an article from Ebony, which stated, "While Florida is not alone in turning to police to discipline young people, it has the distinction of being the nation’s leader in school-based arrests."

Ebony linked to a 2013 article in Color Lines, a magazine that focuses on issues pertaining to race. Its report stated: "Last year, Florida produced the highest documented number of school-based arrests in the country — and that number was an improvement over previous years." (One expert we interviewed noted the important qualifier in that sentence: documented. As we’ll see, little is documented in this area.)

Gillum directed us to a 2011 report about Florida school arrests written by the Advancement Project, a national civil rights group, along with the ACLU in Florida and the NAACP.

"Florida still has the highest documented number of school-based referrals to law enforcement in the country," states the report. A footnote had this to say: "Currently, this data is not collected nationwide. Many individual states report this information, but no other state reports as many school-based referrals to law enforcement as Florida." We couldn't get a definitive answer from the group about how many states actually did report data.

"The report should have conveyed Florida’s data is the highest on record," Advancement Project spokeswoman Jennifer Farmer told PolitiFact Florida. "It may not be the highest in the country but it's highest on record."

We found some data is collected at the federal level by the U.S. Department of Education’s Office for Civil Rights. But that data appears to have significant gaps and inconsistencies.

Daniel Losen, director of the Center for Civil Rights Remedies at the University of California, pointed out a few examples of questionable numbers, including Los Angeles, which had zero referrals or arrests in 2009. Broward County had 6,640 referrals to law enforcement, but 0 arrests, while Miami-Dade had 1,670 referrals to law enforcement and 10 arrests.

No matter the ranking, "Florida has a very serious issue with overly punitive discipline and over-reliance on law enforcement that harms children and adolescents in the state, and is especially harmful to children of color," Losen said.

Our ruling

Dream Defenders said, "Over 12,000 school kids were arrested in Florida. It makes Florida the nation's leader in that area."

The number about Florida is correct: There were 12,520 students arrested at schools in 2011-12, according to the state Department of Juvenile Justice.

But the Dream Defenders failed to prove that the number makes Florida the nation’s leader in school-related arrests. This appears to be a case of the state getting a bad rap because of its rare decision to publish comprehensive data.  

Multiple experts said that comprehensive data for state-by-state comparisons is lacking. That makes it difficult to declare Florida’s ranking for school-related arrests.

We rate this claim Half True.


06/02/13 Florida State football star shaped winning team at Florida School for Boys
Ben Montgomery, Tampa Bay Times

In February 1961, Vic Prinzi pulled into the visitors' lot at the Florida School for Boys in Marianna and sat in the car collecting his thoughts. He was apprehensive.

"Why am I here?" he wondered.

He could still turn around, head back to Tallahassee and send word that he had changed his mind. Prinzi was 25 and self-confident.

His years as Florida State's quarterback would eventually land him in the school's hall of fame.

He'd played with the New York Giants and Denver Broncos, but got cut, and so he came back to Florida.

A friend told him about the opening at the state's oldest reform school. With more than 800 boys between 7 and 18, it had grown to one of the largest homes for troubled kids in the country.

The job seemed custom-made for Prinzi, who earned a degree in juvenile delinquency with a focus on criminal psychology. But his anxiety about working with young criminals, teaching them athletics no less, had sneaked up on him.

He introduced himself to the school's superintendent, David Walters, who gave Prinzi a nickel tour. The 1,400-acre campus was stunning. Stately cottages sat upon rolling green hills covered in tall pines.

Walters introduced Prinzi to his assistant superintendent, a stout man with a sandy crew cut. The two administrators told Prinzi the school operated on a ranking system based on behavior: Grub, Explorer, Pioneer, Pilot and Ace. Aces got privileges, but Grubs faced strict discipline, including solitary confinement.

"We're going to rehab these kids if it breaks every bone in their bodies," the assistant superintendent told Prinzi.

The men told Prinzi that they'd had trouble lately with a rash of runaways. When one of the boys escaped, the men on campus had to track him down in the swamps and woods surrounding the school. Occasionally the administration called on the help of prisoners from nearby Apalachee Correctional Institution.

Prinzi was not impressed by the school staff; he got the sense that they were there just to collect a paycheck. He was dismayed, too, when he saw a pack of boys loafing across campus. They had duck's ass haircuts and wore sloppy state clothes: wrinkled white shirts, blue jeans and scuffed Brogan boots.

"This is what I'm going to have to make a football team out of?" he wondered.

the next eight months would be the most profound of Vic Prinzi's busy and celebrated life. The experience made such an impression that two decades later his wife Barbara persuaded him to put his story on paper. He worked with two freelance writers, Rosemary Imregi and Jane Ruberg. Prinzi recorded himself telling the story and sent the writers hours of audio recordings. They produced a manuscript that never sold, never became a book. The yellowing pages have been on a shelf in Barbara Prinzi's Michigan home for 20 years, until she saw a story about the Florida School for Boys in the Tampa Bay Times and mailed the manuscript to me. Later, the writers let me listen to the audiocassettes.

Many of the boys who were imprisoned at the school have testified about the abuse they endured, but few former staffers have come forward, which makes Prinzi's detailed account an important contribution to the public record.

The manuscript uses pseudonyms in some cases. For example, Prinzi refers to the assistant superintendent as John McWilliams. There is no John McWilliams in public records, but Lennox Williams, who fits Prinzi's physical description, was guidance counselor at the time and his career moves match those Prinzi describes. Most of Prinzi's story is verified by newspaper clippings, school records at the State Archives and the memories of his former players.

The football program at FSB had been mediocre for as long as anyone could remember. Boys usually stayed at the school less than a year, so there was no consistency. The kids on campus also tended to be younger than the juniors and seniors they'd face at the Panhandle's public high schools.

The Yellow Jacket squad from the year before had magically found a way to win, but every player in the starting lineup had left the program. Prinzi knew he'd have to build a team from scratch.

Prinzi soon learned that the best athletes on campus didn't play sports. They preferred to serve their time slacking off and laying low.

Prinzi knew how a little coaching could change a boy's life. He had grown up in Waverly, N.Y., the son of Italian immigrants, during World War II. He wasn't popular in a place where most families were Irish and English. He turned to petty crime to fit in until his father gave him an ultimatum: Use your brain and be successful, or follow your friends to jail. Prinzi threw himself into sports and won a football scholarship at Florida State.

"How come they can't get a football team here?" Prinzi asked his assistant coach.

"Most of the kids here just don't have no interest," the coach replied. "If they had any interest, they wouldn't be here."

The kids were a mess. On the first day of physical education, three-quarters of them sat around in the shade while the rest played softball.

Prinzi asked his assistant coach if he could identify the best athlete on campus. "There's one kid on this campus that is the kid," the assistant said. "He basically runs this place."

Harley Woods.

He was 16, nearly 6 feet tall and 190 pounds. Woods was a boxer from Jacksonville, the coach said, tough and built like a tree, and most of the kids on campus were afraid of him. This was his second stint at the Florida School for Boys. He was in for armed robbery, the coach said. But Woods never participated in organized sports.

Prinzi knew what he needed to do.

Prinzi issued an order the next day. Every kid who came to gym would wear shorts. No jeans. And every kid had to participate. Prinzi wanted to evaluate their talent and he couldn't do it if they were sitting around.

As the younger boys grumbled about the new rules, Prinzi approached Woods, who was sitting under a tree.

"Woods?" he said.

"Yeah," the kid said, still sitting.

"When I walk up to you I expect you to stand up."

He stayed seated.

"Get your ass up so I can talk to you."

He snorted, but stood.

"My name is Coach Prinzi."

"I know who you are," Woods said.

"You're one of my fans, are you?" said Prinzi.

"I'm not one of your fans, but I know all about you."

"Really? What the hell can you tell me about me?"

"I know that you played professional football," Woods said. "Number two: I know that you just recently divorced. Three: I know that you can't get a job. That's why you came here."

"How the hell did you find that out?" Prinzi asked.

"Coach, there ain't nothing on this campus that I don't know about."

Prinzi made a mental note to tell the superintendent to lock his file cabinet.

"I was wondering if you might be interested in transferring to my crew," Prinzi said, referring to a group that cleaned lockers and ran errands for the athletic department.

"Go f--- yourself," Woods said.

"Son, don't you ever swear to me again," Prinzi said. "If you do, I'll make life as miserable as you've ever had it."

"What can you do to me that hasn't already been done?" Woods said. "I've been s--- on a thousand times in my life. You're just one more a------ that's going to do it."

He was angry. Prinzi just had to figure out why.

"You ever play football?"

"No, but I've thought about it."

"You're a pretty good-sized kid," Prinzi said. "I figured you'd be playing football."

"I have too many other important things to do."

Prinzi started to walk away.

"If you ever change your mind," he said, "let me know."

Woods wore shorts to the next gym class. It was a small victory.

Prinzi led the jog to the field, and he smiled at all the moaning. He figured that the only time some of them had run was with the cops behind them.

During the drills, Prinzi homed in on Harley Woods. He called Woods to the front of the group. They got into pushup position and Prinzi challenged the boy: "Who do you think will fall first?"

Ten minutes passed, then 15. After about 20 minutes, as Prinzi neared his physical limit, Woods' arms gave way. Prinzi jumped up.

"We're not through yet," he said.

He dropped down and started doing pushups.

"Harley, do it with me," he said. "We're going to do 50."

The boy collapsed at 39.

They raced the shuttle run and the 40-yard dash. As they jogged back to the locker room, Prinzi said: "Beat you at everything today, didn't I?"

"There's tomorrow," Woods replied.

Prinzi pulled some strings to get a look at Woods' file in the guidance counselor's office.

The boy had been abandoned by his father at 7. His mother was an alcoholic. He had spent time in juvenile homes in Jacksonville. Every adult who had entered Woods' life had abandoned him. He wasn't a bad kid underneath, he simply had trust issues.

Prinzi noticed the boy was scheduled for treatment from the school's new psychiatrist. The coach had met Dr. Louis Souza, also known as the "soup doctor," and Prinzi felt there was something suspect about the Uruguayan shrink who had trained in Vienna. He had arrived at FSB in 1961 and promptly begun experimenting on the boys with sound wave therapy. He was also feeding them a mysterious cocktail he called "Souza Soup," which made the boys lethargic.

Prinzi didn't want his best prospect anywhere near Dr. Souza.

When spring football practice rolled around, more boys came out for the team than Prinzi expected. And the kids began to coalesce. Some of the kids even started coming by Prinzi's office to talk.

Woods wasn't committed yet, but Prinzi felt like he was coming around. At least he was getting into great shape. Meanwhile, Prinzi kept working on Woods' head. He resisted at first, but Prinzi talked to him about his past.

"There's a lot of good people out there," he told the boy. "All you've got to do is present yourself to them, put faith in them, and they'll put faith in you."

Prinzi began to notice a change, but it was going to be tough.

"I think there's something in you, my boy," he said. "The only problem is, you're the one who's got to let it out."

Late one night, Prinzi got a call that a boy had escaped. He reported to the assembly point on campus, where men were gathered beside their state cars. The assistant superintendent was there, too, barking orders like Gen. Patton. Prinzi noticed a gun strapped to his side.

"What the hell do you got the gun for?" Prinzi asked.

"Mr. Prinzi," he replied, "you can't trust these damn kids. I'm not going to get my life wasted by one of these little bastards. He puts me in a corner and I'll use this g-- d--- thing."

The runaway was 11 years old.

Woods wasn't among the 43 boys who signed up to play baseball. Prinzi asked the assistant coach why Woods didn't show. The coach said Woods was starting to withdraw.

Word reached Prinzi one day that Woods had tried to run. Tried. As Prinzi approached the door of the infirmary, he knew he had to rein in his rage if he wanted Woods to respond.

He found the doctor treating Woods. One eye was black and blue and swollen shut. It looked like the boy's nose was broken. He had stitches in his forehead.

"Look at this, Vic," the doctor said. "They shouldn't let those inmates from Apalachee go after these kids."

Prinzi asked the doctor to give him a minute.

"You're not near as tough as I thought you were," he told the boy. "You do the first thing you always do. You turn into a coward. You run. You don't have the guts to sit there and face what you have in front of you and resolve it.

"If you can't handle this, you might as well keep running. Because you're going to be running the rest of your life."

Prinzi turned and started for the door.

"Coach," Woods said. "How about giving me a chance?"

When Woods showed up to work in the athletic department with his shoes shined and his shirt ironed and his hair trimmed in a crew cut, Prinzi knew the boy was different. Soon enough, all the kids were as polished as Woods. And lots of them were now sporting crew cuts.

Prinzi told the boy he needed help putting together a football team, so Woods recruited his friends. He got a guy who could throw the ball 50 yards. He found another who would be a solid linebacker. Prinzi ordered some old game films from Florida State and showed the boys how the Seminoles ran the I formation. He taught them about stances and how to take a handoff. He acquired sharp new uniforms — gold pants with green jerseys and white pinstripe on the green helmets.

The boys were having fun. They asked to have two practices a day on the weekends. They had a purpose.

Prinzi began having deeper conversations with Woods as well. They talked about hard work, about life outside confinement.

"If you set goals," Prinzi told him, "you might not see this place ever again."

As the season approached, Prinzi's players kept disappearing.

First was a good defensive end, a 16-year-old who loved to tackle. He was sent for treatment by Dr. Souza, the "soup doctor." Prinzi saw the boy again a few months later. His face was swollen. His chiseled physique was gone and he had a paunch. He looked like a zombie.

Then the Yellow Jackets' quarterback didn't show up for practice. When he missed a second day, Prinzi started asking about him.

"Look, sometimes kids just don't show up for class," one of the boy's teachers told Prinzi.

Prinzi asked Woods. The boy was hesitant to talk. When a boy is caught running away, Woods finally said, he's taken to a small shack where he's beaten.

Prinzi found his assistant coach in the gym and the two walked across campus to a building the boys called the White House. As they approached, they heard something inside.

Prinzi flung the door open. He was hit by a putrid smell, like sweat and urine and rotting wood, and he almost gagged. In the dark, Prinzi saw his quarterback sprawled and tied face-down on a cot. Beside him, raising a thick leather strap, was the assistant superintendent. He appeared to be having an orgasm.

Prinzi tackled the older man and pressed the strap against his neck.

"So this is how you get your jollies?" he said. "If I hear of you ever touching any of these boys again, you better make sure you have a good lawyer, because I'll make it my life's mission to make sure you lose everything."

He threw the man out the door, into the sunlight. "You haven't heard the end of this," Prinzi said.

They helped the beaten boy to the infirmary, and Prinzi stormed toward the superintendent's office.

"You've got to stop this," Prinzi said. "There has to be a better way of dealing with these kids."

Beatings were nothing new.

In 1958, a psychologist who had worked at Marianna testified before a U.S. Senate subcommittee on juvenile delinquency that he witnessed mass beatings at the school. He called it "brutality," and his claims made quick headlines.

But Gov. LeRoy Collins defended superintendent Arthur G. Dozier, saying he had full confidence that the staff wasn't "brutal."

Prinzi felt that David Walters, who had replaced Dozier, took his allegations seriously. Walters told Prinzi that the assistant superintendent was demoted and moved to the north side of campus, where the black and Latino students lived.

The team's first three games were away. Prinzi knew the boys wouldn't feel proud of themselves if they had to travel in state-issued clothes. He'd been flirting with a waitress in Marianna, and he casually mentioned that he wanted to find a way to outfit the boys so they wouldn't look like criminals.

The young lady started a grass roots campaign to come up with enough ties and jackets. Before they boarded the bus on Sept. 14, 1961, to play Baker High School, Vic Prinzi faced a mirror and taught a group of boys how to tie a necktie.

The stadium at Baker was packed with a thousand fans. The opposing players dwarfed the boys from FSB. Prinzi had no idea what he was going to tell his young men before the game. Back in the locker room, he went with his gut.

Today is the culmination of your hard work, he told them. Today, all that sacrifice and pain is going to unfold on the playing field.

"Show those fans that we can knock people down and help them back up," he said. "Keep digging deeper inside you. Don't let fatigue make you a coward."

The farm boys from Baker were ready to play. A giant rainstorm moved over the field in the first half and the defenses held firm. In the third quarter, Harley Woods took a handoff 75 yards for a touchdown. The Yellow Jackets tacked on the extra point to go up 7-0. Baker scored as time ticked down but missed the extra point.

The boys were overjoyed on the ride back to Marianna. Woods cried. The team was the talk of the campus the next day.

Baker's coach wrote to Prinzi.

"My ballplayers had nothing but praise for your boys and their sportsmanship and fair play, and I feel the same way. Please congratulate your boys for us."

Back on campus, a letter waited from the Department of the Army. Prinzi had served six months in the Reserves. Now Uncle Sam was calling him up as President Kennedy reacted to the Cuban Missile Crisis.

"Let's keep this under our hat," Prinzi told his assistant coach.

The Yellow Jackets crushed powerhouse Chattahoochee, 20-0. The next game, against Sopchoppy, was brutal. The fans called the boys criminals, lowlifes. Prinzi complained that four touchdowns were called back in the first half.

"You'll have to face these things your entire lives," Prinzi told the team at halftime. "People who aren't as good as you are going to try to drag you down."

The boys fought hard, but Sopchoppy went up 6-0 and FSB couldn't recover.

After the game, Prinzi broke the news he was leaving. The boys hung their heads. They knew what was going on in Cuba. They understood. It didn't dull the pain.

Prinzi took Woods off campus that night.

"I want you to know something," the coach told the boy. "I'll always be with you. Not physically, but mentally. . . . And you'll either honor me or not honor me by whether you fold or by whether you succeed. It's your life."

They drove back in silence.

They beat Crawfordville, lost to Apalachicola, then beat Altha. No matter the scores, Harley Woods had begun to take on a leadership role. He was a force.

Prinzi had grown attached to Woods, to the kids. He felt like he was going to miss them more than they would miss him.

The morning after the win at Altha, Prinzi loaded his car and drove to Woods' cottage. He asked the supervisor to send the boy outside.

"I'm going to miss you, coach," Woods said. "But I remember what you said the other night, that you'll always be with me.

"I love you," the boy said.

Prinzi was still.

"I love you, too," he said. "I'll never forget you as long as I live."

Barbara met Vic Prinzi in 1965, when he was coaching at the University of Tampa, at a party on Bayshore Boulevard. She can't remember when he first told her the story of his time at the Florida School for Boys, but she's certain it was soon after they met.

"It was so emblazoned in his mind and his heart," she said.

What stayed with Prinzi was that those boys weren't bad kids. They just didn't have the same breaks that he had.

A lot has happened since Prinzi was on campus. In 2008, five men stepped forward to tell of being abused in the White House. Since word spread, more than 450 men have alleged they were abused, and a team of anthropologists has set out to determine how many boys are buried in a clandestine cemetery on the campus, and how they died.

Lennox Williams, after working several years on the black side of campus, was hired as superintendent over the entire school. Many men have alleged that Williams abused them. In 1968, when state officials in Tallahassee were trying to outlaw corporal punishment, Williams was fired for refusing to comply. He appealed his firing, the town of Marianna publicly supported him, and he was later reinstated.

Before Williams' death, he was interviewed by the Florida Department of Law Enforcement about the claims of abuse. He denies that he participated in brutal spankings.

Prinzi never returned to the school in Marianna. He became the voice of Florida State football, doing color commentary for 17 years and starring in pregame segments called Great Moments in Seminoles History with his lifelong friend Burt Reynolds. He died in 1998.

Prinzi's wife says he didn't know how many boys would come out of the school with tales of beatings.

"If he had known the extent to which it was going on," she said, "he would have put a stop to it."

The boys who played on that Yellow Jackets team still hold Vic Prinzi in high regard.

"You could tell he cared about the kids," said former linebacker Kermit Whitaker, 67, of Bartow. "He was a great role model for a lot of us. All the kids respected him."

"I learned a lot out there," said Roy Conerly of Summerfield, who played lineman. "Like him teaching us about our neatness and stuff like that. To this day, I still tie a tie because of him. Nobody else ever taught me that."

"He was a good coach. He cared about us guys," said Nevelin Jetton, 68, of Stanley, N.C. "He helped build my confidence and self-esteem. I never got no praise, no love, no anything. And here was someone who cared about me."

He began to cry.

Jerry Cooper of Cape Coral played quarterback for the team. Cooper remembers getting 135 lashes in the White House. In 2009, he paid for a lie detector test, which I witnessed, to prove he was telling the truth. Cooper hasn't always thought that Vic Prinzi had his best interest in mind, but he believes he was the only quarterback taken to the White House. When he heard Prinzi's account of finding his player being beaten, Cooper wasn't sure what to think.

"If Vic intervened, then he probably saved my life," Cooper said. "As bad as I was injured from that beating, I really thought I would not survive the night. Vic stood for a lot more than I thought at the time. I wish I could tell him so."

All the men wondered what became of Harley Woods.

The last public record available for Woods is a Florida business registration from the 1980s. After a few phone calls, I found the widow of his business partner.

"We only got to know him for eight or nine months," said Barbara Williams. "He wanted to have a rodeo, and we wanted to help him with it. Then that accident …"

She, too, began to cry.

She tracked down an article from the Jacksonville newspaper from April 1987: "Two Killed, One Hurt As Pole Hits Power Line."

She had trouble reading the story. Woods started a business with her husband and had been working for weeks to prepare for his second rodeo. The first, in Tifton, Ga., had been rained out, and he'd lost all his money. He had to do all the odd jobs himself for the second.

The newspaper called him "Haulie Woods" and described him as a former boxer and used car salesman. It said he felt it wouldn't be appropriate to hold a rodeo without Old Glory flying.

"He wouldn't have had the rodeo without the flag," said his friend, Elmer Rudd. "It's just like he always used to say, 'The flag is what it was all about.' "

He and a partner were raising the pole when it touched a power line and sent 14,000 volts through the men, killing them.

He died raising a sign of freedom. Vic Prinzi would have approved.

Times researcher Natalie Watson contributed to this report. Ben Montgomery can be reached at or (727) 893-8650.

White House Boys | Christopher Sholly/Justin Caldwell | top

05/31/13 'Arduous' ethics saga of Frank Peterman finally nears end
Steve Bousquet, Tampa Bay Times

It has been more than three years since Frank Peterman's extensive taxpayer-funded travel first captured the attention of the Commission on Ethics. The case of the former St. Petersburg legislator and former Gov. Charlie Crist's top juvenile justice official appears to finally be drawing to a close -- and i[t] may not be the ending Peterman wanted.

The ethics panel recently sent Gov. Rick Scott a letter urging him to issue a public censure and reprimand of Peterman and fine him $5,000. That followed a decision by the Second District Court of Appeal in Lakeland, which upheld an administrative law judge's recommendation of the sanctions against Peterman. Scott -- who may yet face Crist in the election for governor next year -- has not taken action.

"It's been arduous and painful," said Peterman's attorney, Mark Herron of Tallahassee. "We have felt all along that it (the penalty) was inappropriate."

The Peterman investigation began after a private citizen, David Plyer of Clearwater, filed an ethics complaint based on news accounts by the Times/Herald.

Peterman reimbursed taxpayers about $25,000 in 2010 for frequent commutes between Tallahassee and St. Petersburg, where he continued to preach at a church during the time he served as Crist's secretary of the Department of Juvenile Justice. The refunded money included excess charges for parking, luggage and airline fees for late changes in flight itineraries.

After making restitution, Peterman kept his $120,000-a-year job. An internal probe by Crist's inspector general, Melinda Miguel, concluded that many of the trips were questionable, and found that Crist's top aides, including chief of staff Eric Eikenberg and deputy chief of staff Lori Rowe, repeatedly warned Peterman to curtail his travel.

Peterman | top

05/24/13 Judge declines court order for exhumations at Marianna boys school
Dan Sullivan, Tampa Bay Times

A judge in Jackson County has denied a request for a court order permitting the exhumation of more than 50 unmarked graves at the former Dozier School for Boys in Marianna, saying state law already gives a medical examiner authority to do so.

In an opinion issued Friday, Circuit Judge William Wright reasoned that the decision about whether to permit the exhumation is not for the court to make.

A state permit, under which University of South Florida anthropologists have operated as they try to pinpoint where the graves are and who might be buried in them, is enough for them to continue their work, the judge said. If they unearth human remains, the medical examiner would have the authority to investigate.

"Any further excavation by USF will be with state permission on state property," Wright wrote. "The medical examiner does not need a court order to carry out his statutory duties if human remains are found."

Wright noted that the exhumations should be done in pursuit of a possible criminal investigation — and not as just fishing expeditions.

At the end of his order, Wright urged officials to proceed with "caution" and quoted a 1949 case that says the "quiet of the grave, the repose of the dead, are not lightly to be disturbed."

The medical examiner for that part of the Panhandle, Dr. Michael Hunter, could not be reached Friday night to comment about what might happen next.

USF researchers have been using ground-penetrating radar to map the school's forgotten burial grounds. They have identified 50 possible graves; previous investigations found just 31. They also identified nearly 100 deaths that occurred at the school, using state records.

Erin Kimmerle, who has led USF's work, believes there may be another unmarked cemetery on the south side of the campus. She was recently granted additional state funding for ongoing efforts to find all the graves and to identify the remains. Sen. Bill Nelson also helped secure funding for the effort from the Department of Justice.

Attorney General Pam Bondi stepped into the fray in March, filing the petition with the circuit court asking permission to have Hunter exhume human remains from "Boot Hill Cemetery" and the surrounding areas. The petition asked that Hunter be allowed to investigate the clandestine graves for up to a year.

After the judge's decision Friday, it was unclear what the state's next step would be.

"I remain committed to assisting with the efforts to help resolve unanswered questions regarding deaths at the Dozier School for Boys," Bondi said in a statement. "In light of today's adverse ruling, we will be meeting with the interested parties and considering the next course of action to explore other avenues."

Glenn Varnadoe of Lakeland, whose uncle Thomas Varnadoe died at the school in 1934 and is believed to be buried on the property, said he plans to meet with the attorney general's office to discuss the matter Tuesday in Tampa.

"Needless to say, I am not happy with the judge's decision," Varnadoe said. "I think the next step is to file for an exhumation of my uncle's remains."

In recent years, several hundred men have come forward with stories of sexual abuse, extreme beatings from school staff and tales of classmates who disappeared. Their claims have led to efforts by state officials and others to figure out just what went on at the Dozier School, which the Department of Juvenile Justice closed in 2011.

But local residents have fought against such efforts, trying to discredit the men and stop the exhumations in order to protect the reputation of area residents and those who ran the school.

Robert Straley of Clearwater, who as a child suffered beatings at the school in a dank building known as the White House, said Wright was trying to wash his hands of the situation.

"This is him weaseling out of it," Straley said. "He's caught between Pam Bondi and the people of Jackson County. He may want to be a judge again."

Straley said state officials knew they likely didn't need the court's permission but sought it anyway because of the level of opposition among residents in the area.

Straley said he has no sympathy for the residents of Jackson County and that people deserve to know the full extent of what happened in Marianna.

"This is not going to deter us at all," he said. "We want to see all of the boys found that it's possible to find."

Times staff writer Ben Montgomery contributed to this report. © 2013 Tampa Bay Times

White House Boys | Christopher Sholly/Justin Caldwell | top

05/03/13 In Florida, High School Student Kiera Wilmont's Curiosity Is a Crime?!

By Rebecca McCray, ACLU Criminal Law Reform Project

Fed up with the school-to-prison pipeline? Take action! 

Earlier this week, the well-oiled school-to-prison pipeline once again moved swiftly and fiercely to criminalize kids. This time, the pipeline delivered 16-year-old Kiera Wilmot to the open arms of a Florida Assistant State Attorney (ASA).

Wilmot, a student at Bartow High School in Pike County, Florida, mixed together household chemicals on school grounds to see what might happen. For this youthful experiment, she found herself arrested and charged as an adult when the concoction caused a minor explosion. The only casualty at the scene of this supposed crime? A plastic bottle.

Wilmot is regarded as an excellent student and has "never been in trouble, ever," according to her principal Ron Pritchard. At the urging of a fellow classmate, she combined toilet bowl cleaner and aluminum foil in an 8-ounce bottle. To her surprise, the top popped off and the concoction began to smoke, followed by a small explosion. Responding to a call by the assistant principal who observed the incident, a school resource officer took Wilmot into custody and delivered her to the ASA. The ASA charged Wilmot with two felonies and filed her case in adult court. Wilmot, who cooperated completely with both the assistant principal and the officer, said she did not mean to harm or frighten anyone. Nonetheless, the school automatically expelled her for violating the conduct code, forcing Wilmot to complete her high school education through an expulsion program.

Following the charges, the Polk County School District released a statement unequivocally defending the choice to expel Wilmot: "In order to maintain a safe and orderly learning environment, we simply must uphold our code of conduct rules. We urge our parents to join us in conveying the message that there are consequences to actions. We will not compromise the safety and security of our students and staff." Thanks to the school's zero-tolerance approach, what it could have treated as a minor mishap deserving of stern but reasonable punishment has devolved into an expulsion and criminal offense that could both haunt Wilmot for the rest of her life.

According the Florida department of juvenile justice, the state's counties average ten school-related delinquency arrests per 1,000 students per year. Polk County, Florida, where Wilmot is a student, arrests more than two times the average number of students—21 per 1,000 each year—making the county one of the state's most dramatic examples of the school-to-prison pipeline in action. The county's choice to rely on police for discipline means kids are far more likely to be arrested for minor offenses and funneled into the criminal justice system. This is exactly what happened to Wilmot.

After being contacted by the school resource officer, Assistant State Attorney Tammy Glotfelty advised that Wilmot be charged with "possessing or discharging weapons or firearms on school property" and "making, possessing, throwing, projecting, placing, or discharging any destructive device," both felonies under Florida law. The choice to levy these charges on Wilmot, and to try her as an adult, were entirely Glotfelty's—she was not bound by Florida law to dole out these severe charges. Still, she exercised her prosecutorial discretion to the fullest extent and, in so doing, senselessly endangered the promising future of a sixteen-year old child.

The confluence of the school's insistence on a zero-tolerance interpretation of their code of conduct and Glotfelty's decision to criminalize Wilmot for a harmless mistake powerfully illustrates the absurdity of these inflexible approaches to school discipline. Treating Wilmot's accidental mini-explosion as a criminal offense is an outrageous response to what was simply the product of youthful experimentation. All children make mistakes born of curiosity or peer pressure, and that is exactly what happened here. To needlessly treat these kids as criminal is not only foolish and unnecessary—it's a sure path to reinforcing the school to prison pipeline.


The High School Science Experiment That Ended In Handcuffs ACT NOW Support Kiera Wilmot. Criminalizing a child's experiment? The school-to-prison pipeline has reached a new low. Learn more about the school-to-prison pipeline and other civil liberty issues: Sign up for breaking news alerts, follow us on Twitter, and like us on Facebook.


04/13/13 In Marianna, dig for truth encounters desire to keep past buried
Ben Montgomery, Tampa Bay Times

MARIANNA — The old reform school on the edge of town is all but abandoned. The only activity is from a few guards who watch the gate to make sure the locals don't cut the razor wire and strip the darkened buildings bare of copper. But in this little blue-collar city a few miles up State Road 276, the shuttered campus, home for a more than a century to Florida's juvenile delinquents, has surged back into conversation.

They call Marianna the "City of Southern Charm," but that sweet-tea nickname has been poisoned, some here are saying, by its connection to the reform school, built in 1900, and by incessant derision from a group of several hundred men who have come forward with stories of sexual abuse, extreme beatings from school staff and tales of classmates who disappeared.

But no matter how many tell of being tortured at the Florida School for Boys, no matter how similar their stories or how many old newspaper clippings support their claims, some residents here refuse to believe them.

And now that the state attorney general and a team of anthropologists from the University of South Florida want to exhume remains of boys buried in a neglected campus cemetery, to see how many died and how they met their deaths, locals are shoving back, trying to discredit the men and stop the exhumation.

"That stuff happened before I was a tickle in my daddy's drawers, and it can stay in the past," said Woody Hall, 43, who works for the local power company and thinks the men are after money. "Let old dogs rest. Let it be. Leave it alone."

"When they say torture and murder, it's a slur against us," said Sue Tindel, a clerk in the Jackson County courthouse. "It's personal."

It's personal because some in this Panhandle county of about 49,000 people know the men who ran the school. They sat by them at the Baptist church. They broke bread and rode horses together. They can't believe that respected members of the community would march off in the morning and do terrible things to boys behind closed doors.

"If anything suspicious had've gone on out there, I'd know," said Robert Earl Standland, 79, a lifelong friend of R.W. Hatton, one of the school's deceased disciplinarians who has been accused of abuse by scores of men. "He and I had a relationship such that he would've let me know."

In 2008, five men went public with stories of savage beatings in a dank building called the White House. More than 450 more have come forward since then making almost identical claims. But many believe that unassailable truth lies buried in the ground, proof to Marianna residents that they're not lying.

Horror next door

At a public meeting last week, a state NAACP representative who toured the campus recently with Sen. Bill Nelson compared the White House to a Nazi gas chamber at Dachau, Germany, suggesting that those who lived near the concentration camp did not know of the atrocities until the camp was liberated.

"I propose to you that many people in Jackson County did not know what was going on," Dale Landry, regional vice president of the NAACP, told the Jackson County Commission. "This is not an indictment of Jackson County."

A man from nearby Two Egg grew incensed.

"What kind of a situation are we in when people are comparing Marianna to Dachau? That is absolutely ridiculous!" said Dale Cox, a lay historian and former television reporter who interrupted the meeting. "Dozier school is no more Dachau than I'm Santa Claus."

Cox, 50, recent recipient of the Chamber of Commerce's Citizen of the Year award, is leading the charge to disrupt the project. He prompted the Jackson County Commission to file a petition to intervene in the medical examiner's motion to exhume bodies from the cemetery, which is being considered now by a circuit court judge.

Cox has argued that Jackson County taxpayers shouldn't have to pay for the project. Last week, he asked the Marianna police chief to investigate whether anthropologists studying the old cemetery had the right to dig shallow trenches, a common process known as ground-truthing, while mapping the graveyard with ground-penetrating radar.

"If they violated state law, I feel they should be charged," Cox wrote to the chief. "I'm providing this for your information, but if you need extra information or someone to file a complaint, let me know!"

Chief Hayes Baggett told the Tampa Bay Times he spoke with state land officials and has chosen not to investigate.

"I'm not interested in wasting one taxpayer penny on a witch hunt," he said.

Voice for elderly

Cox said he's not motivated by money, and he's not writing a book about the controversy, as he did about a notorious, unsolved 1934 spectacle lynching in Jackson County. He said he's speaking for elderly citizens of Jackson County who feel they haven't had a voice in rebutting the abuse claims. But Cox's opposition to the cemetery survey stretches back a year, before the cemetery mapping project was widely known. Documents obtained by the Times show that Cox was urging his state lawmakers to stop the effort in April 2012.

"It strikes me as appalling and odd that taxpayer dollars would be spent on digging up graves that another taxpayer investigation has determined are in no way related to the allegations made against the school," he wrote, referring to a 2009 investigation by the Florida Department of Law Enforcement that relied on incomplete records and found that no prosecutable crimes had been committed.

"Is there no way that funding for this project can be withdrawn or eliminated by the State Legislature?" he wrote. "Marianna has suffered the loss of jobs and undeserved notoriety during a severe recession due to this fiasco and surely as taxpayers we shouldn't be called upon to fund the digging up of graves too."

The cost likely will be covered by the state and by federal grants. The state Senate in March recommended spending $200,000 on the project, and Nick Cox, statewide prosecutor for the Attorney General's Office, promised Jackson County commissioners that no one would ask the county to cover the cost.

Dale Cox said he first learned of the cemetery in the mid '80s, when he was working for a local television station. He researched it at the time for a story and has continued to learn more; he provided information to the FDLE during its investigation.

But Cox's record as an expert on the graveyard is blemished. He posted a photograph in 2009 on his blog that he claimed was an aerial shot of the cemetery. "As I have been reporting here all along, there are no 'mystery graves' or 'unmarked graves' in the little cemetery near Dozier School in Marianna," he wrote. "As I reported two weeks ago, most of the graves were there when the aerial photograph shown here was taken of the school area in 1940."

Complaints debunked

But graduate students at USF couldn't match the photograph with the known cemetery. They turned it 45 degrees counter-clockwise and the roads in the photograph matched a different part of campus, far from the known cemetery. Cox now says the geographical features he thought were graves were actually bee hives.

"He's a farce as far as I'm concerned," said Jerry Cooper of Cape Coral, who says he received more than 100 lashes in the White House in 1960 and paid for a lie detector test to prove it. "I don't know what his motivation is. It just don't add up."

Cox was also sure several years ago that the cemetery contained 31 graves, which matched the exact number of pipe crosses planted in the small clearing in the pines. But when the USF survey with ground-penetrating radar identified 50 possible grave shafts, many in the woods outside the perimeter of the cemetery, Cox changed his opinion. He thinks there are approximately 53 graves there now.

"At that time I was coming up with 31," he said in an interview. "But we knew there were gaps in the record."

Those with a personal stake in the exhumation wonder why Cox and others are opposing discovery with such certainty. Glen Varnadoe of Lakeland made a promise to his dying sister to find the remains of his uncle Thomas, who died at 13 after a month of incarceration. He was healthy when he was sent to the school, his family said, but school records say he died from pneumonia. The retired CEO has spent thousands of dollars on attorneys to stop the sale of the school property so anthropologists can continue searching for another graveyard.

Klan involvement?

"My biggest question is: What do they have to hide?" Varnadoe said. "If Marianna and Dale Cox want me off their rear-ends, they could walk out there and point to Thomas' grave and I'll get him and never visit their . . . town again."

Varnadoe wonders whether the Ku Klux Klan buried dead black men on school property. That may sound improbable to modern readers, but Thomas Varnadoe was reported dead on Oct. 26, 1934, the same day an illiterate black farmhand was tortured, killed, mutilated by a throng of 5,000, and then hanged from a tree that still stands outside the county courthouse. Jackson County in the early 20th century was well known for its lawlessness, violence and unabashed klan activity.

Between 1900 and 1934, six other black people were lynched, one of the largest counts of any Florida county at a time when the state had the highest ratio of lynchings to its black population of any other state. Three days before Thomas' death, the headline in one of the local papers read, "Ku Klux Klan May Ride Again, Jackson County Citizens May Rally to Fiery Cross to Protect Womanhood."

"We've been marking graves in this country since 1776," Varnadoe said. "There's a specific reason they didn't do it at that school. What else is buried at Dozier that the people of Jackson County don't want the rest of the world to know about?"

Varnadoe is one of four descendants of dead boys known to be buried on school property who approve of the exhumation. The Attorney General's Office is trying to locate others, and a circuit court judge will likely entertain opposing opinions. A case management hearing has been scheduled for Monday.

Cox said he can't object to Varnadoe's desire to retrieve his uncle's remains.

"I do object to digging up everyone in order to find one body," he said. "I have serious questions about, for the next year, for the next two years, the publicity they're going to generate against our community. And if they don't find what they want out there, it's going to go on. We all know that. They tell us that this is to give us closure? This is just the beginning."

The cost of bad press

It's hard to tell whether the publicity surrounding the school has hurt the county's economy, outside of several hundred jobs lost when the state closed the school in 2011.

Pam Fuqua, executive director of the Jackson County Tourist Development Council, hasn't seen a measurable impact on tourism dollars coming into Jackson County, she acknowledges, but there is anecdotal evidence. Fuqua recently brought a bus of Canadian snowbirds from Bay County to Jackson County, and as the group drove past the old school, many of them recognized it and asked about its current status. That, she said, reflects poorly on the people here.

"It's had a negative impact on the community," Fuqua said, "What we need is some closure."

The biggest draw to the county is eco-tourism, like the magnificent caverns and cool clear springs. The second is history, she said, the antebellum mansions and historic buildings. It's a certain version of history the folks here want to show off, separate from the boys' school.

"We don't want to be known for this," she said.

Times researcher Caryn Baird contributed to this report. Ben Montgomery can be reached at or (727) 893-8650.

© 2013 Tampa Bay Times

White House Boys | Christopher Sholly/Justin Caldwell | top

03/27/13 Nelson ushers new attention and money to quest for answers at Dozier
Ben Montgomery, Tampa Bay Times

MARIANNA — After Willie Morris served his time at the Florida School for Boys in 1962, the 16-year-old got a job in Orlando and started tucking away folding money. Then he bought a .32-caliber pistol and a Greyhound ticket back to this little Panhandle town so he could take revenge on the state employee who beat him.

"It was a whole 'nother world up there," said Morris, 66 now, who learned his abuser was dead of a heart attack before he boarded the bus. "It was an angry world, a vengeful world. It was a field day for them to beat you."

Morris, and other former state wards beaten and neglected at Florida's longest-running reform school, feel they're closer than ever to some level of justice, to letting the world know what they experienced at the state-run facility, which housed troubled kids from 1900 to 2011. That's thanks to renewed attention U.S. Sen. Bill Nelson has brought to the shuttered 1,400-acre Dozier campus and a clandestine cemetery on the property.

Nelson led state officials and dozens of reporters on a tour Wednesday morning, showing a torture chamber called the White House where boys were beaten with a leather strap and pointing out an off-path graveyard where anthropologists from the University of South Florida have identified at least 50 possible unmarked burial shafts. That's 19 more than the FDLE identified during an investigation ordered by former Gov. Charlie Crist.

"Growing up, it was always known that you don't want to misbehave because you don't want to end up at the Marianna boys school," Nelson said, recalling trips through town to visit his grandparents. "Now there are a lot of questions we want answers to."

Erin Kimmerle, an assistant professor of anthropology at USF, has been trying to find those answers. Her work prompted Attorney General Pam Bondi and the local medical examiner to seek permission to exhume the bodies of boys buried here, to identify them and determine how they died. Records and testimony show several deaths were suspicious. A judge is expected to decide whether to allow that as early as next week, Nelson said.

"The statute of limitations never runs out on murder," Nelson said.

Glenn Hess, state attorney for the area, said that if forensic evidence suggests a boy was killed, law enforcement would try to determine the circumstances. If the evidence points to a suspect, he'd file charges or present it to a grand jury.

"It's my understanding that there are maybe one or two guards alive and they're so advanced in age that prosecution would be unlikely," he said. "The question is: Can we establish probable cause . . . and determine who's responsible?"

Anthropologists can only guess at the condition of the remains, but forensic science has advanced rapidly in recent years. They're hopeful that they can identify the remains using DNA samples from living relatives. Family members of two boys buried on campus have been urging the state and USF team to identify their kin and relocate the remains to family plots.

Locals say proceeding could be difficult.

"It's a closed community," said Elmore Bryant, 78, area director of the NAACP and a former mayor, who taught school here for 11 years in the 1980s and '90s. "Ain't nobody about to tell you nothing."

Dale Cox, a writer and historian in nearby Two Egg, has argued on his website that a report from the USF team is inaccurate. He also petitioned the Jackson County Commission to intervene, to make sure local taxpayers aren't responsible for the cost of the investigation and to give locals with relatives buried on school property a chance to object to exhumation. Cox would not comment for this story.

Nelson told reporters that the state Senate has suggested covering the cost, and the U.S. Department of Justice has identified some $3 million in grants available for the project.

"Where there's smoke, there's fire," Nelson said. "We need to find out, were there crimes committed, and let's get to the bottom of it."

Wansley Walters, who closed the school when she became secretary of the Department of Juvenile Justice, agreed.

"This place has haunted many people, including me, for a long, long time," she said, looking around the White House, where boys were beaten so badly they had to pull their underwear out of lacerations.

That people care about what happened here 40 years ago gives Willie Morris a sense of peace. He broke his femur catching a bag of grain in '62 and the doctor in charge called him racial epithets before kicking him and stomping his wounded leg. His brother, Curtis, sentenced to Dozier in the 1970s, says guards kicked his teeth out with cowboy boots and locked him in solitary confinement for three months.

"It wouldn't surprise me if they found kids who died of foul play. We always heard rumors," said Morris, who blames the injury and abuse for three hip replacement surgeries later in life. "I thank God that a lot of us got out of there. I'm just glad that this is coming to light now, that people will know how horrible this place was."

Ben Montgomery can be reached at or (727) 893-8650.

© 2013 Tampa Bay Times

White House Boys | Christopher Sholly/Justin Caldwell | top

 03/25/13 Why is juvenile crime declining?
Gary Pinnell, Highlands Today, Tampa Tribune

SEBRING - Juvenile crime has declined 28 percent in Highlands County during the past four years. The question is why.

“I’ve checked the clerk of court’s numbers against ours, and we’re within a few,” Assistant State Attorney Steve Houchin confirmed. “But the types of cases we’re seeing are more serious now: more firearms, more sex crimes, more violence.”

He looked up the crimes prosecuted from 2008-2010. “We had a lot of car-fishing (thefts from unlocked cars) cases. We didn’t have that last year.”

But the larger reason for the decline, Houchin thought, was that law enforcement officers have been empowered to exercise more discretion. “They have the school deal with the problem, talk to the kid and get things solved without taking the kid to jail. Which is a good thing.”

“I think it’s a combination of things,” said Sheriff Susan Benton. “It’s what happens when you attack a problem of a comprehensive nature. You can’t just do law enforcement, you have to do intervention, you have to do prevention.

“We’ve continued to push through D.A.R.E. in the elementary and middle schools,” Benton said of the Drug Abuse Resistance Education officers. “When you think of the work the (school resource officers) do, they could intervene in a fight or maybe a stolen laptop, and they could get an arrest, or they can intervene with the kids before it gets to that point. Because of that discretion, many times no arrests take place.

“They can release the kid right there, at the school or to a guardian, and the kid gets a notice of appointment,” the sheriff said. “He can go to the Department of Juvenile Justice, and he gets logged in. If it’s his first offense, and it’s a minor crime, they can have him write a letter of apology or whatever is appropriate, and it doesn’t have to be filed by the state attorney.”

Another option: “Here’s the real key,” Benton said, “the deputies who are on patrol, they know Johnny has a 7 o’clock curfew. So they knock on the door and ask, ‘Mrs. Smith, is Johnny here?’ If he’s there, the deputy logs it in the system; he’s in compliance. If he’s not, he writes a report, and that goes to DJJ. They can bring Johnny back into court for violating probation.

“If Johnny is out at the mall at 9 p.m. and kids are raising Cain, the deputy can either check on his car computer or call into a dispatcher, and it will immediately pop up if Johnny is on a juvenile probation, who his case worker is, and the deputy can arrest him for violation of probation.”

“They know we know,” Benton said, “so we have a much higher level of compliance.”

Some parents are overwhelmed by problem children, Benton said. “Many parents feel hopeless. They have such a difficult time parenting. It’s difficult. Now, they can call us and say, ‘It’s 9 o’clock and Johnny is supposed to be here and he’s not.’”

Highlands also has its own Children’s Advocacy Center, where law enforcement, welfare, juvenile justice and other concerned parties can meet with offenders and victims. “If we identify a problem with a kid, we can have all the players at the table there.”

Juvenile crime is down all over Florida, which leads Benton to believe that the Highlands statistics are not anomalies.

 “There are fairly substantial reductions in almost every major offense category, including the most serious juvenile offenses,” according to the DJJ website. “Today, Floridians are substantially less likely to be the victim of crime involving a juvenile than at any other time since the Department started tracking this statistic in 1990.”

Florida’s juvenile arrest rate is down from 76 to 52 per 1,000 juveniles from fiscal year 2007-08 to 2011-12.

Felony arrests are down 35 percent. In individual categories, auto theft arrests have declined 50 percent, aggravated assault and battery 35 percent, armed robbery 48 percent, sexual battery 18 percent, murder-manslaughter 49 percent, burglary 24 percent, drug felonies 55 percent, drug misdemeanors 26 percent and alcohol offenses 34 percent.

The state’s criminal justice system has been so successful with alternatives to locking up juveniles, there’s a burgeoning movement to increase the use of non-jail diversion programs with nonviolent adult offenders.

Backers of the idea announced on Oct. 30 an agreement with Leon County. Police will have the ability to issue civil citations to offenders who commit lesser offenses, rather than taking them to jail.

“We have considered that,” Houchin said, “not just in Highlands but for the (10th Judicial) Circuit overall.”

Even so, Houchin said, “the sheriff’s office and DJJ already use a lot of sound discretion on whether to arrest someone or not. We have a number of diversion programs. Teen Court is one of them.”

Teen Court, said attorney Elizabeth Lenihan, is exactly what the name states: a courtroom run by, for and about teens. The exception is that attorneys voluntarily assist teen prosecutors, public defenders, jurors, clerks and bailiffs.

 “It really is fantastic,” Lenihan said. “It has gained popularity throughout the state.”

Teen Court is limited — with few exceptions — to misdemeanor offenders under age 18.

Offenders, she said, “get the option of Teen Court, and it won’t show up on their records. They have to admit they are guilty, and they are adjudicated by their peers.”

That admission can’t be used against defendants if they wind up later in circuit court, said Judge Angela Cowden.

Lenihan’s part is to help prepare student lawyers before they walk into Courtroom 1A. “They go with real attorneys into separate rooms, review the police reports, help develop opening statements, questions, closing statements and suggested punishment.”

Additionally, the defense attorney gets to interview the defendant. “So they have a little more knowledge about what’s happening, which is what happens in real life too,” Lenihan said. Circuit Court Judges Cowden or Peter Estrada usually preside.

Some defendants come away knowing they have narrowly avoided jail, Lenihan said. “A lot of them are really shy; a lot of them are scared to death. They can’t believe they got into trouble. Some of them regret it; some of them just regret getting caught, and they’ll tell you, ‘This is not going to change much.’”

One motivation for bullies and criminals is to gain peer approval, according to and Lenihan has seen criminals who expected approval from Teen Court jurors.

Does Teen Court really work?

“I believe it does,” said Cowen, who presides over felony court. “If these children can be reached while they are impressionable, they do respond positively.”

Teen Court offenders “have a very low recidivism or re-offense rate,” Cowden said.

“What we really do try to impress upon them, especially when they are older, is, ‘Do you have plans for college, for a career?’” Lenihan said. “We’ve heard a lot of them say that they want to be a police officer or join the military. A criminal record is really going to hurt them. A few of them wise up.”

The magistrate doesn’t decide guilt or punishment, Lenihan said; that’s the teen jury’s job. “If they don’t feel that sorry for what they did, the jury will give them a stiffer punishment.” Penalties may include jury service, community service, restitution, drug testing, curfew or writing an essay or apology letter.

“I will not change any sentence,” Cowden said, “but I may bring them to the podium and read them the Riot Act. I’ll ask them, ‘Are you planning on following the recommendation?’

“I have a passion for Teen Court, I really, really do,” Cowden said. “That’s why I participate in it. That’s why I talk to them like I’m their mama.”


01/13/13 Palm Beach County school, justice officials warn students juvenile crimes can follow, hinder them as adults
Allison Ross, Palm Beach Post

Sometimes, Sonya Saucedo gets mad. It happens: She’s 13 years old. But Saucedo said she worries sometimes about where that anger and frustration will lead her.

“I’ve gotten in trouble at school a few times,” the Pahokee Middle School student said. “I once screamed at everyone in class and threw books.”

So on Thursday morning, Saucedo tentatively approached the microphone at a school assembly to ask one question: How hard is it to get your life back after you’ve committed a crime?

It was the kind of question the assembled panel of experts had hoped to hear from the 500 middle and high school students sitting in Pahokee High School’s gymnasium.

The panelists’ main goal: to instill in students that a criminal record can follow a juvenile offender long after he or she becomes an adult.

“If you think you do something at 15, it’s no big deal. Let me tell you … it can be a very big deal,” said Barbara Gerlock, chairwoman of the Circuit 15 Juvenile Justice Board. “You may have consequences that will stay with you for the rest of your life.”

Records from the Florida Department of Juvenile Justice show that juvenile arrests in Palm Beach County have dropped significantly in the last eight years. Still, a report released this month shows that county had 5,179 juvenile offenses last school year — an average of nearly 15 per day. Nearly 14 percent of those were school-related. About half of the referrals were for misdemeanors, such as assault or battery, trespassing or vandalism.

Gerlock said many students and others “suffer from the misperception” that a juvenile’s record is wiped clean when they turn 18. And panelists said students should be aware that the public can see some of those records — even juvenile ones.

If an offender meets certain conditions, a juvenile record may be expunged when a person turns 24 or 26 years of age, said Christy Altaro, juvenile court operations manager.

But even if a record is expunged or sealed, some agencies — such as law enforcement, schools, the military and others — can still access those records, she said.

“Something you stole from Wal-Mart for $5 may follow you for the next 15 years,” she told students.

The local Juvenile Justice Board has hosted this panel discussion once before, but it was the first time the target audience was students.

The school district has been trying several proactive approaches to deal with students before turning to punishment.

Pahokee High School Principal Ariel Alejo said his school and others use a program called the “Multi-Tiered System of Supports” to provide students support and intervention based on their needs. He said his staff works with students who may be displaying anger problems or other issues, mentoring them to figure out how to get or keep them on the right track.

The district has been working to adjust its discipline policies to make them more corrective. It wants to cut down on suspensions and explusions that push students out of the classroom. And the Palm Beach County School Police Department tries to work with students instead of arresting them, using diversion programs to keep them out of jail, Chief Larry Leon said.

Palm Beach County Circuit Judge Ron Alvarez said Friday he has noticed fewer juvenile arrests recently and is glad for that. Still, he said it’s “too much to hope for” that the drop is solely because of the preventive measures being taken.

Still, “the present schools administration, they’ve dedicated themselves to involving the school and the courts in that prevention track, so that the school knows what we do, we know what the school does,” Alvarez said.

“If we can’t close the (schoolhouse to jailhouse) pipeline, we want to close the valve as much as we can,” he said.

Students on Thursday were especially attentive when panelist Charles Williams, a former student at Pahokee High School, cautioned students that getting in trouble with the law could really hurt their futures and their career aspirations.

Williams, 20, didn’t elaborate on his own story during the discussion, but later said that he got into trouble as a teenager because of anger issues. At age 16, he said he was arrested for battery and his case was transferred to adult court.

“I was young. Young and dumb,” he said. He said he just taken the test for his GED, and he still has troubles finding a job because of his criminal record. But thanks to Workforce Alliance, he’s enrolled at Palm Beach State College for welding.

Williams said he chose to be on the panel because he didn’t want others to have to struggle like he has.

“Try to get your anger under control. Don’t let things get to you. Keep your head up,” he said. He told the assembled students, “You don’t want to get wrapped up in the juvenile system. That’s something you can’t take back — at all.”



12/13/12 Nelson urges Justice Department to join Dozier graves investigation
Ben Montgomery, Tampa Bay Times

Sen. Bill Nelson on Wednesday called on the Department of Justice to assist a team of anthropologists and archaeologists from the University of South Florida that has been investigating the deaths of nearly 100 children at Florida's oldest reform school, the now-shuttered Dozier School for Boys outside the Panhandle town of Marianna.

Nelson, D-Fla., sent a letter to U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder after the USF team released a report on Monday saying it had found 50 grave shafts on school property, 19 more than Florida Department of Law Enforcement investigators found during an investigation in 2009.

"The reform school may yield some ugly reminders about our past, but we absolutely must get to the bottom of this," Nelson said.

The USF team also said it believes there is another burial site on what had been the white side of campus before integration in the late 1960s. Erin Kimmerle, a professor and forensic anthropologist, said Monday that she had been in contact with the U.S. Attorney for the Northern District of Florida to talk about how to proceed. The team is continuing its investigation.

The state was trying to sell the property, but a judge ordered the sale be put on hold while the team searches for the remains of a boy who died under suspicious circumstances in 1934. The boy's family has been trying to locate his remains for decades.

"For the sake of those who died and the family members still living, we've got to find out what happened at that school," Nelson wrote to Holder. "I'm asking your department to provide support and assistance to USF researchers in a broadened search to look for more graves, as well as forensic evidence of possible crimes. The families deserve closure once and for all."

FDLE communications coordinator Keith Kameg said Monday that FDLE was aware of the report, but, "In the absence of any additional evidence we do not anticipate further criminal investigative action."

Agriculture Commissioner Adam Putnam on Tuesday publicly asked the FDLE commissioner to look at the findings and report back to state officials.

FDLE Commissioner Gerald Bailey said he had still not seen the USF report and he could not comment on its findings.

After his appearance before the Cabinet, Bailey said he was "anxious to receive the report."

"When we receive it and see what's in it, we will react accordingly," he said.

Nelson's call for the Department of Justice to help was good news to many of school's former inmates, who call themselves the White House Boys because they were beaten bloody inside a white brick building. Many disagreed with the FDLE investigating a state-run institution to begin with.

"Florida is not going to find Florida guilty of anything," said Robert Straley, 66, of Clearwater, who co-authored a book about his experience at the school. He called the initial investigation a "flimsy, transparent cover-up of the truth."

Times/Herald staff writer Tia Mitchell contributed to this report. Ben Montgomery can be reached at or (727) 893-8650.

'For Their Own Good' To read more stories from the Times' award-winning report on abuses at Dozier, go to 

White House Boys | Christopher Sholly/Justin Caldwell | top

10/12/12 Researchers find more graves at Dozier than state said existed
Ben Montgomery and Waveney Ann Moore, Tampa Bay Times

For years, Richard Varnadoe has longed to know where the state buried his brother, Thomas, who died at 13 as a ward of Florida's oldest reform school in the Panhandle town of Marianna.

"I feel an obligation that the truth has to come out, what happened to him," said Varnadoe, 83. "I am the last hope. . . . I'm the last sibling."

New evidence unearthed by researchers at the University of South Florida may shed light on where Thomas and dozens of other boys who died in state custody are buried. The team has identified at least 49 graves in and near the notorious school's known cemetery, north of the campus. That's 18 more than the Florida Department of Law Enforcement found during a 2009 investigation.

Researchers have also found "sufficient evidence" to conclude there's likely another clandestine cemetery on school property, in a patch of woods on the south side of campus, which had been reserved for white students during segregation.

Led by Erin Kimmerle, associate professor of anthropology at USF, the researchers petitioned the state to use ground penetrating radar to try to find the second cemetery and determine how many graves it contained. But the state denied the petition in August because it intended to sell 220 acres at public auction. The school, widely known as the Florida School for Boys or Dozier School for Boys, closed in 2011, after 111 years of operation.

The Department of Juvenile Justice reversed its stance Thursday afternoon, a day after Thomas Varnadoe's nephew, Glen Varnadoe, filed a lawsuit to put a stop to the sale.

"After careful consideration, we will work with the researchers on how best to provide them access to the site," said DJJ Secretary Wansley Walters.

Late Thursday, a judge ruled that the state could not sell the property for 120 days, or until Thomas' remains are found. He also ruled that the state must give the USF researchers access to the south campus.

"I'm quite pleased that the state has chosen the path they have taken," Varnadoe said. "I think it's the right thing to do, and I'm very pleased with the outcome. I think in the next 120 days, Dr. Kimmerle and her team will discover burial plots on the south campus and possibly in more than one location."

Kimmerle suspected there was a second cemetery on the property when her team discovered no segregation between graves at the known cemetery, called Boot Hill. Until 1968, it was customary for cemeteries to have defined separate areas for whites and blacks.

Former wards of the state, and family members of those who died in custody, also told researchers they had seen a cemetery on the south side of campus. Among them was Ovell Krell, a former Lakeland police officer, who suspects her brother was killed by guards in 1940.

Krell said her family drove to Marianna to investigate her brother's reported disappearance from the school. By the time they arrived, they were shown a pile of dirt in a cemetery south of campus, which the superintendent identified as her brother's grave.

Researchers John Powell and Richard Weltz also matched an aerial photograph of a cemetery from a Jackson County historian to a spot on the south campus.

"It's too much evidence from too many sources to say it's nothing," Kimmerle said.

Since 2008, former wards, mostly from the 1950s and '60s, have spoken publicly about being abused at the school. Hundreds told of being hit with a leather strap until they bled in a building called the White House. Some have reported that bunk-mates were taken to the White House for punishment and never returned.

Former Gov. Charlie Crist ordered an investigation in 2009 after news spread of a cemetery in a small clearing in the woods dotted by 31 white metal crosses. Relying heavily on the school's own records, FDLE determined that at least 81 boys died in custody, and that 29 boys and two men were buried at the cemetery.

USF's Kimmerle, along with archaeologist Richard Estabrook and a team of students, used ground-penetrating radar and other "ground truthing" techniques and determined that the actual cemetery extended 20 meters north of the marked site, into a heavily wooded area. And they found a minimum of 49 graves, which Kimmerle called a "conservative estimate."

"That's a minimum number," she said. "These are the ones that we are confident saying these are grave shafts."

Kimmerle said it's also possible that some graves may contain more than one child.

"This is the worst case of child abuse in American history," said Robert Straley of Clearwater, who was abused at the school when he was 13. "They have an obligation to make that into a real cemetery, where the relatives of boys would be allowed to go in there and pay their respect and they should build a monument to all the boys who died and were never identified."

The Varnadoes hope someday to identify Thomas' remains, and to have them disinterred and reburied at the family's plot in Brooksville, beside his mother.

"Our interest in this is a 13-year-old child that never got to come home to his mother," Glen Varnadoe said. "Our interest is in bringing this child home so he can spend the rest of eternity with his family."

Ben Montgomery can be reached at or (727) 893-8650. Waveney Ann Moore can be reached at or (727) 892-2283.

White House Boys | Christopher Sholly/Justin Caldwell | top

10/10/12 Pinellas sheriff says school resource officers are stretched thin
Curtis Krueger, Tampa Bay Times

LARGO — As Pinellas School Board members began discussing the broad topic of how to reduce violence in schools, Sheriff Bob Gualtieri quickly focused the conversation on one concrete point: dollars.

Gualtieri, one of the people invited to come speak to the board, said the number of deputies in Pinellas schools has dropped sharply over a five-year period, but arrests in middle school and high school have gone up.

He cited these figures at a School Board work session on Tuesday:

In the 2007-08 academic year, the Sheriff's Office sent 33 deputies to 23 schools to work as resource officers. Resource officers get to know students and teachers and gather intelligence that can help them stop violence before it happens.

But by 2011-12, the Sheriff's Office had 13 deputies for 11 schools.

In that time, Gualtieri said, high school arrests went from 188 to 240.

In middle schools, the increase was even higher, with arrests going from 58 to 137.

"The biggest one was Dunedin Middle School," Gualtieri said, with an increase of 11 arrests to 59.

With fewer deputies at fewer schools in the sheriff's jurisdiction, the resource officers have less time to form the kinds of relationships they need to get tips about violence that may be brewing in schools.

He stressed that his staff does a great job, but said, "the deputies feel like they're stretched too thin."

Gualtieri said his cost for providing the deputies is $839,644. The School Board pays his office $591,000.

"I can't put any more resources that we absorb the costs of into the schools. I mean we're already paying more than what the School Board is paying, by almost a quarter of a million dollars."

St. Petersburg Mayor Bill Foster and Police Chief Chuck Harmon also spoke to the School Board and agreed funding is an issue, but stressed their commitment to do everything possible to keep schools safe.

School Board members, who were meeting in a work session and not debating any formal proposals, said a lot of good things about the sheriff's resource officers, as well as others provided by the St. Petersburg Police and other agencies, and the school system's own officers.

But not one of them pledged to give more money to the Sheriff's Office, citing lean budgets. They did say it would be discussed in the regular budget process.

The board also heard Clearwater High School Principal Keith Mastorides describe what everyone agreed was a success story: the school and police response to an incident last month in which a 15-year-old student brought a gun onto campus.

"We had the campus locked down within 30 seconds," even though it was lunchtime, the most difficult time to secure a busy school, Mastorides said. Within nine minutes, he said, the lockdown was over and the weapon had been found. And no one was hurt.


 09/28/12 Florida to close controversial juvenile justice center
Susan Ferriss, The Center for Public Integrity

The state of Florida plans to close a large privately-run juvenile offender home that a group of public defenders alleged was rife with problems. State officials say the decision to close the Thompson Academy as of Jan. 4, 2013, is not related to the public defenders’ longstanding allegations of poor supervision and treatment of wards. Instead, officials say, the 154-bed facility’s large size doesn’t match the type of rehabilitation the state is pursuing.

Thompson Academy, a low-security facility in Broward County, is run by Youth Services International, a private company that holds $81.8 million in Florida government contracts to operate seven juvenile offender facilities and programs. The company runs juvenile programs in other states as well, and describes itself as “the premier provider in the youth care industry.”

J.C. Drake, a spokesman for the Florida Department of Juvenile Justice, told the Center for Public Integrity Thursday that the state is “moving to smaller residential programs” and Thompson Academy doesn’t fit that profile. “Controversy in the past has nothing to do with the decision,” Drake said.

In June, as the Center for Public Integrity reported, Broward County public defenders filed an unusual petition – for a writ of habeas corpus – asking a Florida state court for an order to remove and stop sending juvenile offenders to Thompson.

Gordon Weekes, Broward County chief assistant public defenders, said at the time that wards appeared to have suffered abuses, including intimation, physical harm and the use of food as “currency” to reward certain behavior.

In subsequent court filings, lawyers for Youth Services International strongly denied the allegations, calling them a “torrent of unsubstantiated and irrelevant accusations.”

The public defenders’ fight with Youth Services International was not the company’s first legal skirmish in Florida.

The Southern Poverty Law Center, which alleged that a 14-year-old boy had been sexually assaulted at Thompson, sued Youth Services International in 2010. That suit was resolved in May 2011 with a sealed settlement. Weekes said that the state’s Department of Juvenile Justice should disclose the terms of the settlement so that the public can be assured that corrective action has been taken, if it was ordered by the court. 

Florida has been in the forefront nationally in moves to privatize the operation of adult and juvenile lockup and treatment programs. Some juvenile-justice activists contend that this has allowed companies to try to seek favored status among politicians.

Along with other companies, Youth Services International has been a generous donor to Florida politicians in recent years, a development that Weekes called “the elephant in the room.”

In June, in response to the public defenders’ petition before state court, the Department of Juvenile Justice issued a statement arguing that previous claims of wrongdoing at Thompson “have been investigated and were not substantial.”  The statement also said that earlier in 2012, accrediting agencies had given Thompson Academy a passing grade, noting some of its program strengths and making some recommendations for improvement. The Department of Juvenile Justice also contended that a system is in place for wards or others to use a “hotline” to report allegations of abuse at facilities, and that various state authorities are empowered to investigate reports.

After the public defenders filed their petition in court, the department said, it sent a team to Thompson Academy to interview most of the youths the public defenders represented. “The only issue of significance identified in these interviews was the complaint by some youth that they were not getting enough to eat,” the state said. A dietician was supposed to look into the matter.

In July, judges of Florida’s 17th Judicial Circuit Court juvenile delinquency division met to hear the public defenders’ petition.

The judges declined to take on a role as “overseer” of the facility, noting that many agencies possess that role.

However, the judges said, the efforts of the public defenders to “champion the cause for the indigent and ensure that we each stand equal should be recognized.” The court appointed the Broward County’s Office of the Guardian Ad Litem to represent children at Thompson for one year.

Lawyers with Aronowitz Law in Miami, the law firm representing Youth Services International, said the company did not want them to comment on the state’s decision to discontinue its contract with Thompson as of January.

The Department of Juvenile Justice informed Youth Services International of its decision in a private letter dated Aug. 2, 2012. The company was invited to compete in upcoming bids to operate smaller programs.


07/14/12  Zero Tolerance: School to Prison Pipeline? 
 Barbara Melendez, The Bradenton Times

TAMPA – No child or parent imagines school serving as a pathway to prison. Yet University of South Florida graduate student Eric S. Hall and Assistant Professor Zorka Karanxha have found this to be a consequence of Zero Tolerance school policies – for certain groups of students.

In their article “School Today, Jail Tomorrow: The Impact of Zero Tolerance on the Over-Representation of Minority Youth in the Juvenile System,” published in Power Play: A journal of Educational Justice. Hall and Karanxha provide a critical examination of how such policies are applied and what happens to the young people who all-too often find themselves victimized by them.

“In essence, we are witnessing students who misbehave in school, doing things that are not a threat to public safety, being arrested and punished in the same way as those students who constitute actual safety threats,” they write. “This practice results in the funneling of many future contributing members of our society into juvenile facilities while perpetuating the marginalization of our nation’s most at-risk students.”

Their illuminating article and in-depth research grew out of an assigned paper.

Karanxha teaches graduate courses in the College of Education that focus on educational leadership, culturally relevant leadership for social justice and organizational theory. Hall, who has nearly two decades of experience working with juvenile justice, had grown alarmed by what he has witnessed for many of the children served in this system. He handed in a paper on zero tolerance in Karanxha’s organizational theory class. The content moved Karanxha to ask him to turn it into a journal article and offered her collaboration. He agreed.

“I could see that the policies that were landing these kids in the juvenile justice system were on their way to serious long-term negative implications,” Hall said.

To draw attention to what they characterize as a “youth incarceration crisis,” the two researchers marshaled dozens of sources – studies and statistics in addition to the narratives of two young men – to show a pattern of “intended and unintended consequences” of zero tolerance policies.

Hall provided the narratives of two students – one named Kevin and the other, Ron – he encountered while working in the juvenile justice system. The narratives are about two young African American males who are also special education students, which according to research cited in the Journal of Exceptional Children, are the most overly represented demographic in the juvenile system. Both provide moving testimony to the tragic consequences of misguided overzealous punishment.

Throughout their article, the two authors show how the criminalizing of low-level infractions and minor violence – of the sort that were once easily handled or ignored by schools – and the growing presence of law enforcement “resource officers,” combined with harsh disciplinary practices such as suspension and expulsion, has led to increasing arrests and worse.

According to Karanxha, “The picture that emerges illustrates Henry Giroux’s view of youth of color as ‘expendable,’ ‘disposable’ and ‘outcasts.’ Zero tolerance policy in public education continues to be fed by distrust in youth, diminished rights and freedoms of youth in public schools, and racism that is reflected in ‘widespread stereotypical images of Black youth as super-predators and Black culture as the culture of criminality.’”

She added, “Studies showed that schools with high minority enrollment and high poverty are the places that have high levels of usage of metal detectors, surveillance cameras and security personnel even though there is no correlation with rates of incidents.

“What we then have is male students of color being pushed out of mainstream educational environments and into the juvenile justice system because of zero tolerance policy and its implementation practices. A combination of forces such as state policies, school district policies, law enforcement agencies and the courts punish youth of color for nonviolent infractions such as being late for school, excessive absences or just being obstinate and willful or talking back.”

The article focuses on how such excessive punishment has been directed at some of the students who have the greatest need for nurturing and support. They convincingly argue for moving “away from punitive methods towards more developmental and educational approaches applied to student discipline and misbehavior.”

This practice of suspension and expulsion for minority youth as a means of enforcing school discipline mirrors the racial disproportionality evident in the juvenile and correctional systems in the U.S. For example, research from other scholars shows that “African American youths make up 16 percent of the nation’s population and 45 percent of the juvenile arrests in the United States,” they reported.

Hall and Karanxha hope to see movement in a different direction – prevention of school-based arrests and support to stay in school. Criminal justice research from the past six decades shows educational achievement is “one of the strongest and most ‘well-established predictors of desistance from criminal offending for youth.’”

The authors also note the need for the diversification of the teaching workforce that continues to be 85 percent white females.

Karanxha states, “This is not to say that White, female teachers are to blame for this issue, but it does require greater efforts to diversify our instructional personnel, and an increased emphasis on culturally relevant teaching practices in teacher preparation programs so that these teaching practices are incorporated into classrooms, where most expulsions and arrests are initiated.

“Concomitantly, leadership preparation programs need to be more proactive in their efforts to increase the diversity of students and to prepare future leaders who have the framework and skills to build culturally-based inclusive schools that attend to the diverse needs of all students.”

Hall and Karanxha report that the Florida Department of Juvenile Justice “has conducted studies and gathered data and last year took steps focused on removing all youth placed in residential facilities due to misdemeanor offenses and placing them back in their local communities where they can best be served and supported. And in recent years, there has also been growing collaboration between the Florida Department of Education and the Department of Juvenile Justice to enhance services and supports which can contribute to reductions in incarceration. But significant work remains to be done to redirect minority youth from the juvenile system to mainstream education and re-integration in public schools.”

They conclude, “The youth of today are not the enemy, but our future. Our commitment to them, their safety and their success is evident by the way we treat, nurture, and respect each child. …we need to close the pathway that takes students from schools today, and places them in jails tomorrow.”

Hall and Karanxha presented the zero tolerance research at the Critical Race Studies in Education Association’s conference held at Columbia University in early June. They found their work was “well attended and well received.”

Their work addressing this issue does not end with this research project.

Karanxha, in collaboration with Vonzell Agosto, also an assistant professor in the Department of Educational Leadership & Policy Studies, is conducting research on leadership preparation for educational equity. Hall, a doctoral candidate in educational leadership and policy studies, is working on his dissertation. He plans to continue his work on policy and practices in the non-traditional educational settings of juvenile justice and alternative schools across the country. Hall’s efforts are to secure strong collaborative partnerships between juvenile justice and educational agencies in an attempt to promote the adoption of interventions and supports that reduce the incarceration rates and marginalization of the nation’s young people.

“I’m always glad to see research papers take on this powerful role of advancing scholarship on real world issues,” Karanxha said. “That’s an important part of what we’re teaching.”


05/20/12 USF team looks for lost graves at closed Dozier School for Boys
Ben Montgomery, Tampa Bay Times


The fates that befell boys across a century at the state's oldest reform school, here on the outskirts of town, are hard to imagine. They came here to be reformed and some never left. • Eight burned to death in 1914, locked inside a tinderbox dormitory. More than 20 died from influenza and pneumonia. One boy was murdered by his peers while locked inside a 7- by 10-foot building for days. Another died, according to school records, during a tonsillectomy. Records suggest at least 81 boys met their deaths in state custody in the 111 years the school was open.

For the families of boys who died here, what's more disturbing is that no one knows for sure where they and dozens of others are buried. The school cemetery, called Boot Hill, was neglected for years. School burial records are incomplete. Folklore is inadequate.

But a team of anthropologists, biologists and archaeologists from the University of South Florida has been working quietly to find answers in a place shrouded by mystery. The massive multidisciplinary project, made public for the first time here, aims to preserve the records, inventory historic buildings, find the graves, identify the forgotten remains, protect the historic cemetery and open it to families.

"It's a humanitarian effort," said Erin Kimmerle, a forensic anthropologist and assistant professor at USF who is guiding the project. "I hope for those families that have questions and are looking for information, that this will begin to give them some of the information and history they're looking for."

• • •

Thirty-one metal crosses in a little clearing in the woods mark a mystery.

The crosses, situated inside cable fence that measures 38 feet by 51 feet, were planted in 1996, after a former superintendent discovered the old graveyard in disarray and grown over. Trees had fallen on concrete crosses that had been placed in the 1960s. Workers discarded those in the woods and planted the new metal crosses in rows based on depressions in the ground where they thought boys were buried.

The state closed the campus in June after a century-long cycle of scandal and short-lived reform at the school, which has been known as the Florida Industrial School for Boys, the Florida School for Boys and the Dozier School for Boys. Over the years, kids were locked in irons, beaten with a leather strap in a building called the White House, locked in isolation for as long as three weeks, hog-tied. The school has been subject to lawsuits and scrutiny, but no one has been able to answer the questions about the cemetery.

The Florida Department of Law Enforcement investigated in 2008 and 2009, but could not come up with records that showed who had been buried where, or exactly how many bodies were buried at Boot Hill. The FDLE determined that ground-penetrating radar would be futile because so much time had passed. "There were too many variables," the lead investigator said in 2009.

But Kimmerle, 39, thought radar could work. She and archaeologist Richard Estabrook applied for an archaeological research permit with the state's Division of Historical Resources and persuaded the Department of Environmental Protection to grant access to the cemetery.

The two have used GPR to find clandestine burials for law enforcement agencies in Florida and to map historic burial grounds. Kimmerle was chief anthropologist in 2001 for the United Nations International Criminal Tribunal for the former Yugoslavia, and she worked with a Peruvian team in 2008 near Putis, a hamlet in southern Peru where men, women and children were buried in mass graves since the 1980s.

In February, she and her team began mapping Boot Hill using GPR and other "ground truthing" techniques to try to establish how many boys are buried here and where exactly their remains are located. The radar suggested the burials extended into a patch of woods north of the existing cemetery clearing.

Kimmerle enlisted the help of the warden at nearby Jackson County Correctional Facility. Convicts cleared trees, kudzu and underbrush from woods to the north, opening a large area around the base of an old oak.

• • •

On Tuesday morning, as the sun peeked over the pines, Kimmerle and her team drove down a narrow path in the woods and parked short of a small clearing. They hauled their gear, shovels and shears and trowels, in 5-gallon buckets to the edge of the cemetery and found stakes they had used to mark their old grids.

Estabrook inspected the new clearing. "They did a great job," he said. "This is perfect."

"Maybe we can jog around these trees and treat this as its own little grid," Kimmerle said.

They staked out a grid and Estabrook went to work with the GPR, which he named Matilda, pushing the device back and forth along the lines, like mowing a lawn. The GPR recorded 250 subsurface samples every 2 centimeters, and Estabrook watched the monitor, noting places where the radar picked up an anomaly, a spot where the subsurface density changes.

"We've got an anomaly right here," he said, toeing the ground.

"Nice," Kimmerle said.

She followed, marking the anomalies with orange flags. Before long, a portion of the new clearing was speckled with markers. Estabrook sat at a card table and looked at his laptop. Images from the radar flashed on the screen. He explained what he was looking at.

"The cemetery isn't really contained here," he said, pointing to the white crosses. "It's more over in that area. That's the area we're interested in. That's why we came back."

After lunch, Kimmerle surveyed the new field.

"I think I want a trench," she said. "I think I want to do it here."

Four graduate anthropology students set to work under the hot sun. They staked out a section of earth 5 meters long and half a meter wide, running north and south, perpendicular to the graves, which have an east-west orientation in folk cemeteries. With shovels and a pickax, they broke through the topsoil and gradually penetrated a layer of orange clay.

When the trench was half a meter deep, they scraped flat the walls and floor. Most of the trench walls revealed a clean line between the dark brown topsoil and the orange subsurface clay. But at two wide spots that should have been solid clay, you could see a mixture of clay and dark brown soil.

"There's one there," Kimmerle said. "That's a shaft."

"Yeah," said John Powell, a grad student. "That's a big change."

"Let's clean that up," Kimmerle said.

The burial shafts aligned perfectly with anomalies that had registered on the GPR. The mixture of soil and clay suggested that at some point in the past, a hole had been dug and filled in, Kimmerle said.

"We had a strong sense when we came this far that the cemetery had moved," said Estabrook. "This is some of the better proof we have."

The team dug a longer trench that ran farther north and identified several more burial shafts. They also found buried two rows of hand-made bricks near the burial shafts that seem to indicate graves.

By the end of the week, they found five confirmed burial shafts to the north. The northernmost anomaly was more than 20 meters from the marked cemetery. Kimmerle said it's clear that the marked cemetery doesn't account for all the burials. And the radar has indicated there are multiple anomalies to the east as well. Kimmerle is going to ask for even more forest to be cleared so that section can be mapped.

"We're finding graves throughout this whole area," Kimmerle said. "Each step gives you a little more information."

• • •

Besides mapping the cemetery, a biologist has been coring a group of cedar trees — known to mark folk cemeteries — found along the perimeter, to determine when they were planted. The team located remnants of an old fence that may outline some earlier property line. Others from the anthropology department are interested in ethnography, which includes interviewing former wards, employees and area citizens, and taking stock of the historic structures on campus, from the syrup house to the butcher shop to the saw mill, dilapidated buildings that are now entangled by vines and forest. The USF Libraries Special Collections wants to preserve the historic school-related documents.

The mission for Kimmerle and Estabrook in this phase is to use the historical records, data and testing to establish a minimum number of graves. But they won't know for certain how many there are without a more thorough excavation.

"That'll be the question," Estabrook said. "Do we have more than 31?"

"That's the question," said Kimmerle.

Two families of boys said to be buried here — Thomas Varnadoe in 1934 and George Owen Smith in 1941 — have expressed interest in repatriating their remains to family plots.

"I would just like to have some closure," Thomas Varnadoe's brother, Richard, told the Tampa Bay Times in 2009. "And I'd like if someone could find his remains and dig him up and get him down here where we could give him a proper funeral and bury him close to family.''

Kimmerle said she wants what is right for those families.

"Their wishes and rights will guide what happens next," she said. The group hopes to present its initial findings at a symposium in the fall.

"I think everyone can understand that children came here and died here and there are people who are related to them who have questions," Kimmerle said. "Nobody wants to see a cemetery lost."

Ben Montgomery can be reached at or (727) 893-9650.

White House Boys | Christopher Sholly/Justin Caldwell | top

05/08/12 Martin Lee Anderson tape now illegal
Gov. Scott signed law that exempts video of a death from public record

Andy Opel, Opinion,

On Jan. 5, 2006, 14-year-old Martin Lee Anderson entered a sheriff's boot camp in Panama City. Eighteen hours later, he was pronounced dead.

A videotape made by boot camp staff captured the last 30 minutes of Anderson's life. On the tape, we see seven guards applying "pain compliance techniques" such as hammer strikes and arm bar take-downs. These images sparked national outrage and protests and eventually led to the special prosecutor in the case filing charges against the guards, albeit 10 months after the Anderson's death.

If this tragedy were to happen today, none of the public reaction or pressure on the state attorney would happen, because the videotape of Anderson's death would be exempt from public records laws. Last May, Gov. Rick Scott signed HB 411, a law that criminalizes the viewing or copying of recordings of the death of a person. That's right — it is now a felony to watch a tape such as the video in the Martin Lee Anderson case.

Last July, shortly after HB411/SB416 was signed into law, Eric Perez was "roughly tossed in the air," according to a grand jury report, hit his head on the floor and died in a juvenile detention center in West Palm Beach. The reason very few people know about Eric Perez is because the video of his treatment in detention is now exempt from public records law and has even been withheld from Eric's mother, despite a provision in the new law that grants family members access to these video recordings.

Eric Perez was in juvenile detention for possession of a small amount of marijuana while on probation. According to the grand jury report, guards and juveniles "engaged in horseplay" that resulted in Perez hitting his head on the floor at 9:30 p.m. Video footage is then said to show Perez unsteady on his feet. By 1:30 a.m., Perez is said to be hallucinating and had to crawl out of his cell because he could not stand. Instead of medical attention, he was offered a mattress pad on the floor. Calls to a nurse went unanswered, and by 5 a.m., Perez was too weak to stand and was placed in a medical confinement cell. At 7:51 a.m., an officer noticed Perez was no longer snoring and was cold to the touch. A 911 call was made at 7:57, and he was pronounced dead at 8:09 a.m., having died of a cerebral hemorrhage.

The denial of medical care to a juvenile with clear signs of physical distress is a repetition of the Anderson case six years ago, only this time there were no protests, no marches, no calls for justice — because the reality of his treatment has been hidden behind a law that criminalizes images but lets the actual mistreatment of a juvenile go unprosecuted. Although nine guards were fired in the wake of this tragedy, the grand jury declined to recommend criminal charges against the guards in the Perez case.

Along with the law that blocks access to video information, the Florida Legislature passed SB 2112 — a law that allows juveniles to be housed in adult county jails instead of juvenile detention facilities overseen by the Department of Juvenile Justice. In 2011, Gov. Scott signed SB 2112 as a cost-saving measure that allows counties to handle juvenile detention. As is the case with so many of the misguided cuts — targeting juveniles, the poor, prisoners and the elderly — enacted by Gov. Scott and the conservative Republican Legislature, this law has transferred public money from social services to lawyers hired to defend the lawsuits challenging the bad legislation.

In March, the Southern Poverty Law Center (SPLC) filed a federal civil rights lawsuit against Polk County Sheriff Grady Judd, accusing his guards at the Polk County jail of putting juveniles "in cages as a form of punishment," pepper-spraying juveniles "for minor infractions such as taking too long to get dressed" and failing to provide "adequate educational and rehabilitation services."

The disaster heaped upon these tragedies is that not only are these policies morally bankrupt, they are also an abject economic failure. As the SPLC lawsuit argues, "Decades of research shows that exposing children to adult jails leads to more crime, not less."

As we watch the media attention to the current Trayvon Martin tragedy, it is important to connect the dots of history and understand the new barriers we face in documenting the current state of juvenile justice in the state of Florida. The Trayvon Martin case has brought international attention to irregularities in the Florida justice system. Unfortunately, Trayvon is the tip of an iceberg of injustice for juveniles in Florida, and Gov. Scott and the Florida Legislature are hard at work making sure you never see what happens inside prisons and juvenile detention centers in the state.

— Andy Opel is an associate professor and director of the Media Production Program in the School of Communication at Florida State University. He recently premiered his documentary "Beating Justice: The Martin Lee Anderson Story" at the Florida Film Festival in Orlando. Contact him at

More on Martin Lee Anderson and Boot Camps | top

03/06/12 911 for juvenile authorities
Andrew Marra, The Palm Beach Post Editorial Board, March 16, 2012

Eric Perez, barely 18, died last year on a mattress on the floor of the juvenile detention center in West Palm Beach, weakened, reeking of vomit and feces, disoriented and ultimately unconscious, his brain succumbing over several hours to a cerebral hemorrhage. A security camera recorded him in the spot where detention center guards had dragged his stinking mattress and propped up his body with pillows, and where, more than five hours after he began hallucinating in his cell, his arms jerked outward in a final spasm, and he died alone.

It is difficult to conceive a more damning image of the Florida Department of Juvenile Justice's catastrophic failure to care for a teen in its custody than this one, described meticulously in a paint-peeling grand jury report released last week. Yet the real sense of the agency's failure comes from tracing the series of bad decisions and institutional shortcomings that brought Eric Perez to that fatal moment.

A striking element of the Palm Beach County Grand Jury's findings was the diffusion of responsibility among several people at the Palm Beach Regional Juvenile Detention Center. But there were two chief culprits: Terence Davis, the supervising officer who reportedly downplayed the seriousness of Mr. Perez's condition in alerting a supervisor who might otherwise have called 911, and the DJJ officials who oversaw the deeply flawed system that allowed Mr. Perez to die largely ignored.

Mr. Davis and his fellow guards had the authority to call 911 when Mr. Perez became ill, but the detention center's policies generally called for them to notify the center's superintendent first. When Mr. Davis called the superintendent, the grand jury found, he understated the seriousness of Mr. Perez's condition, reporting his vomiting but never mentioning the moaning, hallucinations and involuntary defecation. A witness testified to hearing Mr. Davis say that he didn't want to call 911 because he didn't want to fill out paperwork.

Even so, he and the other guards were instructed to call the center's nurse, which they did twice. But the nurse was not on duty and did not call back. Incredibly, the center's guidelines did not require a nurse to be on-site or on call overnight, leaving overextended and undertrained guards to deal with a teen exhibiting strange symptoms.

Prosecutors wanted to charge Mr. Davis with child neglect. The only problem: Mr. Perez had turned 18 eight days earlier, so he was no longer a child under state law. Among the grand jury's recommendations is a common-sense fix that legislators should make a priority: Amend the state's legal definition of a child to include any young adult still in custody in a juvenile detention center.

The grand jury's other recommendations are even more obvious and critical: Train guards better, and have a medical professional on-site or available to examine any child complaining of a health problem. Given Mr. Perez's injury, it's not clear that anything could have saved him. But laziness and incompetence ensured that he never had a chance.

- Andrew Marra, for The Palm Beach Post Editorial Board


02/04/12 Ethics commission slaps ex-Rep. Frank Peterman with $5,000 fine
Steve Bousquet, Tampa Bay Times

TALLAHASSEE — The state Commission on Ethics on Friday ordered a $5,000 fine and public censure and reprimand for Frank Peterman for travel abuses when he was Florida's secretary of juvenile justice under former Gov. Charlie Crist.

The 4-3 vote followed a lengthy discussion during which a motion to throw out the entire case against Peterman failed on a 4-3 vote.

Peterman's attorney, Mark Herron, said he would appeal the ruling to an appeals court. "We're on our way," Herron said after the vote.

Peterman's problems began with a Times/Herald report in November 2009 that detailed his extensive taxpayer-funded travel between Tallahassee and his hometown of St. Petersburg, where his wife and children live and where he continued to preach at a church while holding his state position.

The news reports triggered an ethics complaint by David Plyer of Clearwater.

Peterman, a former Democratic state representative from St. Petersburg, was found by a state hearing officer to have repeatedly abused his travel privileges during the time he worked at the state agency in 2008 and 2009. Citing the judge's findings, Assistant Attorney General Diane Guillemette said Peterman charged taxpayers to commute back and forth between the two cities.

"He was there every weekend or just about," Guillemette told the ethics commission. "He was not down there for work, and there was no work on his calendar when he was down there."

Peterman paid restitution of about $24,000 to the state after a highly critical report by Crist's inspector general concluded that much of his travel was not justified. Three members of the ethics panel expressed the view Peterman has been punished enough.

But commission member Jean Larsen of Port St. Lucie bluntly challenged that view. "We are sending the message that if you do something wrong and get caught and pay it back, you're off the hook, and that bothers me big time," Larsen said.

By law, Gov. Rick Scott must impose the fine and reprimand.



12/28/11 State officials fire 6 West Palm juvenile detention workers in connection with teen's July death
Joel Engelhardt, Palm Beach Post

The state announced the firings Tuesday of a supervisor and five other employees at a West Palm Beach juvenile detention center where a teenager died in July, bringing the total fired after the death of Eric Perez to nine.

The Florida Department of Juvenile Justice took the action despite a request from the Palm Beach County State Attorney’s Office that it wait until the office completes its criminal investigation into Perez’s July 10 death at the Palm Beach Regional Juvenile Center on 45th Street.

“It has now been more than five months since Eric’s death and the commencement of the criminal investigation,” DJJ Secretary Wansley Walters wrote to Palm Beach County State Attorney Michael McAuliffe. Not knowing when the investigation will be finished, Walters wrote, the department “is now obliged to take appropriate administrative action against the employees in question.”

McAuliffe’s office refused Tuesday to discuss the matter because it is the subject of an ongoing criminal investigation.

A confidential incident report obtained by The Palm Beach Post in July said Perez appeared to be hallucinating when detention center guards went into his cell at about

1:25 a.m. on July 10. Even though he threw up, a nurse never arrived and guards didn’t call 911.

Perez was given a soda and sent back to his cell, where he was found unconscious about six hours later. He was declared dead by paramedics at about 8:10 a.m. No cause of death has been released.

Floyd Powell, a guard fired on July 15, said he was ordered not to call 911, even when it was clear Perez needed medical help. He planned to sue the state over his firing.

Perez had been charged with violating his probation June 28. Records showed he had been arrested six times in Palm Beach and St. Lucie counties since May 2008 for offenses such as burglary, larceny and marijuana possession.

Not all firings tied to death

The West Palm Beach facility’s superintendent, Anthony Flowers, was placed on administrative leave on July 12 but returned to duty at a DJJ regional office on Oct. 31. In his firing notice Tuesday, DJJ cited poor performance, negligence, inefficiency and violation of law or agency rules.

In her letter to McAuliffe, Walters acknowledged that not all the firings were specifically related to Perez’s death.

“The reason for disciplining some of the employees may not be directly related to Eric’s death but arose from DJJ leadership’s collateral review of detention center operations,” Walters wrote.

Three guards who received termination notices Tuesday — Christian Lewis, Alberto Rios and Darrell Smith — violated procedures on the night before Perez’s death, DJJ said, by failing to search a youth before escorting him back to his cell after snack time and because they “engaged in unauthorized physical contact or horseplay.”

Rios, of West Palm Beach, told The Post Tuesday that he and the others had completed their shifts and left more than an hour before Perez began complaining of headaches and seeking medical help.

“When we left our shift, that kid was fine,” Rios said.

Rios acknowledged that the guards horsed around with Perez, which he called a common practice in the juvenile facility, because it was his 18th birthday. He said Perez was searched properly before returning to his room.

When Rios left at 11:30, he said, Perez told him he would be praying for Rios’ mother, who had just undergone heart surgery. “The kid was in his cell reading the Bible when we left,” Rios said. “If I had been there, that kid would have been alive today.”

There was only one guard stationed outside Perez’s cell, The Post reported in July. It wasn’t the first time the state had failed to fully staff the jail, records show.

A DJJ inspection report completed in February noted that, of the detention center’s 27 positions, 14 were vacant. It was the lowest staffing level at the jail in at least 30 months.

Four fired guards can appeal

The department also sent termination notices Tuesday to a fourth guard, Marlon Jarrell, and assistant superintendent Patricia Hammond. Jarrell’s notice said he “observed a youth in need of medical attention” on the day of Perez’s death but failed to follow procedures for helping him.

Hammond, like Flowers, cannot appeal her termination. The reasons for her firing were the same as those for Flowers. The four guards have the right to appeal.

In her letter to McAuliffe, Walters said despite the wishes of investigators, she couldn’t wait any longer to take disciplinary action against the six, who, except for Flowers, had been on administrative leave.

“DJJ has been paying their salaries, but has had to assign staff from other detention facilities to cover their positions. This has put a strain on DJJ and its employees, both fiscally and operationally,” she wrote.

The department fired three employees in the immediate aftermath of Perez’s death: Powell, Terrance Davis and Larell King.

Perez’s mother, Maritza Perez, said Tuesday that she was glad anyone involved in her son’s death had been fired but declined further comment. At the request of prosecutors in August, she backed off her request to make public a DJJ video that showed the events leading up to her son’s death.

Under a new state law, videos showing a person dying are exempt from public records laws with one exception: Spouses and parents can request a copy.


12/23/11 Fed probe validates Dozier abuse claims
Sascha Corder, WFSU Capital Report  

The Dozier School for Boys TALLAHASSEE, FL (wfsu) - The Infamous Dozier School for Boys in Northwest Florida is now closed. But, before it shut down, state investigators said they found no basis for the rumors of child abuse that had surrounded the school for decades. Three years after that probe, the U.S. Justice Department found something different. The feds say there definitely was abuse at Dozier and one other youth correctional facility in Florida. Sascha Cordner reports, the findings suggest abuse may have occurred in more institutions run by the Florida Department of Juvenile Justice.

"Brick cottages were surrounded by foliage and they were neatly trim and the grass was cut perfectly and there were tall Florida pines and it looked beautiful."

64-year-old Robert Straley is describing what his first time was like when he walked onto the grounds of the Dozier School for Boys. He's one of the four people who blew the whistle on the facility's punishment room known as the White House, where the alleged child abuse took place, like rape and beatings, which could end in death.

A boy of 13 at the time, weighing 105 pounds, he remembers thinking that he was going to give the Dozier facility a chance. But, on his very first day, Straley says the people in charge mistook him for one of the conspirators who had planned to run away that night. Straley says he was lined up along with those other boys and was flogged:

"I couldn't imagine what in the world that man was hitting me with that was hitting me that hard and I turned over to look and it looked like a razor strap, and it was three times as thick with a wooden handle, and that left me black and blue with pin holes of blood all over, like you'd taken a pin and stuck in me, because when you hit your skin with that much force repeatedly blood is going to collect and it will burst at some point."

The Dozier School for Boys was closed June of this year in what state officials said was a budget trimming move.

Straley says though he's thankful that Dozier is closed for good, he still worries about the abuses going on at other youth correctional facilities all across the state.

And, a recent report by the U.S. Justice Department suggests Straley is right. In the 28-page report, investigators confirmed that there were abuses going on at Dozier as well as the Jackson Juvenile Offender Correction Center, which also closed in June. It also concluded there may be more going on at other youth correctional facilities within the state:

But, Spokesman for the Department of Juvenile Justice CJ Drake disagrees. He says his department had already addressed the issues with Dozier by closing it. He also says those concerns do not exist elsewhere in the state:

"In fact, since 2008, the Florida Department of Juvenile Justice has proactively closed or significantly scaled back 23 residential programs throughout the state that did not meet our standards for performance. So, we proactively identify concerns and issues and problems, and we take the necessary and appropriate action when they are brought to our attention, we just don't wait for them to get worse."

But, Roy Miller, the President of child advocacy group, the Children's Campaign, argues DJJ didn't really want to close Dozier. He claims the department worked this past session to keep Dozier open, but the advocacy community prevailed with the help of lawmakers.

Miller says after reading the Justice Department's report, it validates a lot of what advocates said was going on at the facility even up until the point it closed.

"And, for DJJ to say they are absolutely certain that these incidents don't occur throughout their system on a day in and day out basis is ludicrous we know it does, and they need to take it more seriously and stopping it and they're not going to root it out and stop it by saying, it's not a systemic issue, it's only isolated.' It's not isolated. It happens a lot more frequently than they would like everybody to believe."

According to the Justice Department's report, youth in the correctional facilities were subjected to treatment that is a violation of their constitutional rights. For example, cameras caught detention officers provoking children and then responding with an excessive amount of force. Investigators also found that there were several cases where force was the first response, instead of as a last resort. Miller says much abuse may have gone undetected.

"There were blind spots in the Dozier residential program unseen by the cameras. They had one incidence where they only saw the kid being dragged, his legs were visible, but the rest of his body wasn't. That's inexcusable! One thing that DJJ can automatically do is ensure that every square foot of every residential correctional facility under their management is in the view of the camera. There should be no blind spots."

Even though Miller admits there has been a decrease in the use of excessive force within Florida's juvenile justice system in the past couple of years, he says that does not mean the department should use it as an excuse to act like there is no abuse going on within its detention centers.

Straley, on the other hand, who says he has witnessed firsthand what type of abuses have gone on in the youth prisons, says he's not sure much will change. He says that's because the Florida Department of Law Enforcement did not do a thorough investigation and made it seem as if there was no abuse. So, even with this new federal investigation, Straley says he's unsure of what will happen.

He hopes, though, that the department of juvenile justice realizes it has to do better because of what he calls a "recipe for disaster."

"I just hope that this Government report makes them realize that they have got to clamp down on the abuse and screen these people they put in these institutions. They hire people with a low education. And, they have no training as far as what can happen if they do a restraint and things go wrong and that child goes into cardiac arrest or stops breathing, they don't know what to do. They don't even know how to do CPR in a lot of cases."

At the beginning of the month, the U.S. Justice Department's Assistant Attorney General Thomas Perez sent Governor Rick Scott a letter, which was also sent to Attorney General Pam Bondi and DJJ Secretary Wansley Walters.

In that letter, Perez says the violations found in the report are due to the "state's failed system of oversight and accountability," which he suspects affects the entire juvenile justice system statewide. Perez says because the two facilities investigated were closed in June, federal investigators ended their review. But, Perez later warned that if for any reason they learn of any more abuses, the department reserves the right to open another investigation.

© Copyright 2011, wfsu

Justin Caldwell, Christopher Sholly and Dozier School for Boys | More about the White House Boys | top

12/04/11 Federal investigation confirms abuse at Dozier, suggests children in danger at other facilities
Ben Montgomery , St. Petersburg Times

The U.S. Department of Justice has blasted the state for failing to properly treat and protect children who were housed at the now-shuttered Arthur G. Dozier School for Boys, Florida's first and oldest state-run reform school that closed in June after 111 years of operation.

The Florida Department of Juvenile Justice's failure to oversee the program and prevent children from being abused and neglected suggests other programs have similar issues, according to the report by the Justice Department's Civil Rights Division, released late Friday.

"Although Dozier and JJOC (the Jackson Juvenile Offender Center on Dozier's campus) are now shuttered, these problems persist due to the weaknesses in the state's oversight system and from a correspondent lack of training and supervision," the report said. "Our findings remain relevant to the conditions of confinement for the youth confined in Florida's remaining juvenile justice facilities."

The Justice Department's investigation, announced in 2010 to then-Gov. Charlie Crist, showed "reasonable cause to believe that the state of Florida was engaged in a pattern or practice of failing to have proper measures of accountability that led to serious deficiencies."

The Justice Department alleged many instances in which the state violated the constitutional rights of the boys, ages 13 to 21, confined to Dozier, and said the state must take immediate measures to "assess the full extent of its failed oversight" to protect children at its other facilities. The state must also strengthen its oversight processes by implementing a more rigorous system of hiring, training and accountability, the report said.

DJJ spokesman C.J. Drake said Florida has already implemented a number of reforms and has seen a dramatic reduction in the use of physical techniques to control children. He also said the state has closed or substantially reduced 23 residential programs statewide since 2008 because of performance issues.

"That's because we proactively identify problems in our residential programs and take swift corrective action," Drake said. "Residential programs that cannot implement and sustain corrective actions are closed."

DJJ Secretary Wansley Walters, who took over the department in January, was not available to comment on the report, Drake said.

The Department of Justice found:

• Staff used excessive force on youths, including choking and mechanical restraints. It documented incidents caught on tape in which guards violently pushed youths to the ground, and struck and choked youths. Staff unlawfully shackled youths with mechanical restraints as a first response to youths who did not respond to verbal commands. One youth was held face-down on the floor for 48 minutes and placed in mechanical restrains for an additional three hours and 17 minutes.

• Youths were often disciplined for minor infractions through inappropriate uses of lengthy and unnecessary isolation without due process. The report documented one case in which a boy was kept in isolation — inside a small cell with a concrete-slab bed and thin mattress — for two weeks. And shortly after he was released, he was sent back to isolation.

• Staff were not appropriately trained and had a generally "laissez-faire attitude" toward suicidal youth. The report noted that average pay for direct-care staff fell below $12 an hour, well below the nationwide median hourly wage for correctional officers of $18.78.

• The safety of youths was compromised as a result of their relocation to the Jackson Juvenile Offender Center (a more restrictive and punitive facility on the Dozier campus).

• The state failed to provide necessary and appropriate rehabilitative services to address addiction, mental health or behavioral needs, which served as a barrier to the youths' ability to return to the community and not reoffend.

• Youths were subjected to unnecessary and unconstitutional frisk searches. Dozier youths were frisk searched more than 10 times per day. One told investigators, "Some staff rub on your privates." Another said staff "touch too much."

"The failure to address these concerns not only harms the youth, but has a negative impact on public confidence and public safety," the report said. "The critical role of the juvenile justice system to correct and rehabilitate is being abdicated and youth may well be leaving the system with additional physical and psychological barriers to success."

The Dozier school in Marianna, about 60 miles west of Tallahassee, has been the subject of an ongoing investigative series in the St. Petersburg Times called "For Their Own Good." The facility has been exposed a number of times for abuse and neglect. The Department of Justice's investigation confirms much of what the Times has reported.

"What the Department of Justice has done in this report is help us look back at what was and gives us a true guide for what should never, ever happen again," said child advocate Jack Levine, who exposed abuse at Dozier in the early 1980s that prompted a federal class-action lawsuit against the state.

Drake, the DJJ spokesman, said the department is working on a response to the report.

"The issues at Dozier occurred long before this administration took office and it was this administration that closed that facility," he said. "We … do not tolerate misconduct or poor performance. If we identify it we seek to correct it, and if it's not corrected it's closed."

Times staff writer Waveney Ann Moore contributed to this report. Ben Montgomery can be reached at or (727) 893-8650.

Justin Caldwell, Christopher Sholly and Dozier School for Boys | More about the White House Boys | top

08/14/11 Dosed in juvie jail: Investigators focus on antipsychotic doses for kids and possible fraud
Michael LaForgia, Palm Beach Post, Sunday, Aug. 14, 2011

On alert for signs of fraud, state Attorney General Pam Bondi's office said months ago it was looking into the Medicaid billing habits of doctors who worked in Florida's juvenile jails.

But the inquiry largely consisted of just one step, according to records and interviews: sending an email to the Florida agency that oversees Medicaid.

At issue was whether the government insurer pays pharmacy bills for kids in state custody, a question first raised in May by a Palm Beach Post investigation. The answer, from state health care regulators, was no.

That apparently satisfied the attorney general's investigators, who stopped asking questions.

But it wasn't true.

In fact, most children in state custody are eligible for Medicaid coverage, a circumstance the Department of Juvenile Justice is eyeing as its own, in-house probe enters its fourth month.

Alerted to this distinction by The Post, the attorney general's Medicaid Fraud Control Unit made follow-up calls, spokeswoman Jennifer Davis said. Then investigators concluded that other agencies, namely DJJ and the Florida Agency for Health Care Administration (AHCA), needed to review records before the attorney general could respond .

"Once we figured out that they needed to pull the data before we could move forward, we were on hold," Davis said. She added that investigators still were monitoring the situation closely.

Stories prompted probe

The state's scrutiny of its juvenile justice system stems from stories The Post published in May, which showed that powerful antipsychotic drugs were flowing freely into state jails for kids. The stories also showed that doctors who medicated delinquents accepted huge payments from companies that make antipsychotic pills.

Responding, the juvenile justice department designed a detailed, four-part plan to investigate, according to a document obtained by The Post.

The department's inspector general is focusing on whether DJJ doctors are prescribing an "excessive amount" of mind-altering drugs to kids; whether the department can adequately track prescriptions; and whether DJJ doctors have taken payments from drugmakers.

To answer these questions, department investigators are studying a third of the kids in state custody who were prescribed mind-altering drugs, including children housed at DeSoto Dual-Diagnosed Correctional Facility in Arcadia, the Arthur G. Dozier School for Boys in Marianna and St. Johns Juvenile Residential Facility near St. Augustine.

The department announced plans to close both DeSoto and Dozier in May as it slashes its budget by $67 million.

The probe will pay special attention to whether there's a pattern of prescribing antipsychotics and other drugs among specific companies hired by the state to run programs, the document says.

It also will examine whether DJJ doctors billed Medicaid for antipsychotics and other drugs "while state funds are also paying for medications."

As the juvenile justice department's review got under way, the attorney general started asking questions, too. Bondi's spokeswoman said her office responded "pro-actively" by approaching AHCA with this question: "Does Medicaid pay the pharmacy bills for the DJJ kids in custody?"

AHCA's reply, from Anne Wells, bureau chief of Medicaid Pharmacy Services, was no. "Medicaid does not pay for prescriptions for kids in custody," Wells wrote in a May 24 email.

Kids covered by Medicaid

Children held in the state's 22 juvenile jails and 20 high- and maximum-risk centers don't qualify for the state-federal insurance. But kids housed in the remaining 48 residential programs - or the majority of children in live-in programs - are eligible for Medicaid, DJJ spokesman C.J. Drake said.

Asked why AHCA didn't tell the attorney general that kids in state custody are, in fact, covered by Medicaid, an agency spokeswoman didn't provide a direct answer.

"Medicaid does not reimburse for DJJ residents in secure facilities," spokeswoman Shelisha Coleman said. "That policy is what was referenced in the email."

Months later, no answers

Soon after the DJJ review began, the chief inspector general in Gov. Rick Scott's office weighed in "to facilitate the exchange of information" between agencies, spokesman Lane Wright said.

Three months later, nothing yet has come of any official inquiry into DJJ's drugging practices. And, just this summer, the stakes got a little higher.

Drugmaker AstraZeneca in June added a new warning to the label for its blockbuster antipsychotic, Seroquel. At the urging of the federal Food and Drug Administration, the pharmaceutical company now is cautioning that Seroquel can cause serious heart problems.

During a two-year period reviewed by The Post, Florida's juvenile justice department bought more than 215,000 tablets of Seroquel for juvenile jails and programs that can house no more than 2,300 kids on a given day.

Drake, the DJJ spokesman, said DJJ's probe still is "active and ongoing."

"There are no easy answers in terms of the questions raised by the investigation," Drake said. "It's a case where there are numerous sources of information and documentation that require careful analysis. There are a lot of moving parts to this issue."


08/03/11 State seeks reforms for juvenile lockups
While transparency is an important goal, it must not come at the expense of justice, Florida’s top juvenile justice administrator said.
By Carol Marbin Miller, Miami Herald

Florida’s top juvenile justice chief vowed Wednesday to work tirelessly until administrators know what killed an 18-year-old youth at a South Florida lockup, and said the state has developed plans to ensure other detained children fare better.

Department of Juvenile Justice Secretary Wansley Walters released a short statement Wednesday saying her department is investigating the death of 18-year-old Eric Perez, and aiding probes by the Palm Beach County State Attorney’s Office and West Palm Beach Police. Until the investigations are complete, Walters said, the agency will not be able to speak freely “about the incident itself and the steps we have taken to make us the national role model for juvenile justice administration.”

“In the short term, DJJ’s primary responsibility in this tragic incident is to ensure that these investigations proceed without delay or impairment,” Walters wrote. “We won’t rest until every question about Eric’s death is answered.

“In the long term, we are determined to implement meaningful reforms that comprehensively improve how we serve the youth in our care and all our stakeholders,” Walters added.

Among the reforms Walters is seeking: expanding statewide a civil citation and diversion program she implemented in Miami so that children at low risk do not end up in detention centers such as the one in which Perez died; reducing the number of children sent to locked detention centers; reforming the lockups themselves, and de-emphasizing residential centers in favor of prevention and early intervention programs for at-risk youth.

The push toward greater community-based interventions, Walters wrote, will “hold youth accountable, protect public safety, create jobs and promote healthy futures for children.”

Walters’ statement was released the day after Perez’s mother withdrew her request for a copy of a video that depicts Perez’s final hours at the West Palm Beach lockup, where he died June 10 after unsuccessfully seeking medical care for hours. The cause of the youth’s death remains undetermined. Walters has insisted she wants her agency to be transparent and open, but not at the expense of hindering a criminal investigation into the teen’s death.

“While I am committed to transparency in how we operate, I am also mindful that three investigations into this incident are under way, two of which are being conducted by law enforcement agencies,” Walters wrote. “Nothing we say or do must compromise their work.”


08/01/11 Grand jury to probe teen’s death in lockup
As Eric Perez’s death at a West Palm Beach lockup continued to reverberate Monday, prosecutors are trying to seal a key piece of evidence: a video of the teen’s final hours.
Carol Marbin Miller, Miami Herlad

State prosecutors in West Palm Beach have convened a grand jury to look into the death of Eric Perez, a teenager who stopped breathing at a juvenile detention center after he sought medical care unsuccessfully for hours.

The Palm Beach State Attorney’s Office, which is spearheading the death investigation, also has asked a judge to prevent juvenile justice administrators from releasing a video that details Perez’s final hours at the lockup. Perez, 18, died at 8:09 a.m. July 10, about two weeks after he was arrested for possessing a small amount of marijuana, and several hours after he sought medical care for a severe headache and vomiting. The cause of his death remains undetermined.

In a court pleading filed Friday, the State Attorney’s Office said releasing the video to Perez’s mother, who has requested it under Florida’s public records law, “will cause irreparable harm to the pending criminal and grand jury investigation.”

Last spring, lawmakers passed a revision to the state’s public records law forbidding the release of pictures or recordings that show a person dying. The bill, which took effect last month, included one exception: spouses or parents of the deceased still may be given copies of such recordings. Maritza Perez, the dead teen’s mom, has made a formal request for it.

Perez, 47, told The Miami Herald on Monday that prosecutors offered her a deal: They would give her a copy of the video if she vowed not to show it publicly. Perez said she declined the offer, because she wants everyone to know how her son died.

“Only the mother has the right to the tape, and I want the tape, and I’m going to show it to the world,” Perez said. “I’m not going to let this die. I’m not going to let Eric die for nothing.”

“I don’t want other kids to suffer what my son went through. I don’t want any other mother to suffer the way I have suffered,” Perez said.

The fate of the seven to eight hours of video may be decided Tuesday morning. Prosecutors will ask Palm Beach Circuit Judge Stephen A. Rapp at a 10:30 hearing to keep the video under wraps.

“This request is made to preserve the integrity of the pending criminal investigation, not to thwart the interests of the parents of the decedent,” Assistant State Attorney Andrew R. Slater wrote in the motion.

The controversy surrounding the youth’s death continued to swirl Monday, as a spokeswoman for state Chief Financial Officer Jeff Atwater blasted juvenile justice administrators for seeking to spend $5,000 from the Department of Juvenile Justice’s budget to help Perez bury her son.

“My office is now working directly with the family’s attorney through our Division of Risk Management, and my commitment is to have a check covering funeral expenses for this young man in the hands of the family within 24 hours,” Atwater said in a prepared statement. Late Monday, Atwater’s spokeswoman said a check had been mailed to the family overnight.

But Atwater did not stop there. He also accused juvenile justice administrators of adding to the family’s pain by botching the expenditure. “Regrettably, this tragic delay would not have occurred if the Department of Juvenile Justice had not blatantly ignored guidance from my office. In the future, I would hope that DJJ would be more transparent in its dealings with the public and with taxpayer monies,” Atwater wrote.

His spokeswoman, Anna Alexopoulis, said “the proper venue” for paying the funeral expenses would have been the CFO’s Office of Risk Management, which defends the state against lawsuits — not the DJJ operating budget. Perez has notified the state of her intent to sue.

“DJJ failed to submit the claim to Risk Management even after our department had advised them to do so,” Alexopoulis said.

A DJJ spokesman, C.J. Drake, replied: “We’re pleased that this matter is finally being resolved in favor of the young man’s family.’’

On Saturday, The Herald reported that DJJ had sought the $5,000 to help the Perez family defray the costs of the teen’s funeral under a policy implemented in 2008. Since then, DJJ administrators have paid the funeral costs for two other youths who died while in the agency’s care, one in 2008 and another the following year. After first cutting the check last week, Atwater’s office then instructed DJJ to destroy it.

Also on Monday, DJJ administrators confirmed they had fired a guard who had been the subject of a lengthy article in The Herald last week. The guard, Laryell King, had previously worked for several years at the agency’s lockup in Orange County, but was fired after leaving youths unsupervised — including locking up one boy in a room for 45 minutes, until he banged on a door to get help. Her personnel record included a strong warning: “NO rehire in any position.” Nevertheless, she was rehired in September 2010 at the West Palm Beach detention center. King could not be reached for comment.

King’s dismissal letter, which is dated July 29, said King had failed to complete her probation at the West Palm Beach lockup “satisfactorily,” and Florida law allowed her to be “terminated at any time without the right to appeal such action.”


07/28/11 Mom will get video of son’s death in lockup
The head of Florida’s Department of Juvenile Justice promises to release the video of a teenage boy dying in a lockup to the teen’s mother.
By Carol Marbin Miller, Miami Herald 

Florida’s top juvenile justice administrator said Thursday that several hours of video depicting a teenager’s death at a South Florida lockup will be released to the teen’s mother.

Department of Juvenile Justice Secretary Wansley Walters told The Miami Herald Thursday that she intends for her agency to speak openly in the coming days about what happened to 18-year-old Eric Perez, who died July 10 at the Palm Beach County detention center after his distress and pleas for medical attention were ignored for several hours.

At the center of ongoing investigations into Eric’s death are seven to eight hours of video shot by two cameras at the lockup.

A new Florida law, passed this spring, forbids state agencies from releasing pictures, audio or video tape capturing the death, or events leading to the death, of any person — except to family members, who are entitled to any such footage.

Eric’s mother has formally requested the video.

“Absolutely,” Walters said Thursday afternoon. “We are going to release it as soon as we can.”

“They are the only ones who have the power to do with the tape what they want to do — not us,” Walters said of Eric’s family.

The youth’s mother, Maritza Perez, repeated her vow Thursday to make public the images. “I want everybody to know what happened to Eric,” she said. “I don’t want this to happen to any other kid. I don’t want any other mother to go through what I’m going through.”

Eric, who turned 18 on July 2 while detained at the West Palm Beach lockup, had been arrested a few days before his birthday when police found a small amount of marijuana in his possession after they stopped his bicycle for having a broken light. Beginning around 1:30 a.m., records show, Eric began to complain of a severe headache, and he spent the next several hours vomiting and apparently hallucinating that someone was on top of him. He was pronounced dead at 8:09 a.m.

A lockup guard who was fired as a result of Eric’s death told The Herald his supervisor and the detention center’s superintendent barred him from calling 911 to seek help for the teen.

In June 2003, DJJ was involved in a similar episode when 14-year-old Omar Paisley died at the Miami lockup of a ruptured appendix after begging guards and nurses for medical care. In the wake of a stinging grand jury report, as well as a series of tense legislative hearings, DJJ administrators vowed to ensure that the health of detainees never again would be compromised.

Since Eric’s death, Walters has insisted that policies, procedures and training were in place to prevent another tragedy.

“Those policies are not only on the books, but probably among the single, strongest policies we have,” Walters said. “We have documents that show people have been regularly trained in them.”

Administrators currently are researching the number of times guards and supervisors have either called 911, or driven a detainee to the hospital themselves, Walters said, adding that “this occurs on a regular basis.”

The tape of Eric’s death is soundless, Walters revealed, despite a grand jury’s 2004 recommendation that DJJ surveillance cameras be equipped for audio as well as video. At the time, the panel said it was hindered in its investigation of alleged mistreatment of detainees by the lack of audio-equipped cameras.

“I suspect it was a money issue,” said Walters of the continued lack of audio equipment. She took over the agency earlier this year following the inauguration of Gov. Rick Scott.

Administrators also are looking into how Laryell King, a guard on duty the night Eric died, was hired by the West Palm Beach lockup despite being forced to resign from another lockup three years earlier for “negligently’ leaving detainees unsupervised. At that time, a notice was put in her file stating she should not be rehired.

“That entire thing is under review,” Walters said. “How did it happen? Trust me, we’re asking the same question.”



07/26/11 Guard suspended in teen’s death was fired from last job
Two of the staffers suspended after the death of a teen at the West Palm Beach lockup have checkered work histories.
By Carol Marbin Miller, Miami Herald

When Laryell King was forced to leave her job at the Department of Juvenile Justice lockup in Orlando for “negligently” leaving a youth alone in a room, juvenile justice administrators left a clear warning in her personnel file: “NO rehire in any position.”

But rehire her they did.

King ended up on the payroll at the DJJ lockup in West Palm Beach. Now, she is one of five guards suspended after staffers ignored the suffering of 18-year-old Eric Perez, who died at the West Palm Beach juvenile detention center following seven hours of vomiting, hallucinating and complaining of severe headaches.

The person who hired King despite the admonition, lockup superintendent Anthony C. Flowers, has a work history that raises other questions.

When Flowers was hired by the state, he was the assistant program director for the Florida Institute for Girls, a 100-bed prison for hard-to-manage girls that was being closed down amid a Palm Beach County grand jury report that found it rife with violence, sexual abuse by guards, and endless lockdowns due to chronic short-staffing.

“The culture of some staff was to protect each other, fostering cover-ups and unprofessional conduct,” the grand jury wrote in February 2004.

The employment records for Flowers and King were provided to The Miami Herald in response to a public records request. Samadhi Jones, an agency spokeswoman in Tallahassee, declined to comment about the two employees. “While the Department of Juvenile Justice (DJJ) is committed to being open and transparent to the greatest degree possible, due to ongoing investigations by the DJJ Inspector General’s Office and the West Palm Beach Police Department we cannot comment further on the death of the young man at the Palm Beach Regional Juvenile Detention Center,” Jones said Tuesday.

Eric, who turned 18 on July 2 while detained at the West Palm Beach center, was locked up after officers found marijuana in his possession when they stopped his bicycle for a broken light. The arrest violated his probation years earlier on a robbery charge.

Beginning around 1:30 a.m. on July 10, the teen began to complain of a severe headache, and vomited the rest of the night. He also appeared to be hallucinating, waving his arms and screaming at officers to extricate him from an imaginary assailant. Records and interviews suggest guards moved Eric by dragging his mat from room to room, but did nothing to help him until just before 8 a.m., when they called for an ambulance. By the time paramedics arrived, a heart monitor showed only a “flat line,” records show.

King, who had been honorably discharged from the U.S. Army, was first hired by DJJ to work in the Orange County detention center in late 2001. She had been working for a security company at the time. Her evaluations from the early 2000s were generally positive, though unremarkable. “Officer King is dedicated to her work and the department,” a supervisor wrote in March 2005, for example. “She’s respectful, cooperative and committed to excellence.”

But in March 2008, Jeffrey Lonton, the then-superintendent of the Orlando lockup, moved to fire King.

King had “negligently” left a youth alone and unsupervised for 45 minutes, until another staff member heard the child “banging on the door” to get out. “Ms. King also placed three youths in the laundry room the same day unsupervised; they let themselves out after several minutes,” a memo states. “Additionally, after reviewing video surveillance, the same events had occurred over several days in the month of February.”

The memo noted that King would be allowed to resign “in lieu of termination.” The subject line of the memo stated: “NO rehire in any position for Laryell King.”

But in September 2010, King applied at DJJ for a job as a probation officer and correctional treatment specialist. When asked on the employment application why she left the Orlando lockup, King gave a one-word answer: “advancement.”

On Sept. 28, 2010, Flowers informed King of her job offer. “In accordance with the provisions of the state of Florida’s personnel rules, you have been selected for position of juvenile justice detention officer,” he wrote.

She was making about $25,000 a year.

Less than a year later, when administrators suspended King, personnel managers in Orlando were asked in writing by DJJ whether King had ever been counseled or disciplined. “No disciplinary actions in the personnel file,” was the response.

King could not be reached for comment.

Flowers was hired by DJJ in October 2003 as a senior detention officer. At the time, he was working as the assistant program director at the Florida Institute for Girls, or FIG. His application said he was “responsible for the day-to-day operation of the intensive mental health wing’’ of the prison, where he supervised staff, monitored compliance with state regulations and standards, and evaluated employee performance. He had been an assistant superintendent at the West Palm Beach lockup before his employment at FIG.

Though FIG was being paid $5 million per year by DJJ to operate the treatment center, a company personnel manager refused to answer a single question about his performance when asked by juvenile justice administrators doing a background check.

“What were the major duties performed?,” a reference check asked. “Per company policy cannot give out information,” was the reply. “How effectively did he perform these functions?,” the questionnaire asked. “Same as above,” FIG answered.

Roy Miller, who heads the Florida Children’s Campaign, questioned why administrators would have hired a guard from a program that was rife was abuse — and why they would have allowed a contract agency to refuse to provide personnel information that is covered under the state’s public records law.

“It’s a matter of public record that girls were abused sexually and physically at the Florida Institute for Girls,” Miller said. “Why they would hire employees from FIG without knowing explicitly their employment record is beyond comprehension,” said Miller, whose group has long been a DJJ watchdog.

DJJ records obtained at the time by The Herald showed one girl complained that she had been taken to the facility’s “boom boom room,” where officers “slammed her head into the wall and struck her in the mouth.” The girl suffered bruises and welts, said a report that verified the girl’s claims.

After his return to DJJ, Flowers rose quickly through the ranks: senior detention officer, assistant detention center superintendent, superintendent. His work was described as “outstanding’’ and “exceptional” in yearly evaluations. His personnel file shows he has never been disciplined. His yearly salary is about $65,000, records show.

Flowers, who was suspended after Eric’s death, did not return calls for comment from a reporter.

FIG was shuttered about the same time a Palm Beach County grand jury blasted it, but not because DJJ administrators took the action. Lawmakers sliced the program’s funding from their spending plan, at the urging of children’s advocates.

“It was a hellhole for girls,” Miller said.

Justin Caldwell, Christopher Sholly and Dozier School for Boys | More about the White House Boys | top

07/21/11 In teen’s death, lack of money is no excuse for lack of caring
By Fred Grimm 

No need to empanel a grand jury to investigate the last few hours of Eric Perez, who was left to die in a Palm Beach County juvenile lock-up; sick, vomiting, crying for help, unattended by the medical staff.

A grand jury has already investigated circumstances matching young Eric’s July 10 death so closely that another effort would just seem redundant.

Might as well just replace the names and dates and location in the grand jury report on the “tragically preventable death” of Omar Paisley at the Miami-Dade Regional Juvenile Detention Center in 2003. Keep the phrase “tragically preventable death.” It still fits.

Randall Berg, director of the Florida Justice Institute, in an e-mail Wednesday noted the similarities of the two deaths, eight years apart. “In both instances, staff did not believe the complaints of pain by the juvenile inmates and refused known needed medical care, resulting in the untimely and unfortunate death of both children.”

Berg had been among the angry voices heard in Florida after the death of Omar Paisley. The 17-year-old Opa-locka youth had been writhing with abdominal pain, beset with vomiting and diarrhea, begging for a doctor, his life ebbing away. The detention center staff never called 911. Workers, in fact, weren’t allowed to call 911 without their supervisor’s permission. The cellblock phones were set to block 911 calls.

It took Omar two painful, horrible days to die. The grand jury declared, “We were appalled by the utter lack of humanity demonstrated by the detention workers.”

Humanity was not much in evidence at the Palm Beach Regional Juvenile Detention Center when Eric Perez, 18, fell deathly ill. Guards found him on the floor, vomiting. No one called 911. He was not seen by a nurse. There was no nurse on duty.

A detention center medical staffer told The Herald’s Carol Marbin Miller that because of budget cutbacks, there wasn’t enough money to provide a nurse at nights or over weekends. Statewide, the Department of Juvenile Justice is dealing with a $77 million budget cut. Apparently, getting seriously ill in a juvenile lock-up, under this new budget, has become like Russian roulette.

The Paisley grand jury wrote, “It was very simple for us to envision scenarios in which twenty-four hour medical care could mean the difference between life and death.” In 2011, the words became prophetic. The Paisley grand jury was not much moved by complaints that the 2003 version of DJJ had suffered debilitating cuts and the report sounds just as relevant in 2011. “We were sensitive to the implementation of severe budgetary cuts,” the report stated. “However, each of us arrived independently at the same conclusion: one can never measure the cost of human life in taxpayer money.”

Nor would Cathy Corry of Justice4Kids, a watchdog group that monitors the rights of detained children, accept an excuse that financial restraints led to either death. “Money doesn’t make someone care.”

Anyway, Paisley was seen by a medical staffer in the 2003 case, though the particular nurse (who later pleaded guilty to culpable negligence) didn’t bother with an examination. Her diagnosis of the dying kid: “Ain’t nothing wrong with his ass.” An equally compassionate guard told Omar to “suck it up.”

The only accurate diagnosis may have come from Corry. “The staff didn’t care.” She was referring to the Eric Perez death, but the tragic underpinnings of both cases seem sadly interchangeable.

The Paisley death led to a series of reforms. And staffers at state juvenile lock-ups were trained to circumvent supervisors and call 911 if they felt a kid was in medical jeopardy. But as the Omar Paisley scandal faded from memory, so did the reform regimes.

“Over time with staff turnover, and usually a lack of training, staffers become jaded,” Berg said. He worried that new hires were ill trained. That the new guards came to regard “every inmate with a health care need a malingerer.”

“At every turn in our investigation,” the Paisley grand jury wrote, “we were confronted with incompetence, ambivalence and negligence on the part of the administration and the staff.”

In 2011, not much has changed. Except the dead kid’s name.


07/21/11 Lockup has no medical staff at night, nurse says

The state’s juvenile justice chief said budget constraints were not a factor in last week’s death at a juvenile jail. But a nurse said the facility has no medical staffing at night.

By Carol Marbin Miller

After Omar Paisley died of a burst appendix in a Miami-Dade juvenile lockup eight years ago, juvenile justice administrators announced sweeping reforms, including on-site medical care around the clock at the Miami facility.

When Eric Perez died Sunday, July10 at the Palm Beach County juvenile jail, there were no doctors or nurses on duty, according to the nurse jailers say they tried in vain to reach.

“Nobody works there at night,” Diana Heras said of lockup medical staff. “There is no state funding for night nurses for any night of the week. They do not have a nurse who works at that ... facility on the night shift, and they do not work weekends.”

Department of Juvenile Justice Secretary Wansley Walters, at the helm for just half a year when 18-year-old Eric perished at the West Palm Beach lockup, said Florida’s historic budget woes — which prompted lawmakers to trim tens of millions in juvenile justice spending this year — are not to blame for his death last week.

Medical care at the lockup is overseen by a private entity under contract with the state, but neither Walters nor Heras would name the healthcare provider Tuesday.

Since the youth’s death from an as-of-yet undisclosed ailment, agency administrators and spokespeople have declined to discuss the incident in any detail. Walters, who headed Miami’s well-regarded juvenile assessment center before accepting DJJ’s top job, spoke for the first time Tuesday, though she still declined to discuss events leading to Eric’s death.

Some of Eric’s final agonizing hours — which began as early as 1:30 a.m. and ended with his 8:09 a.m. death — were captured on lockup videotape, DJJ administrators have confirmed. Walters’ agency won’t release the video depicting Eric’s final hours, but sources say it doesn’t bode well for the lockup staff.

The footage, sources told The Miami Herald, depicts Eric’s limp body being dragged on a cot or mat from his room to a common area of the lockup and then back again — a sign that guards knew he was terribly ill and were worried he would infect other lockup detainees.

Palm Beach County’s public defender, Carey Haughwout, suggested Monday that years worth of budget cuts may have contributed to last week’s scandal. One of the guards on duty said he was working a double shift the day Eric, who was being held on a robbery charge, died. And Cathy Craig-Myers, who heads the Florida Juvenile Justice Association, said DJJ’s current spending plan, which took effect July 1, contains $77 million fewer dollars than last year’s budget.

Walters said, however, that the trims have not affected safety or security at any of the state’s 22 detention centers, as guards continue to patrol dormitories with scores of empty beds statewide.

Walters, who is generally regarded as a juvenile justice reformer, said her agency’s procedures — many of which were put in place following Omar’s 2003 appendicitis death — also were sufficient to protect Eric, had they been followed.

“The policies were there. The training was there. The posters were everywhere,” Walters said, referring to signs that were posted in detention centers throughout the state in the wake of Omar’s June 9, 2003 death. The posters reminded guards, supervisors and nurses that all facility staff was permitted to call 911 for a detainee in crisis — even without the permission of lockup chiefs.

Omar died after pleading with guards and nurses for three days for medical care. Guards later testified their bosses forbade them to call for an ambulance.

“This is certainly one thing I have prayed never would happen,” Walters said of Eric’s death.

Two West Palm lockup employees — a guard and a supervisor — were fired last week following Eric’s death. In a heavily redacted letter to the supervisor, Terence Dayron Davis, that was released to The Herald, juvenile justice administrators said “any reasonable person…would have deemed this a medical emergency” and sought an ambulance.

“You failed to call 911,” the July 11 letter states.

Davis could not be reached Tuesday for comment. On Monday, the fired guard, Floyd Powell, told The Herald he wanted desperately to call 911, but was told by both a supervisor and the lockup’s now-suspended superintendent, Anthony Flowers, to call the nurse, Heras, for “guidance” instead. But she could not be reached.

Though Walters did not say so directly, she implied Tuesday that poor decision-making — not agency policy — was responsible for the youth’s death.

“Changing the culture of the agency,” Walters said, “is something that is critically important.”

Miami Herald political writer Marc Caputo contributed to this report.


07/18/11 West Palm jail staff failed to call 911 before teen died, officials say
Carol Marbin Miller, The Miami Herald

Florida juvenile justice administrators confirmed late Monday that guards and supervisors at a West Palm Beach lockup never sought emergency care for a teenager who suffered in pain for hours before he finally died.

As the Department of Juvenile Justice's investigation into the July 10 death of Eric Perez, 18, continued Monday, authorities revealed that the lockup's top administrator, Superintendent Anthony Flowers, was among four employees suspended last week. Another two employees, a guard and a supervisor, were fired.

"While the cause of death is yet unknown, it is clear that staff at the facility during the crisis did not contact 911 in accordance with DJJ policies and training,'' Samadhi Jones, a DJJ spokeswoman in Tallahassee, said in a statement Monday.

DJJ Secretary Wansley Walters, a former head of Miami's juvenile assessment center, said in a prepared statement: "We took immediate action because we cannot tolerate staff not following policies and procedures, especially as it relates to the medical care of youth in our custody."

One of the two people fired in the incident, guard Floyd Powell, 35, told The Miami Herald on Monday he was fired after he disclosed to investigators that he was forbidden to call 911 when he became concerned for the teen, who was screaming that his head hurt and had vomited for several hours.

"I was going to call 911, but my supervisor looked at me in the face and said, 'He'll be fine. Don't call 911,'" Powell said.

Powell's one-page termination letter, provided to the newspaper late Monday under Florida's public records law, said only that Powell had failed to complete a probationary period.

Powell's lawyer, Cathy L. Purvis Lively of Lake Worth, said she will seek damages from the state for his "wrongful termination."

"This guy desperately wanted to call 911," Lively said. "He was told, No, you are not to do that."

Powell could not make the call on his own, Lively said, because the "module" where he oversaw several detained youth did not contain a telephone, and Powell could not reach a phone without walking away from his post and leaving other youth unsupervised. Guards are not allowed to bring their personal cellphones into the lockup.

And though Powell and other guards did notify an on-call nurse to see Eric, the nurse failed to return two messages, he said.

"I asked [Perez] 'What's going on?," Powell said. "He wasn't talking. He was crying out loud in pain."

Leaders of the Palm Beach Public Defender's office told The Herald late Monday that several of the other detainees in the B2 Module with Perez confirmed to their attorneys that Eric had pleaded for help for hours without any success.

"It is our understanding that at least one child, and possibly more, tried to get assistance for this child," Public Defender Carey Haughwout said.

On the day she buried her son, Maritza Perez, 47, is still looking for answers. "I am devastated, absolutely devastated," she said.

"Everybody who was there shouldn't be there any more," she said. "They should have 24-hour, around-the-clock medical care for these kids. … Just because a kid makes a mistake, he shouldn't have to pay for it with his life."

Perez, who had been arrested on a robbery charge and had turned 18 a few days before his death, was due to be released in a few days.

Haughwout, the West Palm Beach public defender, said she fears cutbacks in lockup staff may have contributed to Perez's death. In recent months, more than a dozen detention center employees had been laid off by the state. Though personnel at the lockup had declined, Haughwout said, the number of youth detained there did not. "That's a recipe for disaster," she said.

On the morning Perez died, Powell said he was working a double shift so that the lockup would have enough guards to patrol the facility.

"There is some concern that they didn't have sufficient staff to be able to take [Eric] to the hospital,'' Haughwout said. "That doesn't excuse not calling an ambulance."


07/15/11 Teen’s death in West Palm Beach lockup raises questions about new law
State juvenile justice administrators have a tape of a dying teen in custody in Palm Beach County. Two lockup workers have been fired and several others suspended.

By Carol Marbin Miller, Miami Herald, July 15, 2011 

Two weeks after a controversial state law took effect making it illegal for government agencies to make photos or recordings of a death public, the statute will face its first test: state juvenile justice administrators have a videotape that depicts the final moments of an 18-year-old who died at a West Palm Beach lockup hours after he became ill and psychotic.

Eric Perez died at the West Palm Beach juvenile detention center at 8:09 a.m. Sunday, a few hours after lockup administrators moved the Port St. Lucie teen into a dining room so they could monitor his condition.

Samahdi Jones, a spokeswoman for the state Department of Juvenile Justice in Tallahassee, would not identify the youth in an interview with The Miami Herald, but Perez’s mother confirmed she was told her son had died at the lockup.

“They should have taken him to a hospital,” 47-year-old Maritza Perez said. “Just because he made mistakes doesn’t mean they have the right to take his life away.”

Juvenile justice administrators will not discuss Perez’s death in detail. Jones said the agency has suspended four lockup workers and fired two others while DJJ’s inspector general and the West Palm Beach police complete investigations into the youth’s death. “The DJJ is conducting an intensive review of actions taken by department personnel to determine whether policies and procedures were followed,” Jones said in the statement.

Jones declined to provide the names of any the workers, or the reasons for the terminations. The agency also declined to provide The Herald copies of the workers’ termination letters.

Jones said DJJ heads are reviewing and redacting a videotape from the lockup for possible release under the state’s public-records law at The Herald’s request. But she added that administrators are studying the newly state law to determine whether it prohibits release of the recording. For the moment, Jones said, the video cannot be released because it is part of ongoing investigations into the youth’s death.

DJJ Secretary Wansley Walters, who headed Miami’s juvenile assessment center before she was tapped to run the state agency, said, “The sudden loss of this young man brings deep sadness to all of us at the DJJ. We offer our heartfelt condolences to his family and loved ones.”

Jones said agency heads do not yet know what caused Perez’s death.

The death marks the second time juvenile justice administrators have recorded events tied to the death of a detained youth. In 2006, a grainy, poorly recorded video showed a 14-year-old Panhandle boy being punched and kneed by boot camp guards because he refused to follow orders to run a track. The video, which was played endlessly on national television after DJJ released it in response to a lawsuit, led to sweeping changes in the way delinquent youths are disciplined in Florida commitment centers and lockups.

The new law, sponsored by Rep. Rachel V. Burgin, a Riverview Republican, prohibits the release of photos, video and audio recordings “that depict the killing of a person.” Violating the law, which took effect July 1, is a third-degree felony.

The law defines “killing of a person” broadly to mean “all acts or events that cause or otherwise relate to the death of a human being, including any related acts or events immediately preceding or subsequent to the acts or events that were the proximate cause of death.” The statute is similar to a measure passed in 2001 that banned the release of autopsy photos in the wake of NASCAR driver Dale Earnhardt’s death.

The law does allow a surviving spouse or other relative to obtain a copy of such records, and Maritza Perez told The Herald she favors the release of any recordings that shed light on how her son died if it would prevent “another kid from having to go through what Eric did.”

“They took him from me,” Perez said. “I’ll do anything.”

Burgin said she drafted the bill last year after attending funerals for two Tampa police officers whose killings were captured on the dashboard camera of a squad car during a routine traffic stop. Reporters were allowed to view the recordings after a successful lawsuit, and Burgin said she felt the officers’ families had suffered enough without “having to relive the death of their loved ones over and over.”

Eric’s mother may request the tape under the new law, Burgin said. “She just has to ask for it, and she can do whatever she wants with it.”

Perez said she has been given conflicting reports by agency heads about her son’s final hours. She said she was told Eric awoke early in the morning and appeared to be hallucinating, waving his arms frantically and screaming “Get him off me!” Nearby youths sought help from lockup staff, who moved the teen and his mat from a dorm to a day room so he could be more closely monitored. Eric vomited several times, Perez said she was told.

A few hours after Eric became ill, his condition worsened dramatically and lockup administrators called for an ambulance, Perez said she was told. By the time emergency workers arrived, Eric was dead.

At first, Perez said, she was told Eric succumbed to breathing problems. Later, she was told he appeared to have died from an enlarged heart. Then, she said, she was told he may have suffered a stroke.

“There was nothing wrong with my son,” Perez said. “He was a very athletic kid. He played football and basketball. He wrestled with his brother. He was in perfect shape.”

“They should have taken him to the hospital or had a real doctor look at him,” Perez said. “Instead, they took it upon themselves, and left my son on a mat in the dining room, dying.”

Eric Perez — who turned 18 eight days before his death and was scheduled for release a few days later — was arrested on robbery charges, and would have been referred to the region’s delinquency drug court for treatment had he not been on the cusp of adulthood.


07/12/11 Teen dies while in detention at West Palm Beach state facility
Michael LaForgia and Julius Whigham II, Palm Beach Post

WEST PALM BEACH — Authorities are investigating the death of an inmate who died Sunday morning while in custody at a West Palm Beach detention center.

A young man was pronounced dead at 8:10 a.m. Sunday at the Palm Beach Regional Juvenile Detention Center, Florida Department of Juvenile Justice spokeswoman Samadhi Jones confirmed Monday.

The department's inspector general and the West Palm Beach Police Department are investigating the circumstances surrounding the death.

Jones said she could not release the victim's name because of state law. But Maritza Perez of Fort Pierce said investigators told her Sunday the victim was her son, Eric, who turned 18 this month.

Eric Perez had been charged with violating his probation June 28. According to the Florida Department of Law Enforcement, he had been arrested six times in Palm Beach and St. Lucie counties since May 2008 for offenses such as burglary, larceny and marijuana possession.

Maritza Perez said her son was due to be released this week.

She said that representatives from West Palm Beach police, the detention center and the Palm Beach County Medical Examiner's Office indicated that her son died of a sudden illness.

"Everybody keeps giving me different stories of how he passed," she said.

Maritza Perez said she heard from a West Palm Beach detective Sunday.

"When we talked to the detective yesterday, he was telling me that Eric was out of breath, that he couldn't breathe, and that the kid who was in the cell with him was trying to get the attention of the guards," she said.

Maritza Perez said the lieutenant from the detention center said Eric had an enlarged heart and had bleeding in his brain.

A representative from the medical examiner's office indicated his office was examining Eric's lungs, Maritza Perez said.


07/01/11 After a century of pain, former Arthur G. Dozier School for Boys closes
By Ben Montgomery, Times Staff Writer, July 1, 2011

MARIANNA — He drove up from Fort Walton Beach, to the front gate, and by the time he arrived his daughter's text had come through. I'm proud of you.

He parked his Toyota about 50 yards away from the razor wire, climbed out and walked past the Florida tag that says he won a Purple Heart and the bumper sticker that says he's an Airborne Ranger, 75th Infantry, Company K. Warm wind kicked through the pines. Mockingbirds sang. Mayflies landed on his ears.

Bryant Middleton, 66, stood still, hands behind his back, posture stiff. Minutes slid by, each one closer to 5:30 p.m., when the state would finally close its first and oldest reform school after 111 years.

He was not certain why he came. To bear witness, maybe. To see that the state officials kept their promises. To make sure they turned the lights off.

"There's been 111 years of child abuse at this place," he said. "Maybe I'm here to represent those children. Many of them can't speak. I'm not here to speak. I'm just here to stand as a representative."

So he stood, tie tied tight, in shiny shoes and with a knee that bears a bullet-sized scar from Vietnam. It wasn't easy, even for a man who has jumped from airplanes more than 800 times.

"No matter how many times I come out here, " he said, "when I look across that campus, I still have fear."

• • •

The first time he walked this ground was in 1960, when it was called the Florida School for Boys. A Miami judge sent him up for breaking into houses. Thinking back, he was guilty as sin.

That first day, he remembered, a disciplinarian named R.W. Hatton explained the rules. Then Hatton asked him to run out to the fields and fetch a boy. He hadn't eaten since he left Miami, so he stopped to pick some wild blackberries. When he made it back, Hatton knew.

That night he took his first of five trips to a concrete-block hell the boys called the White House. The disciplinarian flipped on a fan to drown out Middleton's cries, and men took turns beating him with a leather strap.


They came out of the woodwork by the dozens in late 2008, after the news broke. Men were telling their stories of being beaten bloody when they were boys at the state school, which had been renamed the Arthur G. Dozier School for Boys, after a longtime superintendent. Some had been raped. Others knew kids who had died.

Four of them, all former wards, had connected online and persuaded the Miami Herald to tell their stories. It quickly built into a scandal and spread across the nation. CNN showed up. The governor ordered an investigation into the men's claims and asked the Florida Department of Law Enforcement to identify who was buried beneath 31 crosses in a small clearing in the middle of a pine forest near the campus.

Bryant Middleton's wife saw a story in the newspaper at their home in Fort Walton Beach.

Have you ever heard of Marianna? she asked her husband.

His hands started shaking. Through four decades of marriage, four kids and eight grandkids, he had never told her about Marianna.

He cried for three days.


At a little after 5 p.m., the gate opened and a car pulled out. One of the few staffers left said he didn't want to talk.

The state in May told the school's 185 workers that budget cuts had forced them to eliminate the $14.3-million-a-year program, recently renamed the North Florida Youth Development Center. Officials promised to help find them new jobs in an area already economically depressed.

Nobody felt good about that, not even the man who had come to watch them leave.

"I don't hold anything against these people," he said. "It was their predecessors who did us harm."

He remembers their names. Hatton. Hagen. Dozier. Edenfield. And there was Tidwell, Troy Tidwell, whom the boys called the One-Armed Man. All of them were dead except Tidwell.

Middleton sat across from Tidwell for five hours during a deposition in 2009, part of a failed class-action lawsuit the men brought against the state. Middleton heard Tidwell deny that he ever gave a boy more than a dozen licks, a claim hundreds of men dispute.

That irked them. Some talked of driving through Marianna towing a giant sign that said TIDWELL IS A LIAR. But slowly they calmed. It seemed many began to lose interest until the state announced it was closing the school.

Middleton wanted to buy an ad in the paper. Full page. He wanted to write WE WON! in big letters, and TWHB small at the bottom, for The White House Boys.

His wife talked him out of it.


Two weeks ago, he had a dream. He was inside a big building, three stories tall, like a giant general store. He was walking down a spiral staircase when he passed a man with one arm. Tidwell.

What are you doing here?" the man asked. Middleton kept walking. Around the corner came a toy train, and riding on the toy train was R.W. Hatton.

"It's him!" the man shouted. "It's him!"

He cried for an hour as his wife held him in bed. Fifty years after he was beaten, he's still haunted.


He took a deep breath. The gate opened again to let out one last car, then closed. There were no beams of light or rainbows. His wristwatch simply rolled forward.

"We won," he said to himself. "My God. My God."

He was quiet for a minute, then leaned his head back.

"I hope you guys can hear me, wherever you are," he said. "I hope you know we did the right thing. So many children. So many futures.

"We beat those sons of b-----s."

Ben Montgomery can be reached at or (727) 893-8650.


06/12/11 A Dozier boy’s nightmares

Robert W. Straley, Special to the St. Petersburg Times, Sunday, June 12, 2011

Editor's note: Last month, the state Department of Juvenile Justice announced it would be closing Florida's oldest state-run reform school, commonly known as the Dozier School for Boys, on June 30. Robert Straley, of Clearwater, was sent to the school in 1963 for running away from home. He attributes a lifetime of nightmares and broken relationships to the brutal beatings and abuse he received while there, which he wrote about in The Boys of the Dark: A Story of Betrayal and Redemption in the Deep South.

Never in a million years could I have imagined that while standing against the cold cement block of the White House punishment room hallway at 13 years of age, in a state of shock from hearing the screams and the sound of the whip on flesh, that I would return 45 years later to stand in the exact same spot.

I was told there were trauma counselors on standby, but there was no terror in my heart. What had taken place those many years ago had already had its way with me in the form of terrible nightmares, a man's presence sitting down on the edge of my bed for the next 45 years, to awaken in great fright, the inability to become close with anyone.

I was suspicious, paranoid, courting dangerous pursuits to cheat death in many ways to prove to myself I was no longer afraid and, worst of all, rage that would never die. Not even old age could weaken its grip. It became an old familiar demon that wrapped me up in dark wings. As the years passed they became oh so familiar that I ceased to struggle, at home in that burning, resigned embrace. I had no idea that I would later harm others, especially the ones I loved.

If you look too long at those White House walls, stained and pitted, you may start to see things I saw, a hint of a face, an eye, a cadaverous mouth caught in an unending scream, the figure of a man with a whip, arm upraised, shifting ghostly images and screams, locked in those walls and in my 13-year-old mind, now trapped in an old man's body.

The institution opened in 1900 and brutality became the norm. Boys were flogged for the next 68 years, even after Gov. Cary A. Hardee banned it in 1922. That was what was on my mind that day, those 68 years. It brought to mind a very vivid image that I saw at 10 years old, which shocked me, from a book entitled The Story of Man. It was huge and ancient then, with exquisite artwork. It spared no horror. On one page was the picture of men, chained and suffering, in a line that stretched beyond the horizon, all headed into the great mouth of Baal, an ancient god with a lion's mouth, and inside was fire that burned day and night and the sacrifices never ended. I thought to myself that day about the thousands of boys who were pushed through the doors to that room of torture and how many screams and pleas for mercy those walls had heard. It seems that man's story has not changed.

When it became my turn to speak I chose to speak about those 68 years and I saw that on most of the faces that looked up was surprise and disbelief and I realized, save for the older staff, most of these people never knew what that building they passed daily stood for.

Now Dozier is closing and 185 jobs are lost. One reporter called me and kept asking what would I say to all of those people who were losing their jobs? Did I consider them guilty of some crime? Did I think it was fair? Did I even care?

I told him no, that the beatings and abuse were by the hands of the few and many staff quit over them. The truth is that in those days you did not talk about the beatings or the boys to strangers or your cattle might be poisoned, your barn burnt or you might catch a careless hunter's bullet. A veil of secrecy surrounded the town for all those years. When Michael O'McCarthy and I made our last visit to Marianna, we made a plea on camera to the citizens of Marianna to speak up — they no longer had to be afraid. They still are afraid and not one person in that town ever gathered up the courage to blow the whistle on the abuse that everyone knew about. If someone had, the outcome would have been very different.

Sadly, the people who are losing their jobs are, for the most part, innocent victims themselves. Decades before them men they never knew sowed their seeds and they now are reaping what their forefathers did sow. No one person save for Roger Kiser's letters to the state, largely ignored, set out to expose what happened. It was by chance and the hand of fate that four men met and a series of events led to this tragic tale.

Three hundred men still wait for justice, and unnamed boys in unmarked graves under Florida pines whisper, "Please Remember Me." Marjory Stoneman Douglas, a famous writer, cried over Martin Tabert, whipped to death in a backwoods labor camp that led to the ban on flogging. As she wrote in her famous ballad:

The other convicts, they stood around him,

When the length of the black strap cracked and found him,

Martin Tabert of North Dakota,

And he's walking Florida now.

I suspect he has a 14-year-old boy named Martin Anderson walking with him, and many others, yet to be named, and they are all walking Florida now.

Twenty White House Boys have died since 2008, including Michael O'McCarthy, a journalist and activist and incredibly, a boy at Marianna who had received one of the dreaded 100-lash beatings. He passed the story to Carol Marbin Miller, a journalist at the Miami Herald. The story broke two months later. In the end, this strange journey would cost us all more than we could ever have imagined.

More about the White House Boys | top

05/28/11 Creating juvenile zombies, Florida-style

Fred Grimm, In My Opinion, Miami-Herald, May 28, 2011 

They’re children of the new Florida ethic. Zombie kids warehoused on the cheap in the state’s juvenile lock-ups. Kept quiet, manageable and addled senseless by great dollops of anti-psychotic drugs.

A relatively small percentage of young inmates pumped full of pills actually suffer from the serious psychiatric disorders that the FDA allows to be treated by these powerful drugs. But adult doses of anti-psychotic drugs have a tranquilizing effect on teenage prisoners. Prescribing anti-psychotics for so many rowdy kids may be a reckless medical practice, but in an era of budget cuts and staffing shortages, it makes for smart economics.

Florida fairly inundates juvenile offenders with this stuff.

The Palm Beach Post reported last week that the Florida Department of Juvenile Justice has been buying twice as many doses of the powerful anti-psychotic Seroquel as it does ibuprofen. As if the state anticipated more outbreaks of schizophrenia than headaches or minor muscle pain.

The Post found that Florida purchased 326,081 tablets of Seroquel, Abilify, Risperdal and other antipsychotic drugs during a two-year period for the boys and girls who occupy the 2,300 beds in state-run residential facilities. (Most of the state’s juvenile offenders are held in jails operated by for-profit contractors. Records revealing the quantity of medications that private companies pour down their prisoners’ gullets were not available.)

Such drugs, meant for adults, are known to send children into suicidal despair, along with risking heart problems, weight gain, diabetes and facial tics. Yet, the DJJ and its contract psychiatrists push them willynilly onto their young wards.

It’s not as if state officials have been unaware of the risks facing children prescribed “off label” uses (unapproved by the FDA) of these pharmaceuticals. Even as the state doled out Seroquel like candy to kids in DJJ jails, the Florida Attorney General’s office was entering into a lawsuit with 36 other states against drug manufacturer AstraZeneca for promoting dangerous, off-label uses of Seroquel for treating both the young and the elderly. (AstraZeneca agreed to settle the lawsuit in March for $68.5 million and to stop marketing the drug for unauthorized uses.)

It was as if the schizophrenics most in need of Seroquel were roaming the halls of government, not the juvenile jails.

“This is the face of all these budget cuts; what happens when you eliminate social workers and prison guards,” said Broward Public Defender Howard Finkelstein. He suspects that DJJ has compensated for the staff shortages at state lockups by pumping “the most powerful drugs known to man into children who have not been diagnosed for psychiatric problems.”

Finkelstein says he assigned two of his staff attorneys last week to visit juvenile lock-ups and investigate what he calls the “zombification” of young offenders who had been represented by his office.

Florida Attorney General Pam Bondi opened her own investigation last week. Bondi’s staff attorneys are interested in the Post’s report that psychiatrists prescribing off-label uses of such astounding quantities of the profitable anti-psychotics for DJJ prisoners (at taxpayer expense) had been greased by drug manufacturers with some $250,000 in gifts and speaking fees.

The DJJ drug scandal seems all the more maddening considering that it follows a similar uproar just two years ago after the suicide of a seven-year-old Margate foster child. Young Gabriel Myers had been given adult dosages of three anti-psychotics before he hung himself.

The Gabriel Myers Task Force, made up of child advocates, state officials, political leaders and judges from across the state, spent a year investigating whether the Florida Department of Children and Families had administered dangerous drugs as “chemical restraints” for troublesome foster children.

Foster kids, as it turned out, weren’t the only victims of the on-the-cheap ethic. But don’t think of children reduced to zombies. Think of all the money we save on prison guards.


05/26/11 State to close controversial boys’ school rocked by scandals in Marianna
An infamous state-run reform school for boys that has been rocked by scandal for decades is finally being closed due to Department of Juvenile Justice budget cuts. Child advocates and former wards lauded the decision.
Ben Montgomery and Waveney Ann Moore, St. Petersburg Times, May 26, 2011

The state-run school for boys in Marianna, which has eluded closure for more than a century despite chronic scandal, is closing June 30 after 111 years of operation.

The state’s Department of Juvenile Justice informed 185 employees of the school’s fate Thursday morning and is preparing to move its remaining 63 young detainees to other facilities as it ceases operations at what was once the largest reform school in the country, 60 miles west of the capital.

The notorious program has gone by different names since it was founded in 1900, but one thing has been consistent: Boys have gone in damaged and come out destroyed.

In 2008, five men claimed they were beaten bloody by guards in the 1950s and ’60s in a wretched cinder-block building called the White House. When word spread their numbers grew into the hundreds as more men stepped forward to tell of being raped, beaten and left in solitary confinement for weeks on end. An investigation into the beatings by the Florida Department of Law Enforcement resulted in no charges.

“Wow, it’s great to see that shop of horrors shut down,” said Robert Straley, 64, of Clearwater, one of the original five known as the “White House boys.” “It was the worst thing the state of Florida ever did, and to think that they let this go on so long is just unbelievable.”

“It helps me a lot to know that no more children are going to be treated like we were,” said Jerry Cooper of Cape Coral, who received 135 lashes on a single trip to the White House in 1960, when he was 16.

But it’s a deep cut in the department’s residential services budget that’s doing what no amount of public pressure could do in a century. The Department of Juvenile Justice says the school is closing as part of its reform plan to shift money from residential oversight to “front-end” services like prevention, electronic monitoring and community-based services.

That means eliminating $41 million from the department’s residential budget. The school in Marianna costs about $14.3 million to run.

Still, the department’s new secretary acknowledged what the Marianna program has come to represent.

“I greatly respect the courageous efforts of the community and our own employees to move past the history this facility represents,” said DJJ Secretary Wansley Walters, “but for those men who are known as the White House Boys, it is my sincere hope that they can close that chapter in their lives and find peace.”

Child advocates cheered the news.

“There will be some who interpret this end of the era of Dozier as strictly a budgetary decision,” said child advocate Jack Levine, who exposed the use of solitary confinement at the school 30 years ago. “I think it’s a factor, but I think the over-arching reality is we have in Secretary Walters a deeply dedicated reformer who knows that the best use of our dollars are investments in quality and accountability.”

“I think its great,” said David Utter, director of the Southern Poverty Law Center’s Florida Youth Initiative. “It’s almost like its closing a very dark and troubled chapter in Florida’s juvenile justice history .”

Spokesman C.J. Drake said DJJ is collaborating with other state agencies to determine potential uses for the facility.

When legislators entertained closing the school in 2009, state NAACP leaders organized a town hall meeting in Marianna. They said they opposed child abuse, but wanted to save jobs.

“Dozier had been a cornerstone of Marianna,’’ Richard A. Patterson, president of the NAACP Jackson County branch, said Thursday. “ I guess we have lost that battle.”

The first scandal at the school came in 1903, just three years after it opened. Investigators found children “in irons, just as common criminals.” This was no reform school, their report said. This was a prison for children.

The investigation would launch a seemingly endless cycle of exposes and fleeting reform. In its first two decades, investigators discovered that school administrators hired out boys to work with state convicts.

In March 1958, a Miami psychologist and former staff member at the school told a U.S. Senate committee about mass beatings with a heavy, 3 1/2-inch-wide leather strap.

In 1968, corporal punishment was outlawed in state-run institutions. By then, the school had been renamed the Arthur G. Dozier School for Boys, after a longtime superintendent. That year, Gov. Claude Kirk visited Marianna. He found holes in the leaking ceilings and broken walls, bucket toilets, bunk beds crammed together to accommodate overcrowding, no heat in the winter. Kirk declared it a training ground for a life of crime.

“If one of your kids were kept in such circumstances,” he said, “you’d be up there with rifles.”

In 1983, the class-action “Bobby M” lawsuit was filed on behalf of students at Marianna and two other state reform schools. The suit made a number of allegations, the most serious concerning isolation cells where boys were held for three weeks, sometimes longer. They were hogtied — forced to lie on their stomachs with their wrists and ankles shackled together behind their backs.

In recent years, the school has failed two annual evaluations.

In March, a class-action lawsuit filed in federal court claimed kids are still being abused and mistreated. The suit, filed by Florida Institutional Legal Services on behalf of three clients at the school, alleges kids with mental illness and developmental disabilities are placed in isolation for days or weeks and are denied appropriate mental health treatment.

Ben Montgomery can be reached at Waveney Ann Moore can be reached at

Justin Caldwell, Christopher Sholly and Dozier School for Boys | More about the White House Boys | top

03/01/11 Suit alleges former Dozier school abused three boys
Ben Montgomery, St. Petersburg Times, Tuesday, March 1, 2011

They changed the name, pushed out the superintendent, reduced the population of young prisoners, retrained the staff and fired employees caught sleeping on the job.

The changes at the state's oldest reform school — the Arthur G. Dozier School for Boys, now known as the North Florida Youth Development Center — seemed to be helping, as the school passed its most recent inspection.

But a class-action lawsuit filed in federal court Friday claims kids are still being abused and mistreated at the notorious Department of Juvenile Justice program in rural Marianna, now in its 111th year of operation.

The suit, filed by Florida Institutional Legal Services on behalf of three clients incarcerated at the school, alleges kids with mental illness and developmental disabilities are placed in isolation for days or weeks as punishment and are denied appropriate mental health treatment.

"The people of Florida should be outraged that we are being told by state officials that these young people are receiving treatment and rehabilitation," said attorney Andrea Costello. "Putting kids with mental illness into isolation for days is not rehabilitative treatment."

Costello began investigating the school after a series of articles in St. Petersburg Times in 2009 exposed ongoing abuse and neglect behind the chain-link and razor-wire perimeter. Her clients, a 17-year-old and two 18-year-olds diagnosed with mental illnesses or developmental disabilities, report being left in arm and leg restraints for up to an hour. They say they were placed in solitary confinement, which is a stark room with only a slab with a mattress and sheet, and were not given mental health treatment when they tried to harm themselves or talked about suicide, a manifestation of their mental illnesses.

When the youths are in isolation, they're not allowed to go to school, recreation, vocational programming or counseling, the suit says.

If the boys are considered a suicide risk, they must wear a bright yellow jumpsuit and pull their bare mattress outside the doorway of their rooms to sleep, the suit says. The boys say they are harassed by other boys, who sometimes throw things at them. If the boy tries to hurt himself, he is placed in the medical area in his underwear, sometimes with a plastic suit — called a "turtle suit — that covers only part of the front and back of his body.

The lawsuit says boys often lie about their mental state, saying they aren't having hallucinations or suicidal thoughts, to avoid the ridicule.

The suit describes the clients as deeply disturbed. One was a victim of sexual abuse and witnessed a shooting. One stabbed himself down the throat with a pencil twice and stabbed himself in the arm with a piece of a desk. One ate rocks.

"They're not getting appropriate mental health treatment," said Costello. "These kids are engaging in acts of self injury because of their mental illness. Instead of get ting treatment they're being put in extended suicide risk observation. It's humiliating for those children."

The suit also alleges one boy was punished because he refused to tell administrators what he had discussed with his attorney.

"I was speaking with one of our clients," Costello explained. "We left the facility and when we came back he told us he had been placed in isolation for not telling the facility administrator what we had talked about."

Department of Juvenile Justice spokesman Frank Penela said the department hadn't seen the suit until it was passed along Monday by a reporter.

"We have not yet been served with this," he said. "However, we take any allegation against the department seriously and will look into the allegations."

The suit doesn't seek monetary damages outside of attorneys' fees.

"We want to see these policies and procedures changed," Costello said. "We want to see the use of isolation ended at this facility. We want to see these kids provided with appropriate mental health treatment."

The school has been the site of extreme human suffering for most of a century. In 1903, investigators found children locked in irons. In 1914, six boys burned to death trapped inside a flaming dormitory. In the 1940s, '50s and '60s boys were beaten bloody with a thick leather strap in a building called the White House. In the late 1980s, a class-action lawsuit forced the state to stop hog-tying kids and leaving them in solitary confinement for weeks.

The school was threatened with closure last year, as lawmakers looked for ways to trim the department's budget.

But department officials promised change.

Ben Montgomery can be reached at or (727) 893-8650.

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02/28/11 Report: Broward schools too quick to call police
Rafael A. Olmeda, Sun Sentinel, February 28, 2011

Broward County leads the state in the number of students needlessly referred to the criminal justice system for misbehaving in school, according to a report due to be issued Tuesday by three civil rights groups.

The American Civil Liberties Union of Florida, the NAACP and the Advancement Project analyzed statistics and policies from the state's Department of Juvenile Justice and 55 of Florida's 67 school districts. They found that too many were sending students to the justice system for misbehavior that includes fighting, trespassing, disorderly conduct and theft of less than $300. A state law passed in 2009 left discipline for such actions at the discretion of school administrators, according to the report.

"The law sought to draw a distinction between petty acts of misconduct and misdemeanors and serious threats to school safety," said Howard Simon, executive director of the Florida ACLU. "What we've found instead is that some districts are continuing to refer cases to law enforcement that may be better handled at the school level."

Statewide, nearly half of school districts had the same or more referrals than they did before the 2009 change in the law, according to the report. About two-thirds were for misdemeanor offenses.

The report does not specifically discuss Palm Beach County's statistics.

It says Broward's disciplinary matrix, the list of policies that assign penalties to offenses, still allows for referrals for misdemeanor offenses.

"It should be of no surprise that Broward had the most referrals [1,668] to DJJ of any Florida county in 2009-2010," the report states.

Broward Schools South Area Superintendent Joel Herbst, who oversees the district's disciplinary policies, said he had not seen the report but he questioned how its conclusions were reached.

"The school does not make the determination" of when to involve law enforcement, he said. A school resource officer, who is an on-site law enforcement official, makes the call.

The Broward School Board and staff have been working to revise the district's disciplinary policies, partially in the wake of the 2009 expulsion of a 7-year-old Pines Charter School student who brought a toy gun to school. The case did not result in a criminal charge, but the child's expulsion was lifted after he had spent most of a year outside the classroom.

Simon said the ACLU agrees with referring cases to law enforcement when the crime is serious but the ACLU is concerned with cases of child-like misbehavior resulting in a criminal record.

"The consequence is that a large number of students are being denied their constitutional right to an education in the state of Florida," he said. "It can have consequences for their education, for their future college applications and for their future careers."

The report concludes with a list of recommendations that include a state law prohibiting law enforcement referrals for anything other than serious crimes and fiscal penalties for districts that repeatedly refer cases that do not involve a threat to school safety. or 954-572-2083


02/28/11 State steps in less and more kids die
Carol Marbin Miller, Miami Herald

The details of Nubia Barahona’s death are grisly: Soaked in toxic chemicals, decomposed and stuffed in a garbage bag, she was found rotting on the shoulder of the interstate on Valentines Day. Authorities believe she had been stashed in a septic tank for weeks before her adoptive father dug up her corpse.

Statistically, however, Nubia’s story is rather common: She is one of hundreds of Florida children who died of abuse or neglect during the last decade after child welfare authorities had performed at least one investigation into their welfare. Florida not only leads the United States in the number of such deaths, it dominates the nation.

In the wake of a controversial decision by child welfare administrators to halve the number of children taken into state care — while, at the same time, reducing the number of children receiving protective services with their birth families — the number of deceased children with a child protection investigative history almost doubled, from 35 in 2001 to 69 in 2009. No statistics are available for 2010.

Over the past six years, 41 percent of all children who died of abuse or neglect in Florida had been the subject of at least one prior contact with child protection authorities, the state Department of Health reports. The average for all other states: about 12 percent.

In 2008, the number of Florida children with a history of abuse or neglect reports who later died made up almost half of the U.S. total. In 2009, 64 of the 120 child deaths nationally with a history of prior reports occurred in Florida – or 53 percent.

The statistics are noteworthy because state child welfare workers can only protect children whose plight comes to their attention. When children with no history of prior state contact perish, their deaths are equally tragic but far less preventable.

The spike in child deaths with a prior investigative history occurred during a time of significant change in state child-welfare policy.

Beginning in 2003, when then-Department of Children & Families Secretary Jerry Regier initiated a campaign to reduce the number of children in out-of-home care – a campaign that continued under the administrations of DCF secretaries Lucy Hadi, Bob Butterworth and George Sheldon – the number of Florida children removed from their parents decreased from 30,200 then to 18,300 currently — a 39 percent decline in the yearly total.

But that’s only part of the story. The number of Florida children under so-called protective supervision — meaning authorities allowed them to remain with their parents while caseworkers monitored the home and provided services geared toward improving safety —also declined dramatically, from 17,300 in 2003 to 7,350 in 2008, the last year for which such statistics are available. That is a 57 percent decline.

“In our quest to reduce the number of children in care or under state services, the state of Florida has placed children dangerously at risk — and there’s no doubt about it,’’ said Cheleene B. Schembera, a 27-year DCF child-welfare administrator and inspector general who worked as a district administrator in Miami in 2003, just before the state’s sea change began.

When a child dies a terrible and preventable death, said Schembera, who retired and now works as a consultant, observers always ask: “How did this happen to this particular child? But they never look at the broader issues,’’ she added.

Joe Follick, DCF’s Tallahassee spokesman, said administrators had not been able to review the death statistics, but added “it is impossible and dangerous to compare states when the parameters vary so widely.’’

“Florida investigates every child’s death, while other states do not,’’ Follick said. “We are confident our methods are strong since they allow us to detect trends that other states do not. Statistics are a wonderful tool, but when used inappropriately they can provide a terribly skewed and inaccurate measurement.

He added: “Every one of this department’s 13,000 employees devotes their life to helping others. Each child’s death is a tragedy that is felt individually and personally. No statistics can fairly measure this daily commitment and passion.’’

Nubia and Victor Docter (their original last name) presented particularly thorny challenges to Florida’s child welfare system. They were taken from their birth parents in 2004: the twins’ mother was a drug addict and prostitute; their father was charged twice with molestation. They were placed by DCF caseworkers, and a Miami judge, in the West Miami-Dade home of Jorge and Carmen Barahona, who later adopted the children. The Barahonas already had two other children adopted from foster care.

Administrators may well have placed the youngsters in greater danger, unwittingly. Following the twins’ adoption, the state’s abuse hotline received four reports that Nubia was being abused and neglected – Nubia, the state was told, was starving, bruised, dirty, unkempt, and afraid of her parents. All of the reports were made by employees of the girl’s school, Blue Lakes Elementary. The allegations all were investigated, and closed as unfounded.

DCF’s top Miami administrator, Jacqui Colyer, now acknowledges that, perhaps, investigators were too quick to accept Carmen Barahona’s explanations for Nubia’s condition, and too slow to require that the family submit to state supervision.


Few states have seen the child welfare pendulum swing more dramatically than Florida. In the late 1990s, state administrators, reeling from a series of ghastly and controversial deaths, emphasized keeping children safe, even if it led to larger foster-care caseloads.

Following the Thanksgiving 1998 death of 6-year-old Kayla McKean — whose father beat her to death in a rage because she soiled her panties, though authorities had been told repeatedly her life was in danger — then -DCF Secretary Kathleen Kearney declared that protecting at-risk children was her greatest priority. Foster-care caseloads, as a consequence, rose to their highest levels, peaking at 35,500 in 2001.

But the frantic removal of children from their birth parents — one children’s advocate called it a “foster-care panic’’ — did little to stanch the tide of deaths among kids known to the child protection system. Two years later, when Kearney left the agency, DCF reported the same number of children with prior abuse or neglect investigations who later died, 35.

At the same time, well-respected children’s advocates and research groups, including the Casey Family Programs, were reporting that states could reduce the number of children in foster care safely by allowing some kids to remain with their parents under the watchful eye of case-managers, and with the aid of intensive home services. Advocates called the approach the “family preservation’’ model, and it had the added virtue of enjoying wide support among real foster kids, many of whom said their ordeals in state care could, and should, have been avoided.

Five months into his tenure, then-DCF Secretary Jerry Regier —who inherited Kearney’s albatross, the aftermath of Miami foster child Rilya Wilson’s disappearance amid a clogged and chaotic foster-care system — announced a new “vision’’: a more streamlined agency that protected children by preserving families. To that end, he said, DCF would reduce the number of children in state care by 25 percent before the summer of 2004.

And though Florida was the first state in the United States to obtain special permission from the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services to spend federal dollars earmarked for foster care on in-home services, records show the number of Florida children under state supervision did not come close to keeping pace with the number of children who were diverted from foster care. DCF records show that, in fact, the number of kids under protective supervision declined by 57 percent from 2003 through 2008.

And Florida narrowed its child-welfare front door as well, ramping up a program in which counselors at the state hotline were encouraged to “screen’’ out calls that appeared to fall short of the definition of abuse or neglect. Some of the calls were screened in error, and at least one child, 1-year-old Bryce Barros of Broward County, died in 2009 after three calls from a judge were screened out.

What’s more, Florida continued the rapid pace of diverting children from protective supervision at the very time that the state – and, indeed, the nation – suffered through one of the worst recessions in U.S. history. As agency administrators were reducing caseloads, they were begging lawmakers to hold their budgets harmless while other state agencies’ budgets were being slashed. Their reasoning: it is common wisdom that economic stress leads to greater abuse and neglect of children.

In 2008, for example, then-DCF Secretary Bob Butterworth described a $4.5 billion package of legislative budget cuts as a “contract on kids.’’

But for a growing number of children’s advocates and academic-based social workers, the greater threat was posed by the ever-widening gulf between reports of children at risk, and effective, accountable methods for mitigating such risk.

It wasn’t that caseworkers were ignoring troubled families. Far from it. Investigators and caseworkers frequently encouraged parents with poor records to accept help from the state voluntarily. They left glossy brochures and thick information packets for domestic violence shelters, alcohol- and drug-treatment programs and anger management classes with thousands of parents. But then they simply walked away. Often, the children’s names returned to the hotline, as the danger mounted.

“When people were non-compliant,’’ Schembera said, “they fell off the face of the earth.’’

There were warning signs:

• In 2005, consultants with the University of Utah hired by the Miami-Dade Community-Based Care Alliance wrote that children who were reported to be in harm’s way repeatedly fell through the cracks until their situation became grave.

“It appears that the investigatory system is only working with families who are in the most severe, egregious circumstances, and other children and families do not have entry into the system’’ said the report, written by professor Norma Harris, who heads the university’s Social Research Institute.

• In 2009, the federal Children & Family Services Review, which assessed Florida’s child welfare performance from October 2006 through January 2008 reported that “children were unsafe, or at risk of harm, in their own homes either because no services were provided to address safety issues or the services provided were insufficient to ensure children’s safety.’’ In some cases, the reviewers found, caseworkers failed to implement a “safety plan’’ for at-risk kids; in other cases, they closed their investigations prematurely.

“I told them this from the beginning,” said Miami-Dade Circuit Judge Jeri Beth Cohen, a child welfare judge who wanted DCF to go to court with troubled families so judges could order parents to accept help – or face the removal of their children. She said investigators told her – privately – that they were under intense pressure to keep their caseloads down.

Schembera, who has reviewed about 20 recent cases where a child died or was seriously injured, said poor investigations – including reports where caseworkers failed to interview a single “collateral contact,’’ such as neighbors or pediatricians – often led to poor outcomes.

She called such investigations “drive-bys,’’ adding: “The reality is many investigations are not worthy of the name.’’

In Nubia’s case, elementary school workers told the DCF abuse hotline in June 2010 that the girl’s hunger had become so “uncontrollable’’ she was stealing food, and that she was losing her hair. It was the second such report on the girl, who, school officials said in 2007, was hoarding food and afraid of her adoptive mother. DCF administrators at first suggested the 2010 report had resulted in a referral for services to Miami’s private foster-care agency, but records show no such referral ever was made. The plea from Nubia’s school, the fourth made by Blue Lakes Elementary, did not lead child welfare workers to take any action to monitor her family.

Nubia is among hundreds of children over the past decade for whom cries for help went unheeded.

Records maintained by the state Department of Health, which houses the Statewide Child Abuse Death Review Committee, show that the number of children with a prior DCF history who later died rose from a low of 29 in 2002 to a peak of 79 in 2008 – a 172 percent increase. Such deaths declined in 2009 to 69, a figure that is still well above levels from the early 2000s.

In 2009, the report says, the 69 deaths represented 36 percent of the child deaths the team studied.

Among the 69 children, the number of prior reports to the state’s abuse hotline ranged from one to seven. Seven percent, or 14 children, had been the subject of a pending child abuse or neglect report.

In 2008, though Texas reported a larger number of child fatalities, with 223, the percentage of those deaths with a prior child protection history was only 11 percent, according to the U.S. Administration for Children & Families, whose data are slightly different than those kept by the state. At 76 percent, South Carolina had a higher percentage than Florida, but the numbers involved were much smaller – the state had 16 children deaths.

“One of the best predictors of future behavior is past behavior,’’ the team wrote in the report, which was released in December 2010. “Often the history of the parents is overlooked and opportunities to provide services are missed. Many of these young parents were neglected as children and parent as they were parented, allowing the cycle of abuse and neglect to continue.’’

Read more:


01/15/11 Former Dozier school sees new management, again
Morgan Carlson, Jackson County Floridan

It’s been slightly more than a year since the former Arthur G. Dozier School for Boys, now the North Florida Youth Development Center, failed its annual evaluation.

The facility came close to closing. But after a major overhaul under new management, the facility got a rapid makeover.

Michael Cantrell was hired as the new superintendent by the Florida Department of Juvenile Justice to fix the long list of problems at the facility. After just 90 days on the job, Cantrell lead the center to pass its next evaluation.

Now, just more than a year after Cantrell saved the facility from closing, he is stepping down to take another job, according to Art Kimbrough, a member of the advisory board for the facility, and president of the Jackson County Chamber of Commerce.

Kimbrough said Cantrell did an “extraordinary job” with the difficult task he was given just more than a year ago.

In December 2009, the center was failed in two categories – health care services, and safety and security. Due to the failing scores, the center was given six months to fix the problems before another review by the Bureau of Quality Assurance.

Cantrell promised immediate reform upon accepting the position as superintendent of the facility following the failed evaluation.

“Honestly, the department gave us six months to turn some things around, but I felt like that was too long for the staff to be constantly under pressure,” Cantrell said in April. “So we worked hard to put things in place so that we could see a turnaround right off the bat.”

In April 2010, about 90 days after Cantrell took over, the facility was reviewed again and passed.

“One of the reviewers even used the word ‘amazing’… They were amazed that we were able to accomplish what we did in 90 days,” Cantrell said after the review.

With the hiring of a full time, on-site physician, and the implementation of new protocols for security, the program was able to make a difference in its scores, Cantrell said in April.

But the transformation at the center didn’t stop there, or even within the gates of the facility. One of Cantrell’s goals from the beginning was to re-engage the community with the center, Kimbrough said.

Cantrell enlisted residents and community leaders to form a group called the North Florida Youth Development Center Advisory Board. The goal was to use the group to create a connection between the community and the facility.

Through the advisory board, and with the help of volunteers, the center was able to start a color guard program and offer chapel services, Cantrell said in August.

The facility went from being known around the state for having problems, to being one recognized for its level of improvement and change of strategy, Kimbrough said.

Even though the person who was responsible for most of the transformation at the center is leaving, Kimbrough said he is confident the center will stay the course and continue to improve.

Gavin Tucker, a Jackson County native and employee at the center for 12 years, has been named the acting operations and program manager. “Hopefully the Department (of Juvenile Justice) is wise enough to make it permanent,” Cantrell said in a letter to the advisory board announcing his departure.

The changes within the center in the last year, and support from the community and Rep. Marti Coley, R-Marianna, helped save the facility from a “hostile Senate committee that was determined to see Dozier closed,” Kimbrough said.

The center is no longer on the chopping block because of its performance, but no one can predict the future in a year of budget cuts across the state, Kimbrough said.

North Florida Youth Development Center’s biggest weakness now is the aged facilities and cost of operating them. No state cuts have been aimed specifically at NFYDC, but uncertainty remains at all correctional institutions in Florida, Kimbrough said.

But one thing is certain, he said.

“The chamber and other organizations will continue to stand in front of Dozier as an advocate not just for what it means for the community, but for what it is doing to retrain at-risk youth for becoming productive citizens,” he said.



12/31/10 Miami juvenile services boss to lead state office

Hanna Sampson, Miami Herald

Wansley Walters was a headstrong kid, full of sass and ready for a fight.

Which might explain how she ended up Friday as Gov.-elect Rick Scott's choice to take charge of the Florida Department of Juvenile Justice.

``As a child, I was in trouble every day of my life and I never understood how it happened,'' said Walters, 57, head of the Miami-Dade Juvenile Services Department. ``I see so much of that in juvenile justice that I feel great passion for these kids who find themselves in these situations.''

Walters, who lives in Miami Shores but will relocate to Tallahassee, will be the first woman to lead the department.

In a statement, Scott called Walters ``one of the country's leading juvenile justice reformers'' and lauded her record of lowering arrests, detention and recidivism among youths.

Scott said Walters' successes include reducing Miami-Dade's juvenile arrests by 51 percent, re-arrests by 80 percent and juvenile detention 66 percent in the past 10 years while saving the county $33 million every year.

``She's probably the most qualified person in the entire state to lead the Department of Juvenile Justice,'' said Miami-Dade Public Defender Carlos Martinez. ``If she can make some of those innovative practices that we've tried in Miami work throughout the state, I think that bodes well for all of us.''

Walters spearheaded the effort in to open a Juvenile Assessment Center in 1997, where underage offenders are processed and provided services.

``She was a real force to reckon with,'' recalled Miami-Dade State Attorney Katherine Fernandez Rundle, recalling Walters' drive to open the center and efforts to secure grant money.

Under Walters, the center developed a civil citation program that deals with first-time juvenile offenders by diverting them to counseling services and doesn't land them in handcuffs or leave them with a record.

She has also paid special attention to the youngest offenders, those under the age of 12 who need extra attention and help.

Recently, her department also started a program that keeps track of misdemeanor offenders through a bracelet with GPS rather than putting them in a detention center.

``The vast majority of these children are not serious criminals,'' Walters said. ``And many of them have issues in their lives that we have found in Miami that if you address them as soon as you find out they're at risk, or after they've gotten in trouble, you literally can keep them from going deeper into the system.''

Walters helmed Scott's juvenile justice transition team, which issued a 203-page report that suggested many of the reforms already tested in Miami. The team pushed for statewide civil citations for misdemeanor offenders; using a GPS bracelet for monitoring misdemeanor offenders rather than placing them in residential programs and encouraging and developing Juvenile Assessment Centers throughout the state.

``Wansley is one of the nation's most prominent juvenile justice experts,'' Scott said in his announcement, ``and I am excited to bring her experience and passion for juvenile justice reform to our state government.''

Walters, who is married with a grown daughter, told The Miami Herald Friday that she intends to bring reforms that have been successful in Miami to a larger stage.

``The system has sort of developed with the best of intentions. But it in many cases is not doing these kids any good,'' she said. ``What we have to do is just apply a little common sense. If we all sort of collaborate like we've done in Miami, we have seen incredible results.''

Walters will replace Frank Peterman, who became secretary in 2008 and resigned earlier this month. He had come under fire for taking taxpayer-funded trips between Tallahassee and his St. Petersburg home.

Scott's appointment of Walters earned praise from those working in the criminal justice system as well as outside groups like Florida TaxWatch. Miami-Dade Circuit Judge Cindy Lederman said Friday that she couldn't think of anyone better to run the department.

``I think that she changed the face of juvenile justice in South Florida by putting an emphasis on where it needs to be: keeping children out of the juvenile justice system and providing services to them and their families,'' Lederman said.

She added: ``I'm just thrilled today. It's a happy new year.''


10/15/10 Cycle of crime: Ever more young offenders sent to Florida adult courts
Teenager Ryan Ray, accused of murder, is one of hundreds of youths running out of options in juvenile-justice system

Arelis R. Hernández, Sun Sentinel

It started with petty theft. But then the offenses escalated, and three felony arrests later, 16-year-old Ryan Ray is facing first-degree-murder charges in the killing of a Kentucky man.

The Lake County teen will now be moved to adult court, where he faces life in prison.

Ray is one of an increasing number of juvenile felony offenders in Florida routed to adult court in the past five years because of the severity of their crimes. Experts say the rising number of transfers shows a juvenile-justice system ill-equipped to handle young violent offenders.

The number of juveniles transferred to adult court has ebbed and flowed. In the early 2000s, the numbers were high and then declined. But by 2005, the numbers began steadily increasing, according to statistics from the Department of Juvenile Justice.

Central Florida followed suit. In June 2000, 486 juveniles in Central Florida counties were sent to adult court. That number continued to drop — bottoming out at 296 juveniles from July 2004 to June 2005. But the pendulum began to swing in the opposite direction, and in the fiscal year that ended in July 2009 — the most recent year for which data are available — more than 600 Central Florida juveniles were sent to adult court.

University of Central Florida criminal-justice professor Kenneth Adams said the increase reflects a systemwide conundrum when dealing with violent repeat young offenders: The juvenile-justice system — oriented toward rehabilitating children — offers few alternatives for punishing young offenders who pose serious threats to the community, he said.

"The whole purpose of the juvenile-justice system is rehabilitation," said Carrie Lee, director of the Juvenile Justice Center at Barry University School of Law. "We try to keep them in the juvenile system as much as we can because exposing them to prison life is almost a guarantee they will be back."

Detention dilemma

About half of all youths who come in contact with the juvenile-justice system don't reoffend, statistics show. But when minors engage in violent crime, Adams said, often the only choice prosecutors have is to transfer serious offenders to the adult system.

Prosecutors can choose to move teens as young as 14 to adult court for a serious violent felony. If a youth is tried in juvenile court, the maximum sentence would keep him in prison until his 25th birthday. In adult court, a juvenile can be sentenced to life in prison for the most serious crimes, such as murder.

"You don't get life sentences in the juvenile system," said Brad King, state attorney for the Fifth Judicial District, serving Hernando, Citrus, Sumter, Marion and Lake counties. "If a prosecutor strongly believes the defendant will reoffend, you can't leave them in the juvenile system because they are going to get out."

Prosecutors decide whether to send a juvenile to adult court based on the seriousness of the crime, prior convictions and notes from previous treatment, King said.

Stephen Dalsemer, director of the Orange Juvenile Assessment Center, said it's unfortunate Florida's juvenile laws are simply not strong enough, and sometimes "the best way to keep the public safe is to keep them [violent juvenile offenders] in the adult system."

Overall juvenile-crime rates are down, but Dalsemer said that "violent crime hasn't dropped off by that much."

Longtime Public Defender Bill White said Florida law is unclear about the sentencing guidelines for repeat juvenile offenders such as Ray. Most state attorneys will prosecute in adult court if the child is older than 14 with one prior felony offense because juvenile sanctions seem ineffective for protecting the public, he said.

"You have two schools of thought: one that believes these are young thugs that are a danger to society and another that believes if you scratch the surface of these kids' lives, you'll find real horror stories," White said, who served for 35 years in the Fourth Judicial District, comprising Clay, Duval and Nassau counties.

Roy Miller, president of Children's Campaign, a state watchdog organization that advocates for children, said Central Florida prosecutors have a propensity to try juveniles as adults. Florida's juvenile system, with its separate courts and detention facilities, is able to manage serious juvenile offenders, he said.

"In the last decade, Florida has beefed up secure residential programs for those that commit serious crimes and increased the number of beds to accommodate them," Miller said. "To say that to punish a child in Florida you have to try them as an adult is just incorrect."

One alternative is to put juveniles in a juvenile-detention facility or training school until they age out, White said. Even if juveniles have multiple felonies, they can still serve time in a youth prison and then be released to a community-controlled program such as house arrest.

"The reality," Miller said, "is that children sentenced in the juvenile system have a lower recidivism rate [less likely to reoffend] than those transferred to the adult system."

Teenagers such as Ray, whose first felony charge in 2008 was aggravated battery, are put back in the community by officials hoping for the best, Adams said. Then in 2009, Ray broke a car window, took an iPod valued at $300 and stuffed it in his pocket, where an officer later found it. Strike two.

His third major offense was burglary and grand theft when he broke into a car and stole valuables from inside.

"This child's situation is fairly typical in Florida," Adams said. "You get a kid with multiple offenses with a pattern of escalation and warning signs, but nothing really gets done because there are no resources."

Arelis R. Hernández can be contacted at or 352-742-5934.


10/08/10 Two teens attacked at youth offender facility, suit says
Thompson Academy accused of civil rights violations
Linda Trischitta, Sun Sentinel

FORT LAUDERDALE — The Southern Poverty Law Center sued youth offender and treatment facility Thompson Academy in Pembroke Pines, its operator, Youth Services International of Sarasota, and the state on behalf of two teens, alleging civil rights violations.

The lawsuit filed in federal court Friday alleges that one boy, identified only by the initials D.B., 15, of Boca Raton, was sexually assaulted twice this year by a Thompson Academy staffer. As a result, according to the lawsuit, D.B. tried to commit suicide on three occasions by drinking bleach and hanging.

On Friday morning, Broward Judge Elijah Williams released D.B. from the remaining three weeks of his sentence at Thompson Academy, to his mother's home.

"For the record, I've only heard good things about their program," Williams said about Thompson Academy, which received a commendable rating after a state inspection by the Florida Department of Juvenile Justice in 2009.

The teen was incarcerated there in December 2009 for "two assault-related crimes and two property-related crimes," according to his lawyer, Chief Assistant Public Defender Gordon Weekes Jr.

Though he was freed from Thompson Academy on Friday, D.B. will be on an indefinite term of probation, and will receive counseling and continue his education.

The lawsuit is also filed on behalf of D.L., 16, who was denied access to attorneys, the Southern Poverty Law Center alleges, and when he sought counsel was penalized with physical assault and loss of privileges that lengthened his confinement there.

The complaint also describes broken air conditioning and hot and moldy conditions that forced children with asthma to sleep on the floors of other children's rooms.

The suit names Youth Service International President James Slattery, Florida Department of Juvenile Justice Secretary Frank Peterman, Thompson Academy Administrator Craig Ferguson and two staffers as defendants.

It alleges the defendants failed to protect the 154 male youths in Thompson Academy's custody from harm, and failed to protect D.B. from sexual assault and emotional distress. The suit seeks damages for D.B.

Jesse Williams, senior vice president of Youth Services International, said the lawsuit's allegations are "not substantiated. We look forward and welcome the opportunity to defend those in court."

He said the company operates seven youth facilities in Florida and 14 nationwide.

Samadhi Jones, spokeswoman for the Department of Juvenile Justice, said the staffer accused of the sexual assaults is the subject of a law enforcement investigation.


09/30/10 Student, 11, swings binder at assistant principal, charged with felony assault
Barbara Hijek, Sun Sentinel

Bay County school officials do not tolerate temper tantrums.

A special-needs student was in Assistant Principal Harold Weaver’s office at Merritt Brown Middle School in Panama City discussing a report that he had hit another student. The 11-year-old became agitated and swung a binder at the assistant principal, reports the Northwest Florida Daily News.

After the incident, Principal Charlotte Marshall, who had heard a commotion, approached the boy outside the office. Still very agitated, the boy kicked at the principal but missed, according to a news release from the Bay County Sheriff’s Office.

After working to calm down the boy for about 30 minutes, the school administrators allowed him to go to the cafeteria to have lunch. But once there, Marshall said, the boy became upset again and splashed his soft drink on her and then threw the bottle at her, hitting her in the chest.

Although no one was hurt, the principal said help was needed to regain control of the situation. Since there was no school resource deputy on campus, they called 911. Eight school resource deputy positions were eliminated this year in the sheriff''s budget, requiring middle schools to rotate deputies, reports the Daily News.

The deputy who responded took the boy into the custody of the state Department of Juvenile Justice, according to the Daily News. The 11-year-old now faces two felony charges for assault on a school official, reports the Daily News.

Would the presence of a school resource officer have made a difference?

Marshall said having a school resource deputy on campus could have been helpful in diffusing the matter before it escalated out of control.

“There’s just something about that person in a uniform,” the principal told the Daily News.


09/12/10 Leo Boatman had 'uniquely awful' path to murder
Ben Montgomery, St. Petersburg Times

The killer had choices.

He could have stayed in Clearwater, washing dishes at Hooters for $7.50 an hour, sitting through classes at St. Petersburg College, trying to impress a stripper named Cynthia in Oldsmar, doing what a 19-year-old on the edge of life does.

He did not have to steal Luke Merryfield's AK-47, or grab four boxes of ammo, or buy a one-way ticket north on Greyhound, or march deep into the forest, or crouch in the bushes and wait, or raise the rifle as blood pounded in his ears.

He committed these acts by his own free will, and that's why he deserves the mean side of prison walls and razor wire. He confessed to police, who took to calling it a "thrill killing," but that wasn't a satisfying explanation. Now, almost five years have slipped by and the ones who remember still puzzle. What made Leo Boatman a killer?

He wears shackles on his wrists and ankles as he shuffles into a cafeteria at the Charlotte Correctional Institution and sits, awkward, at a long table. He has never spoken to a reporter.

He is thin, and taller and less boyish than his pictures in the newspapers. At 24, he has spent more than half his life incarcerated.

"It's kind of all I know," he says. "I know it's kind of weird to say, but it's a comfortable environment."

Beginning with his wretched childhood, most of his life has been documented by state employees: those charged with keeping him safe, and those charged with keeping us safe from him. There were failures. He was abused by parents, abused by foster parents, then locked away from the age of 12 to 19. When finally given freedom, he was bigger and stronger and poised to strike back.

If you believe the killer, when he raised his rifle that day, he was aiming at all of us.

The Ocala National Forest is the southernmost forest in the United States, containing 383,000 acres of wilderness, the world's largest contiguous sand pine scrub forest and somewhere close to 600 rivers, streams, lakes and ponds. Very close to the center of all that, a few paces off the 1,400-mile Florida Trail, is a small, clear, peaceful pond.

It is called Hidden Pond, and it's a favorite for serious backpackers. It's a three-hour hike from the nearest campground, close enough to call for help but remote and cool enough for bathing in your birthday suit.

Leo Boatman had never heard of Hidden Pond as he walked to the Greyhound station in Clearwater on the afternoon of Jan. 2, 2006. He did not know much about Ocala National Forest, or even about camping, save what he gleaned from books and magazines. He had read the Mountain Man series, and all about Lewis and Clark, Daniel Boone and the Conquistadors. He devoured National Geographic and he thought a lot about hiking the Appalachian Trail to experience someplace besides Florida. Since his release from a juvenile prison five months before, he had often walked to the edge of the Gulf of Mexico at dusk and stared out at the horizon and envisioned himself alone on the water, a young man against the sea.

That was consistent in all his fantasies: independent survival. Leo Boatman, 5-feet-9 and 140 pounds, against everyone who ever said he would never amount to anything. He'd show them, and in his mind, over and over, he did.

Now it was time to do it for real. He was angry and he needed to get away, to clear his head. He was living on his own for the first time, ultimate freedom, yet everyone kept trying to control him. He wanted to stay out on the beach all night, but his sister made him come inside. He wanted to ride a motorcycle, but his uncle said that was a stupid idea. Now the bike was wrecked, in the shop, and Leo was on foot, headed down Gulf-to-Bay Boulevard. He popped into Amscot and cashed a check from the state of Florida: $875 from the Road To Independence scholarship for foster children enrolled in college. Books and tuition could wait. He walked into Deer Hunter Guns and bought bullets for $17.04. He walked to the bus station, slid his ID across the counter and paid $32.50 for a ticket out of town.

He held the long blue nylon bag between his legs on the bus bound for Ocala.

• • •

"Very nice," is how the Walmart greeter remembered the killer.

"Well dressed and appeared to be a college-type person," is how a cab driver described him.

"Clean cut," a woman at the campground store told police.

"Very friendly," said the cabbie who took him to the bus station.

"I didn't know I had the devil in the front seat," said the man who picked him up hitchhiking.

"Sat quietly during the transport which occurred without incident," wrote the sheriff's deputy who brought him from Clearwater back to Marion County. "The only other statements made . . . was to ask what he was being charged with and would he be given something to eat and a place to sleep."

"We were shocked to see a very nice, clean-looking fellow," said the mother of one victim. "He didn't look like a killer."

"Appeared to be a healthy, attractive child," wrote the state investigator who took him and his sister away from their mother in 1990, when he was 3. "All around the apartment were trophies which the two children had earned in beauty contests."

• • •

After midnight, Leo Boatman caught a cab from the bus station in Ocala to Walmart. He pushed a shopping cart to the camping supplies and guessed at what he would need. He loaded a tent, sleeping bag, backpack, lantern, mess kit, flashlight, buck knife, belt, binoculars, batteries, camp stove, hiking boots, sewing kit. If something popped into his head, something he had read about in one of his books, he put it in the cart. He pushed the cart to register 18 and unloaded 32 items, enough supplies to survive a long while in the woods. He paid $391.64, called another cab from the pay phone and asked the driver to take him to a campground. It did not matter which.

The cab stopped at Juniper Springs around 3 a.m. on Tuesday, Jan. 3, and Boatman handed the driver $57. The gate to the campground was locked, so he ducked into the woods not far from Highway 40 and set up camp. The next morning a campground worker found him sitting outside the gate, tending to his new gear. She told him he could buy food at the store nearby. He told the clerk inside he was planning to hike the Florida Trail. She mentioned it was possible to hike from here to the Appalachian Trail in Georgia. This pleased him. He bought a bunch of food, a map, a disposable camera and other supplies totalling $150.91.

He loaded his gear, headed across the pavement to a narrow primitive trail and disappeared into the scrub pine.

• • •

Amber Peck and John Parker hadn't known each other long. They were both 26, students at Santa Fe Community College in Gainesville. They belonged to a campus club called Students for Environmental Harmony.

Parker was a Marine who had worked on helicopter rotors in Afghanistan and gone to college on the G.I. Bill. He had an 8-year-old daughter, poor housekeeping skills and a gun collection. He smoked Camels and was easygoing and at home in nature. He had been planning a club camping trip for a while. He e-mailed the Students for Environmental Harmony and followed up with phone calls, but everyone had conflicts except Amber Peck.

Peck, a Michigan transplant, hated guns. Her father took her to a range once to teach her to shoot. The two walked out a few minutes later, the girl shaking. She couldn't even pull the trigger.

She loved the outdoors. She cried when she saw animals caged at the zoo and wanted to build a career restoring natural habitats in the wild. She talked about studying zoology at the University of Florida and had been accepted at James Cook University in Australia.

She was in a hurry that Tuesday morning, getting ready for her first camping trip. Her mother called. Peck said Parker was supposed to pick her up at 12:30. The two drove Amber's GMC Jimmy to the forest and parked at a trailhead and hiked in toward Hidden Pond.

• • •

The evidence suggests Leo Boatman did not go into the Ocala National Forest to kill. He bought enough supplies to last weeks. He used his ID to buy a bus ticket. He told at least three people where he intended to camp.

He went to the Ocala National Forest to clear his head, to get away from his uncle, to test himself: a boy who had never had much free will suddenly alone in the wild.

He hiked through a low forest where wildflowers line a narrow sand trail. He said hello to an elderly couple wearing hard hats. He photographed with his disposable camera things he had never seen outside books and magazines. Banana spiders as big as a toddler's hand. Tall pines that lend a mountainous impression to small hills. Open prairie thick with saw palmetto and butterflies.

But somewhere along the way, something began to happen. He started to grow angry. With each step, each bend, each picturesque landscape, the fury inside him burned a little hotter.

• • •

The killer's earliest memory is of his mother, a diagnosed schizophrenic who conceived Leo in a mental hospital. He is about 3. She tells him to go upstairs and hide, and he does, but his curiosity is strong. He eases out of a closet and looks downstairs and sees strangers. One of them is holding a teddy bear. You have to come with us, they tell him. He does not want to go. They pry him from his mother.

That memory is supported by a report from 1990 on file with the Department of Children and Families:

Mother appeared at the door with a T shirt and a bikini bottom. She appeared disoriented and confused. . . . Leo appeared initially nude and then put on his mother's coat. Leo appeared to be a healthy, attractive child. . . . While there, the mother fed Leo a chocolate bar and chocolate milk for breakfast. . . . About ten days later, another report was received for lack of supervision of Leo by mother, Sheila, in Tampa. Leo was picked up and taken into shelter.

The investigator noted that management of the apartment had found Leo and his sister wandering around the complex at all hours.

The mother often seems to be totally incapable of keeping up with these children. Today, she let Leo wander outside unattended away from home for 20 minutes. . . . She once asked someone to help her locate Rose because the child had been missing overnight. When she was asked when Rose left home, she responded that she wasn't sure because she was away from home all night herself.

The killer's next memory is of his mother's boyfriend, around the same time. The man would lock Leo in the bathroom. He does not remember the man sexually molesting him, but he was told later he was abused in that way as well. His mother drowned in a drainage ditch while hitchhiking a few years later.

His next memory is of being placed in a crib in a room full of babies in some type of home. He recalls crying long and loud through the bars.

The state placed Leo with his grandmother. Their relationship was good at first. Leo began calling her mom.

He lived with an aunt and uncle from age 4 to 6. An older cousin made Leo perform sexual acts with a relative while he watched, according to a police report.

He went back to his grandmother, but their relationship soon ended.

Mom admits she hit Leo with a broom, states a report from 1996. He is hard to control child and doesn't want to listen to anyone. . . . Mom stated over and over she does not want Leo anymore. . . . No other relatives wanted Leo. Bio mother is dead. . . . Bio father is unknown.

He recalls his grandmother dropping him off at a group home for juvenile delinquents. He bounced from there to an older couple who eventually dropped him off at a mental health center.

In late 1998, he was back with his grandmother, and acting out. He was about 12 then. When he did well in school and his grandmother didn't believe him, he called the state abuse hot line. An investigator interviewed his grandmother:

She started screaming and yelling at him and saying derogative things with the child present. It was very verbally abusive. . . . CPI stated that she did not think grandmother is an appropriate placement due to her illness and intolerance for child.

Next he was sent to a foster family in St. Petersburg. Beginning in 1998, the state logged complaints of abuse from children at that home. The children claimed the foster father was an alcoholic and punished them in unusual ways. They claimed he withheld meals, made them do up to 5,000 squat jumps at a time, and made them sit in a desk chair for hours on end, sometimes naked. The children began running away. When they did, they set fires because an arson charge drew 21 days in juvenile lockup, which was better than the foster father's punishment.

Investigators vetted the claims several times, but it wasn't until 2004 that investigators verified them.

By that time, Leo had amassed a lengthy juvenile record.

• • •

Steve Schick, a divorced Buddhist in Hudson who has driven an ice cream truck, sold mobile homes and run a janitorial company, met Leo for the first time in 2000, working as a guardian ad litem. Schick felt like he had met the boy in another life.

"He's a warm soul," Schick, 65, said in a recent interview. "He's been tremendously abused. You've got to feel sorry for what he went through up through age 10 or 12 with mom and grandma."

When he was 12 or 13, Leo asked Schick to adopt him. Schick had never adopted a child before and didn't have any of his own. He said okay. Leo's past was what it was, but Schick knew the boy was not a lost cause.

The two drove together down U.S. 19 one day. They passed a car accident. Paramedics worked on an injured person on the pavement. Leo, short for his age, turned on his knees to see.

"I hope he's not suffering," the boy said.

The two sometimes stayed up late, talking, Schick trying to help the boy heal.

"You don't have to go anywhere," Schick would say. "You can stay here. I know you can't erase what happened to you, but we can try."

And then he was gone.

Boatman doesn't know why he ran from Steve Schick, but he spent the next seven years a ward of the Department of Juvenile Justice. His records paint a picture of a kid afraid to get out. Each time he was nearing release, he got into trouble. He headbutted a teacher, tried to punch a pregnant caseworker, chewed on glass.

He was transferred to the high-security Omega 10 juvenile prison in Manatee County. He was in his cell so much, he says, he began fantasizing. In some of the visions he hurt guards, exacting revenge, but those morphed into daydreams of the high seas and great outdoors.

In 2004, at 18, he was evaluated at Omega 10 juvenile prison.

"Youth's behavior is terrible," the evaluator wrote. "Youth has been in program for 43 months. This program has done everything possible to change this youth's behavior. Needs to go to adult prison as there is no hope for change."

• • •

Through the forest he marched, alone with his anger, each footfall a step further into isolation. He did not expect or understand this rage. Where others saw beauty, he saw pain. The hike was real. He could feel the palmetto brushing his legs and smell the winter air. But it also felt like fantasy, like he was carrying a stolen AK-47 back in his cell in one of his daydreams. Freedom was solitary confinement.

He can't pinpoint the source of his next thought, and he knows how crazy it must sound, but it was this:

I'm going to shoot the next person I see.

He came to a fork and walked around the rim of Hidden Pond, rage in his chest, the rifle in the blue nylon bag on his shoulder. He passed some trees and stopped in his tracks before two campers, sitting on a log. He did not speak.

Boatman walked away, out of sight, and then he stopped. He pulled the rifle to his shoulder. His heart beat so hard he could see the barrel throbbing. He waited 10 minutes, then heard them coming.

He thought about running, about shouldering the gun and ripping down the trail and leaving two people alive and oblivious.

He told himself, Don't do it.

• • •

John Parker and Amber Peck did not come home that day, or the next.

Amber's father found her car late Friday and came back to search in daylight. John Parker's friends and family had already been to Hidden Pond. The authorities soon swarmed the area and put helicopters in the air.

Deputies found the victims in shallow water on the edge of Hidden Pond, not far from a patch of dried blood. Peck was face down, the soles of her shoes visible on the surface. Both were fully clothed. They found gunshot wounds in Parker's right foot, right shoulder, on the right side of his neck and his left biceps. Peck had wounds on her right arm, left biceps and both sides of her head. Their belongings were scattered but nothing appeared to be missing. Sheriff's deputies found bullet casings with a metal detector. They towed Peck's car for processing. On the back windshield, written in the dirt, was a message: AMBER CALL DAD.

• • •

He left evidence. He hitchhiked to a motel, checked in with his own name. He caught a bus back to Largo, rifle in hand, went to the first day of college, confided in an acquaintance that he would probably get caught. Detectives solved the case in a week. He pleaded guilty and took a deal: The victims' families agreed to a sentence of two life terms, rather than pursuing the death penalty. In Florida, that means Boatman will never be eligible for parole.

The prosecutor told reporters Boatman's childhood was "uniquely awful." Amber Peck's mother asked: "Where was the village?" Boatman's public defender said wolves would have been more nurturing.

"Absolutely," says Steve Schick, who still writes Boatman. "I blame myself for not meeting him earlier. I blame myself for not meeting him when he was 4 or 6 or 10. Where was the cutoff point?"

"The system made him," said Kenneth Wooden, a child advocate and author of Weeping in the Playtime of Others: America's Incarcerated Children, who visited with Boatman in prison. "Brick by brick, day by day, year by year. It started at conception and ended the day he met those two hikers in the woods."

• • •

"I had a choice," Leo Boatman says, his voice soft. "I feel like if things were different, I would have been a different person. At the same time, that doesn't excuse anything. They were still my thoughts."

He does not know if he could have been saved. He does think spending his formative years in detention, the loneliness and anger, had direct bearing on what he did that day.

"You start hating society because you blame society," he says. "You've got this nasty guard that violates the law; he does everything he's not supposed to be doing. And yet they tell me that he's an officer and he's the ultimate authority and he's the one I'm supposed to want to be like? Well if that's the case, society's really messed up theirselves and they're pretty sick in the head and it's like, I was screaming at society."

The guard behind him is growing impatient.

Leo Boatman is told that Amanda Peck's mother still has a nightmare in which Amanda is beneath the surface of the water, eyes open, looking at her mother and mouthing, "Help." He is told Amanda's friend was so overcome with grief she committed suicide months later.

For a moment, Leo Boatman looks as though he will cry.

He says he feels remorse for what he did. He says he didn't know anything about the victims that day, and now he does, and they haunt him. Especially Parker, who had an 8-year-old daughter. "I didn't have a dad, either," he says, lowering his eyes.

• • •

They met by chance. The man on the log stood, said hello, and walked toward him. "You're going the wrong way," John Parker told him. He pointed the boy toward the correct path.

Ben Montgomery can be reached at  or (727) 893-8650.

About the story

This story is based on more than 300 pages of investigative reports from the Marion County Sheriff's Office, video recordings of Leo Boatman's confession, an audio recording of a phone call between Boatman and his sister, documents from the Department of Children and Families and the Department of Juvenile Justice, crime scene photographs, newspaper articles and interviews with Boatman, Steve Schick and Amber Peck's parents. The reporter and photographer also traced Leo Boatman's path through the Ocala National Forest.

This month, Leo Boatman was transferred to Florida State Prison after a fight with an inmate. The Department of Corrections has not released the condition of the inmate. The incident is under investigation.

See Criminalizing Youth and Child Abuse top

09/10/10 Man who was wrongly imprisoned 24 years arrested
Rita Farlow and Andy Boyle, St. Petersburg Times, September 10, 2010

ST. PETERSBURG — Alan Crotzer, the man who spent 24 years in prison before being exonerated for two rapes he did not commit, was arrested Wednesday night after police say he was caught having sex with a prostitute.

A caller told police at about 10 p.m. that people were possibly negotiating a drug deal in an alley behind 2518 Fifth St. S, police said. When officers showed up, they found Crotzer in a black Dodge Avenger with a woman, Laquisha Hatten, 23, police said.

Crotzer, a former St. Petersburg resident, told officers he was on his way home to Tallahassee from Miami and had stopped in St. Petersburg to see some people he knew in the area. He said he had known Hatten for a couple of years, said St. Petersburg police spokesman Mike Puetz.

"Hatten told him she was having some problems so they went into the alley to talk about it. While they were talking about her problems, she began performing oral sex on him," Puetz said.

Crotzer told officers no money had been exchanged.

He asked the arresting officers to call his wife. Crotzer's wife, in turn, called her brother, who lives in St. Petersburg, to pick up Crotzer's car. When the brother didn't arrive, officers locked the car and left it to be retrieved later, Puetz said.

Both Crotzer and Hatten were charged with lewd and lascivious behavior. Crotzer was released from Pinellas County Jail Thursday morning after paying $250 bail.

Hatten remained in jail Thursday morning. Hatten was arrested on a prostitution charge Sunday. On Monday, she was convicted on that charge and sentenced to two days in jail, but was credited for time served and released, court records show. Hatten has previous convictions on cocaine possession, retail theft, residential burglary and resisting arrest without violence.

DNA evidence led to the release of Crotzer, 49, from prison in 2006. He was originally convicted in 1982 of raping two women during a Tampa robbery. The state compensated him with $1.25 million after his release.

Crotzer is employed by the state Department of Juvenile Justice. The department's web page lists him as an "intervention specialist" who is "encouraging youth to choose their actions and friends wisely."

Frank Penela, a spokesman for the DJJ, said Crotzer had been in Miami for a work-related speaking engagement.

"He had always wanted to do work with troubled youth — to get them on the straight and narrow. He's been doing that for us for over a year now," Penela said.

Penela said Crotzer makes a "very minimal" salary of about $10,000 per year for his services.

Times staff writer Dominick Tao contributed to this report.


08/23/10 Pinellas juvenile detention superintendent charged with DUI
Shelley Rossetter, St. Petersburg Times

TAMPA — The superintendent of the Pinellas Regional Juvenile Detention Center was charged with driving under the influence early Sunday morning in Hillsborough County, jail records show.

Deputies arrested James Joseph Uliasz, 41, at Hillsborough Avenue and Long Boat Boulevard in Town 'N Country about 3:30 a.m. after he failed a field sobriety test, an arrest report states.

Deputies were redirecting traffic at the scene of an unrelated crash when Uliasz drove up but did not move his vehicle as directed, the report states.

A deputy noted that Uliasz had watery eyes and alcohol on his breath. He refused a blood-alcohol content test, the report said.

Uliasz, who has been placed on administrative leave pending an internal investigation, oversees the Juvenile Detention Center in Clearwater, a 120-bed institution that serves youths detained by various circuit courts, said Frank Penela, a spokesman for the Florida Department of Juvenile Justice. Youths are kept there until their cases are resolved or they are moved to other detention or treatment facilities.

In 2006, Uliasz, of Bradenton, was arrested on similar charges in Manatee County, according to Manatee County Circuit Court records. He was later convicted of a second-degree misdemeanor, records show.

Records show Uliasz was released from the Orient Road jail on $500 bail.

Read about 08/03/06 DUI charge | top

05/27/10 Dozier School For Boys In Marianna Undergoes Some Major Changes
Vanessa Nguyen, WJHG News Channel 7

Earlier this year, there was some doubt the Dozier School for Boys in Marianna would survive legislative budget cuts, due to poor performance evaluations from the Department of Juvenile Justice. Not only did it survive, but the facility is going through some major changes.

Earlier this year, there was some doubt the Dozier School for Boys in Marianna would survive legislative budget cuts, due to poor performance evaluations from the Department of Juvenile Justice.

Not only did it survive, but the facility is going through some major changes.

DJJ is planning to consolidate the 2-current programs into one, add a developmentally disabled youth program and give the school an overall make-over, including the name.

The Arthur G. Dozier School for Boys in Marianna did not escape the state budget ax.

As a result of a $2.4 million dollar funding cut, the juvenile offender facility is about to undergo some major changes with it's two main programs.

"Basically what we're going to do is merge the Dozier and the JJOC program and we're going to become the North Florida Youth Development Center."

Dozier Complex Superintendent Mike Cantrell says the cuts will only affect the Jackson Juvenile Offender Correction Center, which also serves sex offenders.

"We've decided to cut that down to 48 beds by moving the sex offenders to other programs across the state."

That means the school's population will go from 199 to 151 beds.

But it's not all bad news. As part of the consolidation process, the staff will be taking on high-risk developmentally delayed kids.

"We will be the only program in the state that will be working with that population."

The facility will also go to round-the-clock nursing services...

"..which will allow us to take in medically complex kids."

With all the internal changes, Cantrell says it only seemed natural to change the school's name, especially with the notoriety associated with the name "Dozier."

He says all of the changes will ensure the school's longevity.

"When you're serving medically complex kids, you're serving developmentally delayed kids, maximum-risk, high-risk kids, all the populations we'll be serving, when you begin looking at programs across the state and can you afford to close those types of programs, it makes us more viable and more difficult to close a program that serves that many populations."

Program Administrator Gavin Tucker says, "I think it sets a precedence about where we're headed and the direction we're moving, it really boils down to the people we have here that are working and we have a very good staff and they're very committed or they wouldn't be here."

A far cry from 6-months ago, when the school was in-danger of closing it's doors due to a failing evaluation.

Employees, under Cantrell's direction, made a drastic turnaround, and passed the Quality Assurance report in April.

And they're not looking back.

"It's exciting to try to blaze a new trail and create something new, but most importantly, we want to make sure that it's impactful, that we do it and we do it right and it's effective."

Cantrell says most of the JJOCC employees will be able to transfer to another position in the department after the bed cuts.

Justin Caldwell, Christopher Sholly and Dozier School for Boys | More about the White House Boys | top

05/23/10 Dozier getting a facelift
New programs, new name — few layoffs
Ashley McKeen, Jackson County Floridan

Dozier School for Boys and the Jackson Juvenile Offender Correctional Center will no longer be a bit different after July 1 of this year.

The Florida Department of Juvenile Justice — the state agency that oversees the programs — has big plans for the facility, including a name change. The redesign is contingent upon legislative approval, however.

Recently, rumors have been making their way around the county about a possible downsize at Dozier, with lay-offs and cuts.

However, the correct word to describe the plans for Dozier and JJOCC is “redesign,” according to Darryl Olson, DJJ’s assistant secretary of Residential Services.

“DJJ is planning a redesign of the two separate programs. This restructure has been apart of DJJ’s strategic plan to make our programs smaller and more community-oriented,” Olson said in an interview Friday. “Research shows that these are the programs that are more successful and effective.

“In this economy, we all need to consolidate and economize. To do that we plan to bring the two separate programs into one, consolidating our contracted services and reducing our maximum risk program.”

For example, currently there are two contracted food service providers. Following the restructuring, both programs will share a food service. Olson says this will save DJJ nearly $190,000 a year.

In an effort to move toward a smaller, more community-oriented program, DJJ plans to make a 48-bed reduction this July. The 199 bed program will be cut to 151 beds, with only JJOCC taking the hit.

JJOCC will go from 96 to 48 beds this summer, with the sex offender program being deleted.

According to Olson, the 32 youth currently enrolled in the sex offender program at JJOCC will be dispersed to other programs with vacancies around the state.

“Most will be going to the facilities at Cypress Creek in the Ocala area, or the Okeechobee facility. Both have sex offender programs with vacancies,” Olson said.

However, the high-risk program, Dozier, will see no bed reductions. In fact, DJJ has plans to add a program for the developmentally delayed and “medically complex” youth, making the new facility one-of-a-kind.

“The new restructure of the facility will make our program very unique,” Superintendent Michael Cantrell said Friday. “I think this is crucial for us. With both of the separate programs being underpopulated, it left us with targets for closure on our backs.

“The redesign of our two programs will make us more viable and solidify us, which will assure our presence here for many years to come.”

Plans for incorporating the two new programs are already under way, Olson said.

The proposed 15-bed program to accommodate youth with developmental disabilities will call for an on-site behavioral analyst.

“These youth require attention of a more behavioral approach, and so we will need staff that can accommodate for that,” Olson said. “In creating this program, we are creating a capacity that currently does not exist in any of our other high-risk programs in the state.”

Another addition is the program for the “medically complex” youth.

“This program will be able to accommodate for youth with more serious medical issues,” Olson said. “We will go from having a nursing staff on site full time, to having the nursing staff on site 24 hours a day, seven days a week.”

After reducing the beds at the other programs program and adding new programs to Dozier, DJJ also plans to change the facility’s name.

No longer will the high-risk program be called Dozier, and the maximum-risk one Jackson Juvenile Offender Correctional Center. As of July 1, the facility will be known as the North Florida Youth Development Center. According to Olson, the other two names will be dropped.

Olson said that while the name change was in part due to the negative image surrounding the facility, the main reason for the change was due to the restructuring.

“We wouldn’t change the name of the facility without changing the program. To go along with the redesign of a whole new program, we needed a new name,” Olson said.

Olson explained there will be some associated  staff reductions for certain areas. However, the staff members affected will have opportunities for other positions within DJJ.    

In the worst case scenario, those employees may need to be transferred to another program in the state where their position is available, Olson said.

“The goal is to have no lay-offs in this revamp of the two programs,” Olson said. “We have plans to find vacant positions for those staff members who will be affected by the restructure of the facility.”

Cantrell said 64 titled positions between the two programs are being eliminated. However, some of those are currently vacant and most others are temporary positions. Of the 64, only 27 JJOCC staff members will actually be affected.

“Although the number looks bad, it really isn’t,” Cantrell said. “Because almost all of those 27 positions will be absorbed on the Dozier side. There are, however, a few positions, such as in food service, which may be hard to place.”

Olson agreed, saying that not everyone would be accommodated at the redesigned facility, but will be kept within the Department of Juvenile Justice.

DJJ as a whole is facing 93 job cuts all the way up to the headquarters, according to Olson.

Justin Caldwell, Christopher Sholly and Dozier School for Boys | More about the White House Boys | top

05/18/10 Inmate's sentence affected by court ruling
Juvenile offenders must have chance at parole, court says
Kris Wernowsky, Pensacola News Journal

Joe Sullivan was only 13 when he robbed an elderly woman's house in West Pensacola. He later returned with a knife to rape her.

Circuit Judge Nick Geeker sentenced the boy to life in prison for the 1989 crimes without any chance of returning to the outside world. He already had a lengthy juvenile record.

"He is beyond help," Geeker said at the time.

On Monday, the U.S. Supreme Court ruled 5-4 that it was unconstitutional for a Florida court to sentence Terrance Graham to serve life in prison without the possibility of parole. The teen was 16 when he committed a slew of robberies.

The case was argued before the Supreme Court in November along with Sullivan's. While Monday's decision only mentions Sullivan briefly, the Graham decision will apply to Sullivan.

State Attorney Bill Eddins, whose office prosecuted Sullivan before Eddins worked in the office, expects the case to eventually return to Geeker. Eddins said his office intends to keep Sullivan in prison.

"We're going to request he be resentenced to life again after he has the opportunity to demonstrate that he should receive a lesser sentence," Eddins said. "We don't believe he can demonstrate that."

Attorney Bryan A. Stevenson of the Equal Justice Initiative, which filed the petition on Sullivan's behalf, said he was pleased with Monday's ruling, but said many questions remain unanswered.

"It represents a need for revisiting this issue in a more informed way," Stevenson said. "States will have to work out mechanisms and procedures for sentencing. It will vary from case to case and from jurisdiction to jurisdiction."

Now the state of Florida, which did away with parole in 1983, is left with the question of how to implement a parole system where none currently exists.

There are 129 juveniles serving life sentences without parole in state and federal prison on non-homicidal crimes. Of those, 77, or nearly 60 percent, are in Florida prisons.

Mike Weinstein, a prosecutor and state legislator from Jacksonville, tried for two years without success to pass legislation to create a restrictive parole system for juveniles who meet certain conditions.

Similar bills died in committee this year in both the House and the Senate.

"I think we overdid it and now we're being told we overdid it," Weinstein said of the Supreme Court ruling.

In addition to having to rewrite the laws that ensure new juvenile offenders aren't given such sentences, the state now will have to figure out what to do with those who already are in prison.

The Florida Parole Commission continues to exist despite the legislative abolishment of parole 27 years ago.

The commission oversees some 6,000 inmates who still are eligible for parole because their sentences came before 1983, commission spokeswoman Jane Tillman said.

The Legislature likely will have to infuse more money into the Parole Commission, which likely will see its workload increase as a result of Monday's decision, Weinstein said.

Florida Attorney General Bill McCollum's office handled arguments in the Sullivan case and that of Terrance Graham, who was 16 and 17 when he was involved in a number of armed robberies.

A host of government agencies will have a hand in how this system ultimately looks, including the Attorney General's Office, the Department of Juvenile Justice and the Department of Corrections, as well as the House and Senate.

While Monday's decision gives hope to dozens of teens sentenced across the country, Justice Anthony Kennedy said in the majority opinion that the decision is not a free pass.

"A state need not guarantee the offender eventual release, but if it imposes a sentence of life, it must provide him or her with some realistic opportunity to obtain release before the end of the term," he wrote.

Weinstein believes that under the Supreme Court's ruling, the state would be allowed to implement many of the restrictions contained in his earlier bill.

"There's a lot of studying that needs to be done to see what it is we'll need to do," Weinstein said. "We can implement any requirements as long as they are reasonable and as long as they are not used to circumvent the rules."


Escambia County has six men in state prisons who were arrested as juveniles and sentenced to life in prison with no possibility of parole.

A U.S. Supreme Court decision Monday in the case of 13-year-old Pensacola resident Joe Sullivan deems life prison without parole for juveniles unconstitutional.

bullet Raymond Smith was 17 when he was arrested in December 1985 on charges that included sexual battery with weapon or force, burglary with assault on any person, kidnapping and burglary with a weapon.
bullet Kirby Shingler was 16 when he was arrested in May 1991 on charges that included robbery with a deadly weapon.
bullet Tyrone Holmes was 17 when he was arrested in December 1992 on two counts of robbery with a firearm and other charges.
bullet Kelvin Dortch was 14 when he was arrested in September 1992 on two counts of robbery with a deadly weapon and one count of sexual battery with a weapon.
bullet Antonio Floyd was 17 when he was arrested in November 1998. He was sentenced on charges of robbery with a deadly weapon.


04/16/10 Feds won't file charges in boot camp death
Associated Press [As reported in The St. Petersburg Times]

TALLAHASSEE — The family of a 14-year-old Florida boy who died in 2006 after being hit and kicked by guards at a sheriff's boot camp says federal officials will not file charges against the guards.

A videotape of the 30-minute incident involving Martin Lee Anderson attracted national attention and led to the closure of Florida's boot camps for juvenile offenders.

A jury acquitted the seven guards and a nurse of manslaughter charges in state court. Federal authorities then began an inquiry into whether the boy's civil rights were violated.

Anderson's relatives say they were told of the decision during a meeting Friday with representatives of the U.S. Justice Department. Supporters gathered outside a courthouse in Tallahassee during that meeting.

To learn more about the death of Martin Lee Anderson, click here | top

04/06/10 North Florida Boy Arrested At Parents’ Request

Callaway, Florida - Police arrested a sixth-grader at his parents' request, after he said he stole and then gave away more than $7,000 worth of his mother's jewelry.

Authorities say he told them he gave a classmate a white gold ring and a diamond ring, which he had taken from his mother's jewelry box. Authorities say when he asked the girl to return the jewelry, she gave back the white gold ring but said she lost the diamond ring.

Authorities also say the boy gave a sapphire ring to another friend who said he had given it to a female classmate. Another boy told his friend that he could have his mother's emerald and sapphire ring back if he gave him a reward.

The boy was booked into Bay County Jail on grand theft charges, and then taken to the Department of Juvenile Justice.


03/11/10 Hess: No criminal case at reform school
FDLE issues final report on 15-month inquiry into alleged abuse
Andrew Gant, News Herald

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.

Read the full report, along with Hess' letter, here »

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.

Justin Caldwell, Christopher Sholly and Dozier School for Boys | More about the White House Boys | top

03/10/10 Legislature should fix Dozier School for Boys or shut it now
St. Petersburg Times Editorial

If the Florida Legislature decides to keep open the doors of Arthur G. Dozier School for Boys in Marianna, it better have a more reasonable defense than wanting to maintain jobs there. It must find a way to fix Dozier, where the state has condoned child abuse for much of the past 100 years, or it must shut the school down.

The House Criminal and Civil Appropriations Committee will hear from the Department of Juvenile Justice today. The department contends the state's oldest reform school should be saved, even though it has failed its evaluations the past two years. Records also show that in the past five years, boys at Dozier have been beaten, denied medical care and prevented from reporting abuse.

That's not an aberration. St. Petersburg Times reporters Ben Montgomery and Waveney Ann Moore have spent more than a year chronicling the offensive legacy of Dozier and its predecessors, the Florida School for Boys and the Florida Industrial School. Generations of troubled boys have suffered beatings there, and many of them leave more broken than when they arrived. That failure ultimately costs society, as many boys turn to crime. Lawmakers have no excuse for not understanding what is at stake for individual boys and the greater community.

Rep. Marti Coley, R-Marianna, is lobbying to keep the facility open so her constituents can keep their jobs. But her colleagues should remember the state's job is to protect and rehabilitate wayward boys — not to maintain a workplace where the culture has tolerated decades of inhumanity. It's time for the Legislature to act in the boys' interest and no one else's. Fix Dozier or shut it down. Now.

Justin Caldwell, Christopher Sholly and Dozier School for Boys | More about the White House Boys | top

03/09/10 Lawmakers to consider: Is it time to close the Dozier School for Boys?
Ben Montgomery, Waveney Ann Moore and John Frank, St. Petersburg Times

TALLAHASSEE — Florida's oldest reform school has survived a century of failure and scandal. Now lawmakers once again are confronted with an uncomfortable question: Is it time to shut the place down?

At the start of another legislative session, Arthur G. Dozier School for Boys in Marianna is again struggling to keep kids safe. The school notorious for decades-old abuse has failed its state evaluation two years in a row. In the past five years, the Times has learned, boys have been beaten by guards, denied medical care and prevented from reporting abuse. The school has employed a mentally challenged man, a man who came to work high on cocaine and a man who broke his wife's shoulder. The Department of Juvenile Justice last year forced out its sixth superintendent in eight years.

Now comes a new batch of calls to close the school. Lawmakers this week will consider the future of Dozier, which houses 103 boys at a cost of $10 million, or about $100,000 per boy. But the Legislature has failed for 100 years to offer more than temporary relief for Dozier's problems. [continued]

Justin Caldwell, Christopher Sholly and Dozier School for Boys | More about the White House Boys | top

02/21/10 Preteen scuffle at Pinellas County bus stop leads to arrest of 11-year-old
By Demorris A. Lee, St. Petersburg Times

PALM HARBOR — Ayrillyn Pierre, 11 years old, was arrested last month and charged with simple battery after a passer-by saw her and another preteen girl fighting at a bus stop.

Ayrillyn, a sixth-grader, was handcuffed three days later at Carwise Middle School and taken to the Pinellas Juvenile Assessment Center, where her mother had to come pick her up.

Ayrillyn's parents are furious that a fight between two girls who were at one time friends escalated to an arrest and a criminal charge.

"I can't understand how my child became the attacker in all of this," said Aprillyn Pierre, the 11-year-old's mother. "They put handcuffs on her. This is something the parents were supposed to sit down and handle. But now my child has been treated like a criminal."

Wednesday, Ayrillyn agreed to participate in a Pinellas County Sheriff's Office diversion program. She had to admit to touching the other child. If she completes all the assigned tasks, which could include community service and writing an essay, there will be no record of the misdemeanor charge. Her file will be destroyed when she turns 18.

"I feel like I'm the one who's getting bullied," Ayrillyn said, tears coming down her face after she and her parents agreed to participate in the program. "I keep trying to explain but no one believes me."

Sheriff's Office spokesman Sgt. Tom Nestor said the law doesn't prohibit juveniles from being arrested.

"Juveniles do commit crimes," Nestor said. "They have to be held accountable. At what age do they say they are not responsible? An 11-year-old knows the difference between right and wrong and fantasy and reality."

On Jan. 5, Ayrillyn and the other girl had a confrontation that started with name-calling on a school bus. There had been a prior incident involving name-calling and derogatory text messages, Ayrillyn said.

A Sheriff's Office report doesn't indicate who threw the first punch, but passer-by Randy Cody said he saw Ayrillyn getting the best of the other girl.

Other children were standing around them egging it on, Cody said. He broke up the fight and called the Sheriff's Office.

"It would have been irresponsible as an adult not to do so," Cody said of calling the Sheriff's Office. "I don't know either kid but it just bothered me how these kids were acting."

Sgt. Paul Monahan and Deputy Keith Dwyer arrived on the scene about 5 p.m. They interviewed the other girl, who told them that she and Ayrillyn were "ex-friends" and that the two had gotten into a physical altercation, the Sheriff's Office report said. The girl noted that she and Ayrillyn had gone trick-or-treating together.

Another juvenile at the scene was interviewed.

The other girl's mother, Mary Frodella, was called and told deputies she wanted to file criminal charges against Ayrillyn.

Deputies then knocked on the Pierres' door wanting to speak with their 11-year-old daughter.

"There were three officers and they called the other girl a victim without even having spoken a word to my daughter," Ayrillyn's mother said. "I told them that I would bring her down to the police department the next day to be interviewed or we should let the school handle it.

"But I just didn't feel comfortable because they had already made up their minds."

Two days later, Ayrillyn was called to the office at Carwise Middle and arrested. She was placed in the back of a sheriff's cruiser and taken to the Juvenile Assessment Center.

"I asked Ayrillyn if she knew why I was here," Dwyer wrote in the report. "Ayrillyn stated she wanted to speak with her mother. I asked how tall she was and she replied again that she wanted to speak with her mother."

Pierre's arrest is the second preteen handcuffing involving the Pinellas County Sheriff's Office recently. Eric Tackebury Jr., 9, of Clearwater was handcuffed Feb. 3 after he and another child got into a scuffle.

Some juvenile justice experts say arresting preteens in simple matters such as a fight where no one is seriously injured is asinine.

"Fights at the bus stop are a common event, but they are usually pushing and shoving and the next day everything is fine," said Pinellas-Pasco Public Defender Bob Dillinger. "Fights at the bus stop involving 11-year-olds are not supposed to involve the judicial system."

Cathy Corry, founder and president of Justice For Kids, an advocate for children being treated like children, agreed. "A kid should be able to be a kid," Corry said. "A kid should be able to get in a little tussle and then work it out."

See Criminalizing Youth | top

02/07/10 Secretary of DJJ sets a bad example
Florence Snyder • My View • February 7, 2010 [Tallahassee Democrat]

Charlie Crist wants to know why so many Florida public officials are so sleazy so often.

One obvious answer is that Frank Peterman still has a job.

The "People's Governor" has yet to explain what possessed him to tap Peterman as secretary of the Department of Juvenile Justice in the first place.

DJJ is a $618 million enterprise. The agency is, literally, home to 10,000 or so of the most troubled of the 85,000 kids under DJJ supervision for "delinquent behavior."

Homes and communities failed to teach them that crime doesn't pay; for many of these kids, DJJ is their last chance to avoid poverty, pregnancy or prison. They deserve a secretary who is committed to their future.

What Crist gave them instead is a guy who also has a part-time job in St. Petersburg that pays more than a lot of DJJ's 4,800 employees make in a year.

In the St. Petersburg Times, Steve Bousquet reported: "He has traveled frequently to St. Petersburg, where his family lives and where he continues to serve as pastor of the Rock of Jesus Missionary Baptist Church and earns a $29,000 salary. He owns two houses in St. Petersburg and a town house in Tallahassee."

Peterman got the DJJ post and the state credit card that comes with it in February 2008. Almost immediately he began to commute between jobs on the taxpayers' time and dime.

In workplaces with a passing respect for the owners' money, Peterman's travel vouchers would earn him the opportunity to "resign to pursue other interests."

What he got instead was an ethics intervention team made up of high-level staffers in the governor's office and at DJJ.

Inspector General Melinda Miguel reports that a baker's dozen of the Crist high command spent almost two years trying to put the brakes on "Part Time" Peterman's use of the public purse for private pursuits.

Miguel's post-mortem is a riveting tale of high-priced staffers reduced to thinking up one junior high-school manipulation after another in hopes of steering the secretary toward behaviors less likely to attract the attention of the IRS or the media.

Apparently it never occurred to anyone to cut up his credit card.

Peterman, we now know, blew off repeated admonitions from Crist's chief of staff, Eric Eikenberg. He ignored advice delivered at weekly counseling sessions by Deputy Chief of Staff Lori Rowe.

As Supernanny could have told them, talk is cheap and travel is expensive. In the absence of real-time consequences, children and ethically challenged adults will get away with whatever they can.

Peterman is still on the job — both of them — having repaid the taxpayers a portion of his commuting bill. It's a sweet deal and one not generally available to white-collar workers who appropriate corporate resources.

Every day, front-line staffers at DJJ do their dead level best to teach kids that it's not OK to break the rules, to get over, to game the system. Peterman's continued employment is a slap in the face to them, to the kids, and to every Floridian who pays his own way to and from work.

More on Peterman | top

01/30/10 Winner of the week: Frank Peterman. The Department of Juvenile Justice secretary is amazingly lucky he only has to reimburse taxpayers $25,000 for dubious travel expenses, rather than getting fired from his $120,000 job. While most Floridians were tightening their belts Peterman, according to a state investigation, was billing them to travel often to his hometown where he kept a “not robust” work schedule. Nice gig.

More on Peterman | top

01/27/10 Critical state report targets Juvenile Justice chief Peterman
By Steve Bousquet and Lee Logan, Times/Herald Tallahassee Bureau
In Print: Wednesday, January 27, 2010

TALLAHASSEE — A highly critical state report released Tuesday night finds Department of Juvenile Justice Secretary Frank Peterman ran up $25,000 in questionable travel and should reimburse taxpayers for those expenses.

The report by Gov. Charlie Crist's chief inspector general, Melinda Miguel, concludes Peterman's frequent flights between Tallahassee and Tampa were not adequately documented. She concluded that the lack of paperwork and corroborating testimony "does not support his statement" that the travel was necessary.

"Evidence does not dispel the appearance that Peterman's travel to and from the St. Petersburg area was for his own convenience," the report says. "We recommend corrective action be taken including, but not limited to, obtaining reimbursement to the state for travel not fully and completely justified as official state business."

Peterman, 47, told the Times/Herald that he would repay the state for all questionable travel.

"I want to do whatever I can to reimburse whatever the appropriate amount is," Peterman said. "Nothing I've done has been intentional. I did what I thought at the time was part of my job."

The report comes as Crist is emphasizing the need for the state to cut expenses and "live within our means" to bridge a budget deficit of nearly $3 billion in the coming year.

"It's pretty concerning to me," Crist told the Times/Herald Tuesday night at the Governor's Mansion. "We're trying to work out a solution to this situation, and I'm hopeful that we can resolve it in a positive way."

Crist said a repayment by Peterman would have to be in a "lump sum," which Peterman said was appropriate. He said he has no plans to resign.

The inspector general's review was prompted by a Times/Herald report in November that showed Peterman spent $44,000 on travel since becoming secretary of the Department of Juvenile Justice in February 2008.

He has traveled frequently to St. Petersburg, where his family lives and where he continues to serve as pastor of the Rock of Jesus Missionary Baptist Church and earns a $29,000 salary. He owns two houses in St. Petersburg and a town house in Tallahassee.

The inspector general found that Peterman's trips between Tampa and Tallahassee between February 2008 and November 2009 cost $24,344.58.

Peterman's travel bills include $2,848 in parking charges, $7,430 for hotel rooms and $1,600 in fees to change flight times. The report criticizes his frequent use of short-term airport parking and notes he charged the state $785 for five hotel nights and a rental car for two conferences in Tampa.

Investigators interviewed Crist's top aides, who said they repeatedly warned Peterman to stop flying at taxpayer expense so often. But the flights continued even after a directive reminded all agency heads to travel as cheaply as possible and only when it was "mission critical."

Miguel and her staff interviewed 18 people, including Peterman's chief of staff, Kelly Layman; Crist's former chief of staff, Eric Eikenberg; and former deputy chief of staff Lori Rowe, who supervised Peterman and who advised him to find a home in Tallahassee as quickly as possible.

"Rowe said she counseled Peterman repeatedly including advising him that he should drive versus fly. Rowe said that Peterman repeatedly disregarded her counsel," the report says.

Peterman said he traveled frequently to DJJ's district office in St. Petersburg to meet with staff members and families of troubled children from one of the seven urban centers with the highest juvenile crime rates.

Chief of staff Layman described Peterman's work schedule in St. Petersburg as "not robust" and that he "usually did not answer his cellular phone when she called him," the report stated.

Peterman earns $120,000 a year as DJJ secretary, overseeing 4,800 full-time employees and a $619 million budget. The agency provides prevention and treatment for troubled children and runs the Arthur G. Dozier School for Boys in Marianna, whose 100-year history of abuse has been chronicled by the St. Petersburg Times.

Peterman served seven years in the state House as a Democrat from St. Petersburg before he joined the Crist administration. He is one of a handful of Democratic agency heads.

In January 2009, Crist's office issued a belt-tightening edict to all state agencies to restrict travel to trips that are "critical" to the agency's mission. Lawmakers included a similar decree in last year's budget. Days before Peterman's travel habits made headlines, Crist's chief of staff, Shane Strum, issued another plea to curtail travel.

Peterman said Tuesday night that since the investigation began in November, he's been driving a state car between Tallahassee and St. Petersburg, explaining: "It is obviously what needs to happen."

Steve Bousquet can be reached at or (850) 224-7263.

More on Peterman | top

01/26/10 Review of the Travel of Secretary Frank Peterman, Jr. February 2008 Through November 2009, Review #2010-9
Chief Inspector General [via St. Petersburg Times]

On November 18, 2009, Governor Crist requested that the Chief Inspector General review [DJJ Secretary Frank] Peterman's travel expenses charged to the state based on a November 17, 2009, St. Petersburg Times article that reported Peterman incurred $44,000 in state travel expenses since his appointment. [complete report]

More on Peterman | top

01/20/10 Courtrooms adjusting to a new Florida Supreme Court order against restraining juvenile defendants
Colleen Jenkins, St. Petersburg Times

The Florida Supreme Court ruled last month that restraints can no longer be routinely used in juvenile courtrooms.

TAMPA — Judges and court security staffs statewide are scrambling to comply with a new rule that ends the indiscriminate shackling of juveniles in courtrooms.

But that doesn't mean they are happy about it.

"It's not safe," said Circuit Judge Ashley Moody, who hears juvenile cases in Hillsborough County.

The rule took effect Jan. 1. It prohibits the use of restraints such as handcuffs and chains during juvenile court appearances except in cases where a judge believes there is a flight risk or potential harm that cannot be prevented by less restrictive alternatives.

In ordering the change last month, the majority of Florida Supreme Court justices found the blanket practice of shackling young defendants "repugnant, degrading (and) humiliating" and contrary to the rehabilitative purpose of the juvenile justice system.

Defense lawyers and child advocates supported the decision, which ranks Florida among at least eight states that do not permit indiscriminate shackling of youth.

"About time," said Pinellas-Pasco Public Defender Bob Dillinger, who pushed for such a rule for a dozen years. "There should not be a presumption that kids are bad."

Prosecutors, law enforcement and many jurists preferred to keep decisions about courtroom security in the hands of the presiding judge.

They don't necessarily quibble with the philosophy of treating juveniles differently than adults, who are typically restrained during all criminal proceedings except jury trials. But many officials just aren't convinced that the change accomplishes much or considers the impulsiveness of youth.

They note that juveniles can still be restrained during transport from detention, in holding cells and walking to courtrooms.

"Accordingly, any 'therapeutic' impact of the rule will be insubstantial compared with the significant security risks that may arise from the implementation of the rule," Justice Charles Canady wrote in his dissenting opinion.

Moody's concern comes from experience. She remembers being so uncomfortable at the sight of shackled juveniles when she first took the bench that she decided to try unchaining them. She instructed her bailiffs to begin the experiment with an 11-year-old who was being sentenced.

When the restraints came off, the child bolted. Two deputies had to take him down.

"I said, 'Never again. We won't do it again,' " Moody recalled recently. "Without a doubt, I am convinced that you should be able to keep them in some sort of restraints for the kids' own safety too."

Several judges pointed out that juveniles were shackled only when they were in detention, meaning they had already been determined to be high risk.

Moody stressed, however, that she and her colleagues can adapt to change, and they are doing so with an eye toward keeping things safe for personnel, visitors and juvenile defendants.

In Hillsborough, that included installing a new wall and locked doorway to separate the juvenile courtrooms from the lobby. The idea is to keep public traffic at a minimum and give juvenile defendants nowhere to go if they try to run.

During hearings, detention officers now shepherd defendants into court individually rather than bringing them in as a group.

One day last week, the sound of rattling chains could be heard outside Moody's courtroom as officers unshackled juveniles one by one. When they heard their name called, they stepped into court with their arms folded behind their backs and an officer hovering over them.

Accused of crimes such as burglary, grand theft and robbery, they waited to hear if the judge would keep them in detention. An 11-year-old accused of battering his mother smirked as his mom told Moody she was too scared to have him come home.

On this day, no one misbehaved.

"I knew it could be done," Dillinger said. "It's just the attitude of people had to be changed."

"We are concerned about it," said Col. Jim Previtera, who oversees courthouse security in Hillsborough. "I've just asked our people to be hyper-vigilant."

Colleen Jenkins can be reached at  or (813) 226-3337.


01/08/10 State review raises questions about Juvenile Justice secretary's spending
By Steve Bousquet and Lee Logan, Times/Herald Tallahassee Bureau
In Print: Friday, January 8, 2010

TALLAHASSEE — Florida juvenile justice chief Frank Peterman's extensive travel at taxpayer expense includes thousands of dollars in extra charges because of missed flights as well as $2,300 in airport parking costs called "excessive" in an ongoing state review.

The inspector general's investigation was ordered by Gov. Charlie Crist after a Times/Herald report in November showed that Peterman spent $44,000 on travel over 21 months, about half of it for flights between Tallahassee and Tampa. The inquiry, expected to be completed next week, also shows:

• Peterman, who maintains a second office in St. Petersburg with a secretary, approved $26,000 in renovations to the office shortly after he took over the Department of Juvenile Justice in February 2008.

• When he travels, Peterman often uses short-term airport parking lots and has charged taxpayers $2,300 for parking and $800 in luggage fees.

• Even though his family home is in St. Petersburg, he charged the state $785 for five hotel nights and a rental car at two Tampa conferences, and has paid to park cars in Tampa and Tallahassee for round-trip flights.

• On at least 18 occasions, he has changed flight times at an average cost to the state of $100 each. Shamika Baker, Peterman's executive assistant, says he overslept and missed some flights, but he says she's "misinformed."

Baker warned Peterman about flying too often and urged him to drive instead. Even after Crist last year ordered agencies to cut back on state-funded trips, his travel patterns did not change.

Peterman said Thursday: "I think that for the most part, based on my own travel, I think I've been reasonably responsible."

Questioned by the inspector general's office on Dec. 29, Peterman defended his travel as a way to visit staff members and youths in two of the seven high crime areas in the state.

"The St. Pete office was used to create a decentralized place to meet with staff, parents, and kids from the rest of the state," Peterman's interview summary says. "Work in St. Pete is more focused on the relationships with field staff and kids."

The inspector general's findings noted: "Mr. Peterman did not regularly travel to other facilities or districts."

A statement from Crist's office said he "looks forward to reviewing the Inspector General's full and complete report in the next two weeks. At that time, we will look at the entire findings and provide direct comment about the completed investigation."

• • •

Peterman, 47, earns $120,000 a year as Department of Juvenile Justice secretary, overseeing 4,800 full-time employees and a $619 million budget. The department provides prevention and treatment services for troubled children and also runs the Arthur G. Dozier School for Boys in Marianna whose 100-year history of abuse has been chronicled by the St. Petersburg Times.

During his time as an agency head, Peterman has continued to serve as pastor of the Rock of Jesus Missionary Baptist Church in St. Petersburg, where he preaches. His wife and children live in St. Petersburg.

Documents provided by the governor's office show that after joining the administration, Peterman sought $26,000 in improvements to an office in St. Petersburg that he has used during frequent state-paid visits.

It's not unusual for agency heads to have satellite offices, but the inspector general review found that Peterman often spends four days a week in St. Petersburg (Friday through Monday) and the other three days at the agency's Tallahassee headquarters.

According to an inspector general's summary of an interview with Baker, his executive assistant: "Baker stated that she wasn't sure what is so critical in the District Office that required the Secretary (Peterman) to be there weekly."

Records also show that the secretary Peterman hired to work in that office, Corinne Brown, is a part-time employee of Peterman's church.

• • •

Baker is one of at least five current or former agency employees questioned about Peterman's travel by Inspector General Melinda Miguel's office.

"Ms. Baker stated that flights are missed and periodically need to be rescheduled because of oversleeping if the Secretary does not get up on time or does not receive a wake-up call," a summary of her interview says. "She does not perform a comparison of flying versus driving, but has suggested to the secretary that he drive."

Peterman said his aide was "misinformed," and it's "not accurate" that he missed flights due to oversleeping. He attributed the missed flights to traffic, meetings that ran late or unexpected phone calls.

The inspector general found that Peterman flew about 70 times between Tampa and Tallahassee between February 2008 and November 2009 at a cost of $23,572, a figure slightly higher than the Times/Herald originally reported.

Peterman's missed some 8 a.m. flights leaving Tampa International Airport. The state report does not show how many of those were from oversleeping, and Peterman did not provide specifics to his interrogators.

"Hard to answer," a summary of Peterman's interview says of his response. "He was trying to get to meetings or to work."

Peterman's justification for leaving a car in short-term parking for several days at a time? "Timeliness to make flights. Tried to have folks drop him off."

The inspector general's report also noted that Peterman charged taxpayers to park cars in both cities for round-trip flights. "Why?" the report asked. "Is it possible the Secretary had a car parked at the airport for his use upon arrival? The charges seem to be unusually high … how was this justified?"

The tentative findings note that Peterman's travel habits did not change even after state agencies received a belt-tightening edict last January to restrict travel to trips that are "critical" to the agency's mission, which Peterman defined as travel "for direct care of children."

In his interview summary, Peterman said his Tampa trips were critical to the agency's mission: "For example, traveling to TPA to make a meeting to deal with DJJ issues."

A followup memo in September from Crist's deputy chief of staff, David Foy, cautioned: "Remember we are working for the people of Florida, and treat your agency budget like you would be paying out of your own checkbook."

Steve Bousquet can be reached at or (850) 224-7263.

More on Peterman | top


12/30/09 Arthur G. Dozier School for Boys fails annual evaluation
By Ben Montgomery and Waveney Ann Moore, St. Petersburg Times

The Arthur G. Dozier School for Boys failed its annual evaluation, according to a draft report released by the Department of Juvenile Justice. The extensive Quality Assurance report shows the state-run reform school, with its 100-year history of abusing and neglecting boys, still can't keep them supervised or safe.

Gov. Charlie Crist called the failure "inexcusable."

"Clearly something needs to be done," Crist said. "There's a duty owed here to those who are at the school who should have an opportunity for a brighter future."

On Tuesday, DJJ announced it has appointed a new superintendent and established a support team of juvenile justice leaders across the state to help him. Michael Cantrell, 42, will leave his position as regional director for Detention Services for North Florida to try to repair the reform school.

The report identifies many areas Cantrell needs to improve. Among other things: [Continued]

Justin Caldwell, Christopher Sholly and Dozier School for Boys | More about the White House Boys | top

12/20/09 Florida juvenile justice: The dead at Dozier
By Ben Montgomery and Waveney Ann Moore, St Petersburg Times
[Montgomery can be reached at or (727) 893-8650. Moore can be reached at or (727) 892-2283]

MARIANNA — Boys are buried on the little hilltop. That much is certain.

Thirty-one metal crosses stand in a clearing in the woods near the campus of the 109-year-old Arthur G. Dozier School for Boys, and they're said to mark the final resting place of troubled kids who came here to be reformed.

But no one really knows how many graves are here, or where they are, or who is in them, or how they died.

Dozier has such a long and ugly history of violence and secrets that the governor last year ordered an investigation into the graveyard, to identify the dead and determine whether any crimes were committed. The state can now match names to the 31 crosses on the hill.

But those bodies may not be the only ones buried at Dozier. The St. Petersburg Times has interviewed three former inmates who say they unearthed bones in other parts of the campus. Another man who was in search of his uncle's grave in the early 1990s says a staffer at the school showed him two separate burial grounds.

And according to the school's records, at least 50 more boys who died here remain unaccounted for. [Continued]

Justin Caldwell, Christopher Sholly and Dozier School for Boys | More about the White House Boys | top

12/09/09 Ex-juvenile officer will go to prison
St. Petersburg Times

A former officer at the Pinellas Juvenile Detention Center has been sentenced to eight years in prison for sending unsolicited nude pictures of himself to a 14-year-old girl who had been an inmate at the center. Parris Woods, 28, who was s state employee, sent messages and photos via cell phone, and attempted to meet the girl away from the JDC for sexual purposes.

Also see Bad Apples in DJJ? | top

12/06/09 Florida reform school's Class of '88 paints picture of its failure
By Ben Montgomery and Waveney Ann Moore, St. Petersburg Times

“Marianna left scar tissue,” says Aaron Burns, who was sent to the Dozier School for Boys at age 15. “It was a place where you were made to feel like you were worthless.” The tattoos now covering his torso and arms are testament to a life spent in and out of prison.


MARIANNA — The cottage is snared in vines, as if the jungle is trying to consume the bricks and broken glass. It sits on an abandoned edge of the Arthur G. Dozier School for Boys, a 109-year-old reformatory for the state's troubled kids. The old cottage is the only accessible corner of an inaccessible place, a state-run institution with a long and ugly history of violence and abuse, protected by privacy laws and razor wire. Inside, past the graffiti-covered lockers and overturned bunks, is a bathroom. In a toilet, on a cold morning earlier this year, a reporter found a document. Four fragile pages containing 180 names. A list of boys confined here on April 22, 1988.

Such records are supposed to be kept confidential. No telling why this one survived in a toilet for two decades. But the list offers a window into an unexplored time at the reform school. It allows, for the first time, a public accounting of a single Dozier class.

Using public records, the St. Petersburg Times tracked the boys on the list. How good was this place at fulfilling its mission of reform? What became of the Dozier Class of '88?

At least 174 of them — 97 percent — were arrested again after Dozier. They raped and killed. They sold drugs near schools and beat their wives and swung on cops. They held guns on store clerks, drove getaway cars and left victims across the state.

Talk to them, and many say their real troubles started here. They are Dozier's legacy. Continued

Justin Caldwell, Christopher Sholly and Dozier School for Boys | More about the White House Boys | top

12/04/09 Detention guard charged with cocaine trafficking to be fired
Michael Stewart, Northwest Florida Daily News

An official with the Florida Department of Juvenile Justice said a Crestview detention guard charged with trafficking in cocaine will be fired.

“We are processing his termination at this time,” said Samadhi Jones, deputy director of communication for the Department of Juvenile Justice.

Reginald A. Jackson, 27, a detention guard with the Okaloosa Regional Juvenile Detention Center south of Crestview, was arrested Wednesday evening following a routine traffic stop in which he refused to allow a Crestview Police Department officer to search his car.

A police canine alerted the officer to the possible presence of drugs in the four-door Chevrolet Jackson was driving, prompting a search that yielded some 43 grams of cocaine with a street value of up to $1,700, police said.

According to an arrest report, Jackson was originally stopped for swerving over the roadway centerline while driving north on State Rosa 85 and for illegal window tinting on his 1992 Chevrolet. During the search, the officer also found a,

During the search of his car, Jackson reportedly told the officer, “I work for the Department of Juvenile Justice, is this necessary?”

A Department of Juvenile Justice uniform with a “gold badge attached” was lying in the back seat of the car, along with a .40 caliber Smith & Wesson handgun for which Jackson had a valid concealed weapons permit, the officer reported.

Jackson is in custody at the Okaloosa County Jail on a $50,000 bond. His first court appearance is scheduled for Jan. 19.

Jones said Jackson has been employed with the Department of Juvenile Justice since Dec. 3, 2004.

Okaloosa Regional Juvenile Detention Center is a 50-bed secure facility for both male and female youths detained by various circuit courts, according the facility’s Web site. Youth detained at the detention center are awaiting adjudication, disposition or placement in commitment facility.

Attempts to reach Okaloosa Regional Juvenile Detention Center Superintendent Maj. Robert Smith were unsuccessful.


12/01/09 At reform school where boys were beaten, some fear closure

Despite past abuse, black leaders will lobby for Arthur G. Dozier School for Boys to remain open; legislators and state officials say there are no plans to shut it down

Andrew Gant, News Herald

MARIANNA — Black leaders here say the state soon could shutter a controversial reform school where more than 200 men claim they endured brutal abuse as boys.

Despite that, local NAACP members say they will lobby to keep the Arthur G. Dozier School for Boys open.

“What we see is this: Dozier has the potential of taking the lead on reforming how we run our juvenile rehabilitation centers,” said Dale Landry, president of the NAACP’s Tallahassee branch and the chairman of its criminal and juvenile justice committee.

Landry and other black leaders met Monday with NAACP members in Jackson County (the school’s home) to prepare to lobby legislators. Landry called it “being proactive in anticipation of cuts,” which he said could eliminate some 500 local jobs.

State Rep. Marti Coley, R-Marianna, said she’d heard nothing of any closure. A Department of Juvenile Justice spokesman said there are “no plans for us closing it down” and said Dozier remains effective despite its history.

“How you keep accountability is to make sure people pay attention,” said DJJ spokesman Frank Penela. “They started looking at Dozier because of something that allegedly happened 50-plus years ago. … It’s got a wonderful history to it, but it’s also got this history that has come to light.”

The state has acknowledged some abuse occurred at the school, known in the past as the Florida School for Boys, for decades through the 1960s. A small, cinder-block building, allegedly where the most brutal beatings occurred, has been sealed. But the state Department of Law Enforcement has said an investigation revealed no evidence of wardens beating boys to death.

A class-action lawsuit against the state alleged some boys died, possibly from abuse, and others were scarred for life. More than 200 ex-wards, now grown men, joined it. Many of them said they want to see the school closed.

A reparations bill sponsored by state Sen. Arthenia Joyner, D-Tampa, has sputtered and will not be heard on the Senate floor because it “doesn’t meet the criteria for a claims bill,” a Joyner staffer said Tuesday.

Attorneys for a retired warden named in the class-action suit have argued the statute of limitations for any crime expired long ago. That man, Troy Tidwell, has denied any abuse, saying boys were spanked, not beaten.

There have been recent allegations, too, including more than 200 reports of abuse since 2004. Of those, a handful were proven true.

Some boys’ bones were broken, another had sex with a school teacher and others engaged in sexual activity with each other in recent years, according to reports released by the state Department of Children and Families.

The DJJ said it punishes staff who abuse children. Penela cited many of Dozier’s efforts to help its troubled boys — classes for GEDs and high school diplomas and programs teaching first aid for future jobs as lifeguards and first responders.

“We don’t have this ‘Lock ’em up and throw away the key’ mentality that may have been so commonplace in the past,” Penela said. “We try to really rehabilitate these kids and make them proud citizens. I think Dozier does that.”

Landry said the NAACP seeks a more “academic setting” in the state’s juvenile facilities and that Dozier embraces that. He said a second meeting on the issue would be held Dec. 14.

“We’ve got to change the whole culture that embraces (abuse),” Landry said. “We don’t need the model to be built down in Orlando, or Miami or Tampa. We have a facility here. Let’s make it something greater than what it already is.”

Justin Caldwell, Christopher Sholly and Dozier School for Boys | More about the White House Boys | top

11/19/09 Gov. Crist orders review of Juvenile Justice Secretary Peterman's state travel
Steve Bousquet and Lee Logan, Times/Herald Tallahassee Bureau

TALLAHASSEE — Gov. Charlie Crist ordered an internal investigation and a citizen lodged an ethics complaint Wednesday over the extensive taxpayer-funded travel of Juvenile Justice Secretary Frank Peterman between the state capital and Tampa, near his family home.

Crist ordered his inspector general, Melinda Miguel, to review Peterman's travel after seeing a Times/Herald report that Peterman has spent $44,000 in tax dollars on travel in less than two years. Miguel's mission is to root out waste, fraud and abuse in state government, Crist spokesman Sterling Ivey said.

Peterman did not respond Wednesday to a request for a comment. He issued a one-sentence statement that said: "Secretary Peterman and the Department of Juvenile Justice will fully cooperate with the inspector general's investigation."

He said Tuesday that he travels to St. Petersburg frequently to be closer to his employees and clients, and because Pinellas is one of seven urban counties with a high juvenile crime problem.

Nearly half of Peterman's total travel bill, about $20,000, was for 68 airplane flights between Tallahassee and Tampa over a period of 20 months. Many of those trips allowed Peterman to spend the weekend with his wife and four children, who live in St. Petersburg.

Peterman also is senior pastor at the Rock of Jesus Missionary Baptist Church in St. Petersburg, where he drew a $29,000 salary last year in addition to his $120,000 state salary, according to a financial disclosure statement he filed with the state in July.

An agency spokesman, Frank Penela, said Peterman continues to preach at the church on Sundays while serving as the state's top juvenile justice official. It is unusual for a full-time state agency head to hold a second job.

Crist said he would not judge Peterman's conduct until the review is complete. The governor said he had no recollection of Peterman asking to return home on weekends for family or church reasons.

"Hopefully, there's not more," Crist said. "I like to go to St. Pete sometimes, too, but I pay for it."

No records exist of Crist's personal travels because he pays for it out of his own pocket and does not seek reimbursement, a spokesman said.

As governor and a St. Petersburg resident, Crist has flown on the state plane 23 times to St. Petersburg since taking office, at a cost to taxpayers of $4,269. On 19 other occasions, he flew on the state plane to Tampa at a cost of $3,772.

The ethics complaint against Peterman was filed by David Plyer of Clearwater, a citizen activist who has filed complaints against Lt. Gov. Jeff Kottkamp and state Rep. Ray Sansom of Destin. Those allegations, like the one against Peterman, were based on news accounts.

Plyer, who is a member of the Pinellas County Juvenile Justice Council, said Peterman has never met with the council in the nearly two years he has been in office.

In his complaint, Plyer cited a state law that bars officials from using their positions "to secure a special privilege" for themselves.

"We do not expect them to take advantage of their position to make their personal lives more comfortable or convenient," Plyer wrote in his complaint. "When we become aware of a flagrant disregard for the trust we place in them, we expect and demand accountability."

Times/Herald staff writer Marc Caputo and Times staff writer Jamal Thalji contributed to this report. Steve Bousquet can be reached at or (850) 224-7263.

More on Peterman | top

11/18/09 Florida juvenile justice leader racks up flight expenses
Steve Bousquet and Lee Logan, Times/Herald Tallahassee Bureau

TALLAHASSEE — At a time when state employees face travel restrictions to save money, Florida's top juvenile justice official racked up $44,000 on travel — much of it for commercial flights between his office in the capital and St. Petersburg, where his family lives.

Frank Peterman, secretary of the Department of Juvenile Justice, has flown at taxpayer expense 68 times between Tampa and Tallahassee since taking office in February 2008, at a cost of nearly $20,000. Many flights left Tallahassee on Thursday or Friday and brought him back to Tallahassee on the following Tuesday.

Peterman defended his travel as a legitimate and necessary way to get away from the bureaucratic atmosphere of Tallahassee and close to his staff members and young clients, who are concentrated in seven urban counties, including Pinellas.

"I need to be out and around and see how to create better programs," Peterman said. "When it comes to trying to create more community-based programs, it does require travel. I've got to get out and get where the people are, and I don't know any other way to do that." Continued

More on Peterman | top

10/14/09 Florida juvenile justice officials tout changes at Dozier School for Boys, but don't show them
By Ben Montgomery  [(727) 893-8650] and Waveney Ann Moore  [(727) 892-2283], St. Petersburg Times


“…After asking for months, the Times was allowed on campus Tuesday to talk to [Superintendent Mary Zahasky] and other Department of Juvenile Justice officials about the school's record of abuse and neglect. …However, they still refuse to allow reporters to tour the campus, look in classrooms or talk to boys or staff…”

“…After the interview, the officials and the reporters went outside. ‘This shouldn't be about me,’ Zahasky said. "This should be about the kids."

A group of about a dozen boys marched past about 50 yards away. They wore tan jumpsuits and held their hands behind their backs. They all stared at the visitors as they marched.

‘Let's go,’ Zahasky said, hustling the reporters into the van. ‘Let's go.’

She said something about protecting their identities. And about having to explain to them who the visitors were.

One of the boys waved.

‘I'm feeling real uncomfortable," she said.’”

Click for complete article.

Justin Caldwell, Christopher Sholly and Dozier School for Boys | More about the White House Boys | top

10/11/09 Area pair among Florida's youngest female inmates
By Deirdre Conner, The Florida Times-Union

The number of girls in juvenile justice facilities in Florida in 2006.

The number in Georgia.

Boys under 18 in Florida adult prisons.

Girls under 18 in Florida adult prisons.

Percentage of juvenile offenders in residential placement nationally that are female.

The number of women nation-wide estimated to be held in prison or jails in 2008, up 33 percent since 2000.

Florida average cost to house a female inmate in adult prison for one year.

Number of women in Florida's state prisons on June 30, 2008.

Stephanie Gonyeau and Patrick Dixon were running away, but they had no car and no money.

Later, she would say it was her idea, and he would say it was his.

She didn't think Patrick would actually do it until he walked up to a woman at River City Marketplace, punched her, snatched her keys away and knocked her to the ground, leaving her cut and bruised. Stephanie joined in, then got in the driver's seat. Her foster sister jumped in the back.

There wasn't much of a plan. They thought they would go to Chicago, but they didn't know how to get there.

It didn't matter: The car broke down as they careened through the parking lot. They were busted as they scattered in the woods nearby.

Charged as an adult with unarmed carjacking, Stephanie, who was then 15 years old, landed in jail in April 2008. Soon, she would start to disappear, just another girl who, as her attorney put it, "never really had a chance."

There was an upside to jail, though. She was about to meet her best friend. Because just a few days after Stephanie's attempt to run away failed miserably, Morgan Leppert's was succeeding.

Or so it seemed at first.

Everyone knows about Morgan because of what happened next: She and her boyfriend, Toby Lowry, 22, were convicted of first-degree murder after killing a man in Putnam County and stealing his car. They had gotten all the way to Texas before they were caught. Morgan, 15 at the time and now 16, was sentenced to life in prison on Sept. 29.

No one knows about Stephanie. She was the youngest female inmate in Florida's adult prison system, but even she didn't really know that until she got a letter from a reporter. She's about a year and a half into the four-year term she got after pleading guilty.

Right now, four years "feels like my whole life," she said.

Last week, her closest confidant arrived at Lowell Correctional Institution in Ocala, and replaced Stephanie as Florida's youngest female prison inmate. Morgan is slated to spend the rest of her life there, unless she can successfully appeal her conviction.

Her "whole life" is just that, a vague prospect still seemingly beyond her comprehension.

Morgan and Stephanie became best friends after spending nearly a year together in virtual isolation in the Duval County jail. They are emblematic of a dramatic rise in girls and young women in the justice system, both juvenile and adult.

- - -

Stephanie, who grew up in Jacksonville, and her on-and-off boyfriend, Patrick, 18, faced the same charges in the carjacking.

It wasn't the first time Stephanie had been in trouble with the law. Her record is standard downward spiral: Criminal mischief was the first charge, then she got arrested for bringing a weapon to school (a box cutter, she said). A few battery charges followed, stemming from fights with her mom, usually over her habit of running away. Oceanway Middle is the last school where she spent much time.

Finally, after one fight, her mother refused to come and get her from juvenile lockup, Stephanie said. That's when she went into foster care.

She hated fighting with her mom, but foster care was worse.

She and her foster sister had been skipping school all week. Get right, they were told, or they would have to move on.

She ran away before she could get kicked out.

They went to Patrick's house, but the friend he was staying with wanted him out. So they decided to leave town.

- - -

It's a disturbingly common pattern of risk factors, said Lawanda Ravoira, director of the National Council on Crime and Delinquency's Center for Young Girls and Women in Jacksonville. Failing at school is a huge predictor of future crime, she said. Further warning signs - such as running away or domestic violence - are often missed.

The No. 1 risk factor for women going to prison is spending time in juvenile detention.

"It's a life sentence," Ravoira said.

Girls in crisis are often invisible to the rest of the world, Ravoira said, but not without warning signs.

"I've never seen a situation where there were not sirens going off," said Ravoira, an advocate for more gender-specific funding in criminal systems and earlier intervention for at-risk girls.

Those girls are growing up to be the women flooding into the justice system so fast that Lowell is under construction to up its capacity by over 1,000 beds.

Since 1999, the number of women admitted to prisons every year in Florida has more than doubled and grown twice as fast as the number of men. There were 4,611 women who came into the system in 2008, versus 1,926 in 1999. On June 30, 2008, the female population was 6,888.

There's no question that girls need to be held accountable, Ravoira said. But squeezing more and more young women into a system designed for men is a recipe for failure. Incarcerated girls and women are far more likely to have histories of sexual abuse, mental illness and substance abuse. Without treatment for those issues, she said, they're almost certain to leave more broken than before.

- - -

The boyfriends are the constant question mark. They are reluctant to talk about them. When asked about Toby Lowry - who shared her bed at home until her mother realized he was 22, not 17 - Morgan looks down. They met through friends. That's all she'd say. In an interview with the Times-Union, her attorney would not let her discuss the case pending an appeal, but in court he argued that Toby was in control of her, leaving her less responsible for the savage murder of James Thomas Stewart.

Stephanie said she and Patrick were sometimes friends, sometimes boyfriend-girlfriend.

Perhaps the reluctance is because their relationships could have added to the boys' legal troubles (both were old enough to potentially face sex charges, although unlikely). Or because their relationship was always so passionate and so ambivalent.

Girls sentenced for violent felonies are the exception, Ravoira said. But when they do get in trouble, there's always a pattern. Relationships are central in the lives of women and girls, Ravoira said, and they become a primary motivator as a girl's life is spinning out of control.

"They will do anything to preserve a relationship," she said. "They will give up themselves."

Stephanie thinks of Patrick every day, and not just because of the tiny tattoo on her arm that bears his name.

The carjacking was her idea, she said, but she would have been too scared without him.

She both longs to see him - "I didn't know I could go this long without seeing him and be OK" - but is somehow able to see why she shouldn't.

"I want to [write to him] but I also want to separate myself from him at the same time," she said. "Because it got me here. Because I felt like then, he had control of my life, like I would do anything that he wanted me to. Like going to prison."

- - -

Stephanie and Morgan lived in a special holding area in the adult jail that's reserved for women under 18 who have been charged as adults. There were always other girls who came in and out. But Stephanie and Morgan were there for the long term. Stephanie stayed 242 days; Morgan had been in the jail for about 16 months when she was sentenced Sept. 29. Putnam County, where she was charged, didn't have the facilities for her.

There were a few hours of school, then mostly they slept all day or played cards, the girls remember. They brought the food in because the girls couldn't be mixed in with the adult population. A few times a week they would get to go outside.

Morgan's face lights up when Stephanie is mentioned.

"That's the one good thing about all this, is that I'll get to see Stephanie soon," she said. "We're both goofy. We had a lot of stuff in common."

They talked about everything: music, clothes, boyfriends, what happened those terrible days that changed so many people's lives forever.

"I felt like I was there with her, when it happened," Stephanie said.

When she learned that Morgan might be arriving at Lowell soon, Stephanie said she wanted to hug her.

"She's probably my only best friend that I really had," she said.

- - -

Florida incarcerates more girls and young women than all but two states, Texas and California, and at a higher rate, according to the U.S. Office of Juvenile Justice and Delinquency Prevention. In 2006, there were more than 1,014 girls in juvenile justice facilities in Florida, compared with 384 in Georgia. The Florida Department of Juvenile Justice, however, has been working to reduce the number of children and teens sent away to residential placements over the last few years.

Far fewer girls under 18 land in the adult system. But when they do, they often have no way to appeal the path to it. Most, like Stephanie and Morgan, are "direct filed," which means the prosecutor can decide to charge them as an adult. Even a judge can't transfer a case back to juvenile court.

When Morgan became a state inmate on Oct. 1, the number of 16-year-old girls in the state's adult prison system rose to three. Six more girls are 17. Stephanie is in Lowell's youthful offender program (which is boot-camp style); Morgan's ultimate placement remains uncertain. For now, she is under close supervision while the Department of Corrections determines what to do with her, said spokeswoman Jo Ellyn Rackleff.

Boys in adult prison are far more numerous: 363 inmates under 18 years old. The youngest is 14, and also from Duval County. Irvin Northfleet Torian was sentenced last month to five years for armed robbery and grand theft of a firearm.

Rosa DuBose, a former prosecutor and associate dean of academic affairs at Florida Coastal School of Law, said people are more likely to treat women equally in the justice system than in the past.

Sometimes juries still tend to be swayed by emotion when there is a female defendant, DuBose said. Sometimes prosecutors have to work doubly hard to help them understand what the law requires.

DuBose said she did find that women who committed violent crimes tended to do so in conjunction with a man. In those cases, it's the evidence, she said, that must guide decisions about whom to charge, and with what crime.

"As a prosecutor, that old saying holds true," she said, "that if you do the crime, you should do the time - no matter what your gender."

- - -

Attorney Fred Gazaleh doesn't claim to remember every client he's defended on criminal charges. Stephanie, though, was different.

"She's a bright young girl, very charming. I think she has some potential and plenty of time to change her life," Gazaleh said. "She's got it in her."

Gazaleh said she was remorseful.

Stephanie said she thinks about the day of her sentencing, when the woman she carjacked talked about how she was scared to go outside.

"She's had to change her whole life around because of this," she said. "I think about that a lot."

A violent felony on her record will limit later job options despite the GED she will earn. Yet she said she's glad she got caught and still believes that her compass has changed.

Morgan can't say much about the crime, but she did say she's grown closer to God.

"I just pray every night about forgiveness and found that I know it was wrong - everything that happened," she said.

The murder was the first time Morgan had been in trouble with the law, but other parts of her life were deteriorating in the months leading up to the moment when, according to tapes of her confession, Toby was crying, "Hit him, baby, hit him!"

She wishes she had stayed in school instead of leaving Palatka High in the ninth grade. She said she was going to be home schooled and enroll in online classes but never did.

Perhaps the biggest question, though, is one of fate, and the difference between Stephanie and Morgan.

"You've got to wonder what would have happened if they'd gotten away," Gazaleh said.

Stephanie doesn't wonder.

"If we wouldn't have gotten caught it probably could have escalated," she said. "That [Morgan] could have been me."  (904) 359-4504

Criminalizing Youth | top

10/11/09 Florida juvenile justice: 100 years of hell at the Dozier School for Boys
Ben Montgomery (727) 893-8650. and Waveney Ann Moore, St. Petersburg Times

"[The boys] had noticed the old men and the television trucks gathered at the Arthur G. Dozier School for Boys.

They were not allowed outside, but this day last October was about them, too. So said the plaque about to be fixed to the building called the White House.

May this building stand as a reminder of the need to remain vigilant in protecting our children as we help them to seek a brighter future.

The men outside called themselves the White House Boys. They were assured that the abuse they endured here 50 years ago... would never be repeated. This was a different place now. The boys inside were safe.

After the ceremony, the superintendent would write to her staff: "I am proud to show what our Dozier is truly all about today."

But behind closed doors, were those boys safe and protected? Were they being nurtured toward brighter futures?"

Click for complete article.

Justin Caldwell, Christopher Sholly and Dozier School for Boys | More about the White House Boys | top

10/07/09 Legislative chair concerned about Dozier abuse
Fact-finding visit to Marianna school considered by committee members
Jim Schoettler, The Florida Times-Union

The chairwoman of a Florida house appropriations committee that oversees juvenile justice spending expressed concern today about ongoing abuse at state reform schools, including the Arthur G. Dozier School for Boys in Marianna.

Rep. Sandy Adams, R-Oviedo, chairwoman of the Criminal and Civil Justice Appropriations Committee, said she was particularly disturbed by two specific modern day reports of abuse among others. One involved a 20-year-old unresponsive diabetic ignored by staff at Dozier in 2006. The other involved a youth assaulted by other youths while left unsupervised at a facility in Okeechobee a few weeks ago.

The committee's ranking Democrat called for a fact-finding mission by colleagues to Dozier to talk with students and staff about life at the school and reports of abuse. Rep. Darryl Rouson, D-St. Petersburg, also called for the state to compensate men - know as the White House Boys - if the state proves their claims of being brutally abused at the school decades ago.

The Duval delegation's lone representative on the committee, Rep. Charles McBurney, R-Jacksonville, said he felt a visit to Dozier may be a good idea at some point. McBurney, the committee's vice-chairman, said he is most concerned about how abuse is reported and whether youths can do so without facing retribution from staff or other youths.

An official with the Department of Juvenile Justice, which either runs or oversees privately run youthful offender facilities in the state, welcomed the suggested visit to Dozier. DJJ Deputy Secretary Rod Love also expressed confidence in employees who work with the youths and said abuse is not tolerated.

Allegations of abuse at the school west of Tallahassee have been periodically reported since it opened in 1900. The school, run today by the Department of Juvenile Justice, serves various populations, including about 135 high-risk juveniles ages 13 to 21. Slightly less than a third of those juveniles are now from Northeast Florida.

Reports of abuse investigated in the past five years by the state Department of Children and Families found that out of 155 cases, there were four verified of physical abuse verified, one of sexual abuse and one of medical mistreatment. Seven cases of improper supervision were verified. There were 33 reports that included some evidence of abuse, though not enough to prove in a courtroom.

Adams said she was particularly concerned about a 20-year-old diabetic who was suffering from low blood sugar and left helpless by staff for 20 minutes in 2006. One staff member quit, while another was reprimanded.

Adams also brought up a second case, still under investigation, in which a juvenile was hospitalized after being beaten by other unsupervised students at a facility in Okeechobee. That facility is privately operated, but the operation is overseen by DJJ.

DJJ Deputy Secretary Rod Love testified he had no knowledge of the diabetic case. He said the employee accused in the other case had either been fired or was about to be fired.

Adams warned Love her committee will be following the abuse allegations "very, very closely."

"Our children don't, one, need to come to us and be injured or, worse off, die in our care," said Adams, whose committed oversees $5 billion in justice spending, including $618 million for DJJ.

The Times-Union has published a continuing series of stories about Dozier's past, including numerous with "White House Boys," as well as more recent developments at the school. Rouson referred to stories in the Times-Union and two other newspapers before handing Adams a letter calling for the committee to tour Dozier.

“We would like to find out from them first-hand whether there are continued abuses ... and what we can do to help conditions,” Rouson said after the committee meeting.

Rouson said he has been troubled by stories of the White House Boys, who say they were beaten decades ago with a heavy strap in a building known was the White House. The Florida Department of Law Enforcement is investigating the allegations.

Adams said after the meeting that she wants any investigation into prior abuse at Dozier completed before considering whether or not to visit the school.

Love promised that his agency has a zero tolerance policy for abuse and that reports made by youths and others have been declining. He said the tour proposed by Rouson could easily be arranged.

"We welcome any scrutiny of our policies," Love said.

Rouson said if the state probe proves the abuse occurred, the victims should be provided financial and psychological counseling. A claim bill recently introduced by a state senator has been put in abeyance in lief of a class action lawsuit pending four state agencies and a former school administrator., (904) 359-4385

More about the White House Boys | top

09/28/09 Put a stop to horrors at school for boys
Editorial, St. Petersburg Times

"The horrific legacy that belongs to Arthur G. Dozier School for Boys is still adding new chapters. Recently released reports show that on multiple occasions, investigators verified that boys at the North Florida facility were assaulted or medically neglected in the past five years at the hand of Department of Juvenile Justice employees." Click for complete article.

Justin Caldwell, Christopher Sholly and Dozier School for Boys | More about the White House Boys | top

08/11/09 The White House Boys
[Jim Schoettler, The Florida Times-Union]

These are the stories of former inmates and staff at the Florida Industrial School for Boys, presented as an ongoing series.

Part 1: 'Why did you cause me to turn out this way?'
Three Jacksonville men tell of the abuse they suffered at the Florida Industrial School for Boys and the bitter lives they led afterward. 
Part 2: Beatings weren't unusual at the school
A former superintendent, another staff member and two former inmates recall an era when corporal punishment was accepted and applied at the school. 
Part 3: The death of a boy named Billy
A Jacksonville man recalls the chilling tale of a burying a younger buddy who kept running, kept getting caught and kept getting beaten before he died. 
Part 4: FDLE: Documented deaths at reform school graveyard give no indication of abuse
Authorities did not interview Jacksonville man who tells about burying beaten friend.
Key Dates

Reporter's Notebook

Nearly three months ago, a Jacksonville woman called the Times-Union to say that her husband was a White House Boy, a topic the paper wrote about a few days earlier in a lengthy piece on the editorial page. Knowing little more than I read of another man's account about brutality at a Marianna reform school, but intrigued by the call, my curiosity and gut sent me to their south Jacksonville home.

[Read reporter Jim Schoettler's blog]

back | top

[Part 1] 'Why did you cause me to turn out this way?'

What happened in a torture chamber at the Florida Industrial School for Boys in the 1950s has haunted three Jacksonville men for a lifetime.

By Jim Schoettler Story updated at 5:02 PM on Sunday, Mar. 22, 2009

[See photos at the end of part 1]

The bloody whippings they suffered as raw, unruly boys turned them into hardened, violent men. They still grimace from the searing pain of the weighted leather strap smacking their buttocks. They still feel their grip on the metal poles of the filthy bed's headboard, knowing that letting go would lead to more lashes. They still hear the whirring ceiling fan used to mask cries for help from God. Herbert Baker, Marshall Drawdy and Henry Williams III, all from Jacksonville, are among the countless youths who suffered through decades of corporal punishment at the Florida Industrial School for Boys. Gov. Charlie Crist has ordered an investigation into the 108-year-old reform school in Marianna after learning about the abuse and the discovery of 32 unidentified graves there. A class-action lawsuit was filed last month on behalf of The White House Boys, a group of former inmates named for the building where they were beaten. Baker, Drawdy and Williams, at the school in the mid-1950s, still struggle with what happened and mourn for their wasted lives. The men, now in their 60s, wonder why adults responsible for helping them reform could be so cruel. They wonder why their lives had to be destroyed and regret destroying others' through a life of crime. They wonder whether they can make sense of it all before they die. The men often stared off blankly as they recounted the abuse. Their voices dropped low, sometimes struggling for words. As Williams spoke, a tear formed in the corner of his left eye. "You know what, even thinking about it now, it hurts," said Williams, 67. "Ain't the man you're supposed to be. How could it be? Why?" He paused. "Why?" The tear rolled down his cheek. Hundreds of youths, mostly in their teens, were sent to the school annually for everything from truancy to stealing cars to being labeled "incorrigible." As many as 100 a year came from the Jacksonville area, the Times-Union reported. They spent an average of eight months to a year attending classes and working on the sprawling segregated campus an hour west of Tallahassee. Whites got the better jobs and were allowed recreation, including a wrestling team and a choir. Blacks were subjected to name calling and isolation. But when it came to the beatings, the men described the same harshness. Drawdy, who is white, and Baker and Williams, who are black, could complete each other's sentences when describing their time in the White House. Baker, beaten on two occasions, said waiting in line to be whipped was unnerving. He was about 12 at the time. "You'd hear them in there and you'd hear this boom!" said Baker, 65, who spent a little more than a year at the school. "Every time they'd hit him, something jumped up in you knowing you're next." Repeated trouble for problems as simple as walking out of line led to the punishment. Showing disrespect or otherwise rebelling earned a quicker trip to the white one-story concrete building where the beatings occurred. Tears and blood The boys, wearing jeans and T-shirts, were told to lay facedown on a bunk bed's soiled mattress and bite into a pillow, stained with the tears and blood of those before them. "To keep from hollering," Baker said, dropping his head, "sometimes you had to put your head down in that pillow." They were ordered to hold the metal rails of the headboard as they were whipped. They were told not to speak or scream. To let go, to cry out, meant more lashes. Williams said he didn't follow all the rules on his one trip to the White House. He was about 13. "I wasn't no tough guy. I was a kid," Williams said. "I turned loose and they told me to get back, hold the bed and I tried it again. When I turned loose the second time, they got some boys in there to hold me because I couldn't stand it." He doesn't remember how long the beating took. "I knew it felt like forever," he said. Drawdy was whipped at least eight times in the 17 months he was there. He remembers one beating that left him so sore he couldn't walk for two days. He braced for the blows by listening for grit grinding on the concrete floor under the shoe of his tormentor. "You could hear that foot turn while you were laying on that bed and you knew that strap was coming down on you," said Drawdy, 69, twisting his leg to mimic the motion. "And when it hit, you not only saw stars. It's undescribable." Baker said his buttocks swelled from bruising. Williams remembers wiping blood from his legs. Drawdy said he still bears the scars from the swats on his body. He got his first beating when he was 15. "I had to come back and get in the shower and just let the hot water peel off my underwear. It stuck to my skin," Drawdy said. "My butt looked like black peaches." Other physical attacks and sexual abuse were common. Baker said he was forced to perform anal sex once a month on an adult supervisor. Drawdy said inmates were beaten by other inmates - known as blanket parties - at the behest of adults. As for the unmarked graves, none of the men said they knew who was buried there. They question whether the adults were being truthful when they said youths who suddenly vanished were runaways. Drawdy, like the others, said he learned to survive by vowing revenge against society for what happened to him as a child. "I was full of hate," he said. A destructive life All three men said they began committing crimes shortly after leaving the school and ended up spending large chunks of their lives in jail. They all blame their problems on their treatment at the school, especially the beatings. "It turned me into a bitter man," Williams said. They had no self-esteem, didn't know how to love or be loved and lacked any desire to conform to society's rules. "I got real violent. I just had a total disregard for people," Baker said. Williams shot four men in one Jacksonville attack. Baker shot two men, one in Fernandina and one in Mississippi. Drawdy had a gun battle with police in Miami. Their long rap sheets also include robberies, burglaries and drug selling. "I did things that I'm ashamed of," said Drawdy, adding he's been trouble-free for about 20 years, thanks primarily to his wife. The men said they were surprised no one ever investigated the beatings until state officials, led by the governor, ordered them to stop in the late 1960s. Drawdy said he once told his mother and an aunt, but heard nothing further. The other men said they didn't think anyone would believe them, so they kept quiet. Frank Peterman, secretary of the Department of Juvenile Justice, said he sympathizes with the former inmates. Peterman's agency runs the school today. "Our hearts go out to these guys, and I certainly hope they can find closure for the alleged incidents," Peterman said. "I hope their lives can be made whole." Drawdy said he spends time now with his wife, as well as fishing and gardening. He said he has buried his hate and no longer seeks revenge against his abusers, many of whom are dead. "I would like to ask a few of them why. Why did you beat me like this? Why did you cause me to turn out this way?" Drawdy said. "But then if I did that, what good would it do?" Neither Baker nor Williams said they've been able to put the memories to rest. Both men said they feel much of their lives have been wasted and it's too late to change what's been done. Baker said he is glad the stories of The White House Boys are being told, which has helped ease some of his pain. But his hatred toward the abusers remains strong. "They were grown. They knew what they were doing," Baker said. He offered a terse message to those still alive: "I wish you'd die in hell." Williams, who last got out of prison in 2006, said he continues to search for a way to cope with what happened. "What if things like that had never come to me like it did in my life?" Williams said. "What could I have done if this ... wasn't forced on me? "That will be with me until the day I die," he said.

Part 1 Photos

Provided by Marshall Drawdy

Marshall Drawdy (top row, third from left) is pictured in a 1950s photo with members of the Florida School for Boys wrestling team. Drawdy said he and many of the other boys joined the team to get better food than the general population at the home.

JON M. FLETCHER/The Times-Union

Marshall Drawdy (from left) points himself out to Herbert Baker and Henry Williams III in a photo taken during his time in the Florida Industrial School for Boys in Marianna during the 1950s. All three men, now in their 60s, suffered through corporal punishment at the school and share similar stories of abuses at the hands of the adults responsible for taking care of them.

Photos by JON M. FLETCHER and BRUCE LIPSKY/The Times-Union

Henry Williams III: "What could I have done if this … wasn't forced on me? That will be with me until the day I die."

Governor Charlie Chris has ordered an investigation into the discovery of 32 unmarked graves a the former Florida Industrial School for Boys in Marianna.

Photos by JON M. FLETCHER and BRUCE LIPSKY/The Times-Union

Herbert Baker: "I got real violent. I just had a total disregard for people."

Photos by JON M. FLETCHER and BRUCE LIPSKY/The Times-Union

Marshall Drawdy was whipped at least eight times in the 17 months he was there. He remembers one beating that left him so sore he couldn't walk for two days.

The notorious White House building., (904) 359-4385


[Part 2] WHITE HOUSE BOYS: Beatings weren't unusual at Florida Industrial School for Boys
Many former inmates say the whippings were brutal, but some say they instilled discipline.

By Jim Schoettler Story updated at 3:27 PM on Friday, May. 15, 2009

[See photos at end of Part 2]

Malcolm Hill calmly witnessed whippings at the small, dimly lit White House in an era when unruly youths weren't spared the rod.

It was 1956 and Hill had taken a summer job at the Florida Industrial School for Boys in Marianna. Hill, then 21, watched as the reform school's staff beat boys with a leather strap for running away, smoking or using profanity.

Hill said he never beat anyone in the five times he watched corporal punishment in the white concrete building. He also found nothing unpleasant or undeserving about the whippings in the nine months he worked as a substitute cottage manager.

"That type of discipline was acceptable. Your neighbors sometimes paddled you if you misbehaved and your parents thanked them," said Hill, 76, of Starke.

Many former inmates of the century-old school 70 miles west of Tallahassee, including dozens from the Jacksonville area, said the beatings that averaged 20 lashes were horrific and sadistic. They equate the treatment to war crimes, saying it left them bitter and hardened.

The state ended corporal punishment at the school about 1967, though other abuse continued. Gov. Charlie Crist last year ordered a criminal probe into 31 anonymous graves in the school's cemetery after prodding from a group of former inmates known as the White House Boys.

But some inmates, reacting to the negative publicity, have come foward to describe the school as a positive influence with plenty of chances to learn and have fun. They said the school's rules were clearly explained before anyone got in trouble.

Ralph Wright, 60, of Jacksonville, went to the school in 1963 and was beaten once for fighting. He said inmates who didn't learn their lessons early can blame only themselves for the punishment they received.

"They laid down the rules for you," said Wright, then 14.

Wright said he learned how to weld and used that skill later in life.

"Basically, they were trying to make you a more productive person," he said.

Punishment often depended on a merit system of weekly grades given for behavior in the cottage, classroom and workplace. The boys carried ranks, from grub to ace, that went up or down depending on their grades. An accumulation of demerits would end in a beating, especially at the lowest rank.

Escaping led to an immediate trip to the White House, which was commonly known among boys who weren't even inmates. Elmore Bryant, a Marianna native who once taught at the school, said the few kids from his neighborhood who went had a message for others when they got out.

"They said you would be given a good whipping if you ran," said Bryant, 74.

Ronald Peterson, 75, of Jacksonville Beach, was never whipped in his nine months at the school. He worked in the print shop and played on the school's football team after arriving in 1950.

"When I first went in there I saw how badly the kids were beaten and I was not interested in it," said Peterson, who was about 16 at the time. "I did exactly what I was supposed to do."

Peterson applauded the structure and overall discipline. He felt the beatings were harsh, but said disruptive peers needed to be kept in line.

"They had to have some way to control them," Peterson said.

Hill said those who got in trouble were notoriously bad kids who lived to defy authority. He said the whippings may be considered extreme today, but not then, especially for the worst-behaved, who were often hostile toward staff.

Hill said the boys' injuries were shown to peers as a warning. He said he believes the idea was to prevent others from running or violating the rules.

"It may have been all part of the plan. If one boy's whipping could save another 15 from ever going there, that's one way of success," Hill said.

Lenox Williams, a psychologist who served as the school's superintendent from 1967 until retiring in 1982, said some of the boys were dangerous. Williams began work at the school in 1960.

"We tried for years to get hazardous pay for our staff," Williams said.

Williams, interviewed by state investigators twice this year, said he believes the stories of abuse, and even death, have been sensationalized. He said he found whipping boys awkward and joyless, though some inmates said he had a reputation for meanness.

Williams said he worried that he and others who whipped the boys may have emotionally damaged some, but he insisted that something had to be done to maintain order. He also suspects some whippings went overboard, though he said he never witnessed brutality.

"Even though I knew that it was helping some of them, I didn't know which ones. That's what bothered me," Williams said. "Some of them say, 'Well, it did me good.' Some of them you talk to say it was terrible."

When asked why he continued, he said, "Well, I guess I could have refused and gotten fired, but I had a family. I had three or four little kids. That was a factor."

Williams said he was wrong about the beatings in hindsight. He was fired by Gov. Claude Kirk in 1968 for beating two inmates with a belt for their attack on another inmate. He appealed and was reinstated.

While Williams and others say life at the school wasn't as brutal as has been portrayed, Johnnie Walthour tells another story. He recalls not only the pain he suffered, but the death of an oft-beaten friend he says was buried in the graveyard.

His name was Billy.

Part 2 Photos

JON M. FLETCHER/The Times-Union

Ronald Peterson arrived at the school in 1950. He played on the school's football team and worked in the print shop. He says he was never whipped during his nine months at the school, and he applauds the discipline he learned there. He said the beatings were harsh, but that disruptive peers had to be kept in line.

JON M. FLETCHER/The Times-Union

Lenox Williams was the school's superintendent from 1967 until retiring in 1982. Williams expressed some regret for the corporal punishment administered to some of the boys at the school, but also credited the system with helping many of them keep out of trouble. He also said some of the boys were dangerous and "we tried for years to get hazardous pay for our staff."

JON M. FLETCHER/The Times-Union

Malcolm Hill worked at the school in the 1950s. Hill said he witnessed boys being beaten in the infamous White House at the school and says it was just the way things where at the time. "You have to consider the era," he said. Hill said the boys' injuries were shown to their peers, and that served as a warning to them.

JON M. FLETCHER/The Times-Union

Elmore Bryant was a former teacher at the Florida Industrial School for Boys. Bryant stands in the broken-down doorway of a dilapidated cottage that was once part of the African-American side of the boys school in Marianna, during the years of segregation. Bryant said word got out that trying to escape was a sure way to get a "good whipping.", (904) 359-4385


[Part 3] White House boys: Some didn't make it out of the school alive

A former inmate recalls digging the grave for a boy who was repeatedly beaten for multiple escapes.

By Jim Schoettler Story updated at 12:57 PM on Thursday, May. 21, 2009

[See photos at end of part 3]

He was the Cool Hand Luke of the Florida Industrial School for Boys.

He'd run, get caught, get beaten. Then he'd do it over again.

About the fourth time, the young boy left the White House punishment room with a bloated belly. After being treated, he bolted again. Another flogging followed.

Billy died less than two weeks later.

That's how Johnnie Walthour of Jacksonville remembers Billy. Walthour remembers the boy appeared pregnant and asking if he was OK. He remembers warning his younger friend, then no more than 12 years old, not to run again. He remembers the whispers around campus that Billy had died.

And Walthour recalls digging Billy's grave at the Marianna school's cemetery in 1953. Then 17, he prayed over the boy's casket as a few other kids, a chaplain and two adults watched.

"I felt real bad because he was so young," said Walthour, 73.

Dozens of Jacksonville-area men who were former inmates at the school 70 miles west of Tallahassee have recently told the Times-Union chilling tales of their own abuse. Others say their lives were saved.

Walthour's account is unique in that he's the only one to discuss digging a grave and watching a burial at the cemetery, where 31 crosses made from pipe stand over anonymous plots.

What happened to the dead is at the heart of an ongoing criminal investigation ordered by Gov. Charlie Crist in December after former school inmates alerted him to abuse there.

Dozens of inmates and staff are being interviewed by Florida Department of Law Enforcement agents. Walthour has yet to contact authorities, but stories such as his will be investigated if witnesses come forward, said FDLE spokeswoman Heather Smith.

The graves remain untouched and there are no immediate plans to exhume the bodies, Smith said.

Marianna historian Dale Cox, a native of the city and author of several books on Florida history, said he can account for most of the dead through his research of school records and other material. He said they include 19 inmates and three staff who died in a fire and influenza outbreak in the early 1900s. Two dogs and a pet peacock named Sue are also buried there, he said records show.

However, Cox said one grave, perhaps two, remain a mystery. Walthour insists he holds one answer.

Sent to the school for destroying a Jacksonville concrete plant during a joyride in a mixer truck, Walthour said he quickly befriended Billy. He can't recall his last name after 57 years, but knows the boy came from South Florida.

A quick friendship

Shortly after the boys met, they were cleaning trash in the woods on the rural campus. They found a nest of black widow spiders and Billy wanted to let one bite him so he could "duck" - get out of work, Walthour said laughing. Billy heeded his older companion's warning about the danger and their friendship was born.

Walthour said Billy had no desire to remain at the segregated school where violating rules, including smoking and being disrespectful, could lead to a bloody beating. He compared Billy to a character Paul Newman played in a classic movie named after a man who refused to conform to life in a rural prison.

"He was just like Cool Hand Luke. Every time he got a chance, he was gone," Walthour said. "You'd wake up in the morning and the first thing you'd hear, 'Billy's gone again.' "

But Billy would repeatedly get caught, sometimes by inmates and their bloodhounds from a nearby prison. Walthour remembers passing the boy entering the dining hall shortly after he was captured and beaten in the White House. He said it was about Billy's fourth time.

"His stomach was swelled up. I said, 'You all right?' And he said, 'Yeah, I'm all right.' I said, 'Don't run no more, man, they're going to catch you.' He said, 'Well, I don't care if they do, I'm going to get out of here.' "

Recaptured and whipped

Walthour said he believes Billy was hospitalized before returning to his cottage. He said he saw the boy a few more times before he ran again. Walthour said he was told by other boys that Billy was recaptured and whipped.

Walthour never saw his friend again. He said he learned about his fate less than two weeks later.

"I'm quite sure whatever killed him came from those beatings," Walthour said.

Walthour said he was invited by someone to pay his respects, though no one else interviewed by the Times-Union remembers attending any burials at the school. He said he and some of the other 10 boys who went dug the boy's grave.

"They just said a few prayers and that was it," he said.

Many former inmates said they have no doubt someone could have died from punishment at the school. Roger Kiser, a Brunswick author and leader of a group of former inmates, said the abuse was unchecked.

"They would take you and beat you and they didn't care if they killed you," said Kiser, at the school in 1959 and 1960.

But Lenox Williams, the school's superintendant from 1967 until his retirement in 1982, said stories of killings at the school are a "bunch of bunk."

Williams said he beat inmates in the White House and believes some could have been emotionally damaged, but nothing more.

"It wasn't brutal," he said.

But Walthour is convinced Billy died brutally. And more than a half-century later, he continues to hope for justice.

"I think somebody should be made to pay," Walthour said.

Part 3 Photos

JON M. FLETCHER/The Times-Union

Elmore Bryant, community leader and former teacher and coach at the Florida Industrial School for Boys, stands in the broken-down doorway of a dilapidated cottage that was once part of the African-American side of the school in Marianna during the years of segregation.

JON M. FLETCHER/The Times-Union

Nature and time take over one of the dilapidated cottages that once housed incarcerated children and teens. Many former inmates said they have no doubt someone could have died from punishment at the school.

JON M. FLETCHER/The Times-Union

Sent to the school in 1952 for destroying a Jacksonville concrete plant, Johnnie Walthour befriended a boy named Billy during his time at the school in the 1950s. Walthour, 73, said Billy died after making multiple attempts to escape and being punished with beatings in the notorious White House. He remembers digging Billy’s grave., (904) 359-4385


[Part 4] FDLE: No indication of abuse from graveyard probe
Authorities did not interview Jacksonville man who tells about burying beaten friend

By Jim Schoettler Story updated at 12:57 PM on Thursday, May. 21, 2009

[Read the final FDLE report on the cemetery investigation]

TALLAHASSEE — There are no records or evidence to indicate that the students buried in 24 of 31 unmarked graves at a boy's reform school in Marianna died of abuse at the hands of school officials, a five-month state investigation has found.

The two dozen boys died in a fire, of illnesses such as influenza or in accidents. Another was found dead after running away and another was murdered by other students, said Gerald Bailey, commissioner of the Florida Department of Law Enforcement.

There is no listed cause of death for five other boys buried at the school cemetery, but the officials said they've also found no record of them being abused prior to their deaths. Two other bodies are of staff members who died in a 1914 fire with eight of the boys.

The FDLE continues to investigate allegations of abuse made by dozens of former students at the 109-year-old school, where thousands of Jacksonville area boys were sent for decades. The state is also facing a class-action lawsuit in the case.

Among the deaths investigated during the five-month probe was a report of a Jacksonville man who told the Times-Union for a story last month that a close friend died after repeated beatings. That man, Johnnie Walthour, said he has never been interviewed by the FDLE.

Walthour, 73, said he was at the school in 1953 when a friend he knew as Billey was beaten in a building called the White House four or five times for running away. Walthour said Billey, no more than 12 years old, suffered a swollen belly after one beating and died several weeks later after another.

Walthour, 16 at the time, said he helped dig the grave in the cemetery and attended a brief funeral service.

The FDLE officials confirmed Friday that the boy, who they identified as Billey Jackson from Daytona Beach, was buried in the cemetery. They said Billey's death certificate following an autopsy showed he died in 1952 of a kidney infection after being hospitalized. The kidney infection was caused by some type of undefined obstruction.

It's unclear how Billey developed the kidney infection, but there is no indication in the records that his death was suspicious, said Mark Perez, chief inspector for the FDLE's office of executive investigations, which oversaw the graveyard probe.

"There is nothing to ... refute the information that was on the death certificate," Perez said.

Perez said his office learned of Walthour's account from the Times-Union story that ran last month. Walthour was one of dozens of former students interviewed for the Times-Union's continuing series about the school.

Perez said his agency was "comfortable" with the records of Billey's death and found no reason to contact Walthour. Walthour said he wasn't surprised he was never contacted by the FDLE.

"I'm not going to ever doubt that," Walthour said Friday, referring to how Billey died. "They don't believe what happened down there."

Gov. Charlie Crist ordered the investigation Dec. 9 after a group of former inmates known as the White House Boys told him about the graves in a school cemetery and a history of whippings and abuse at the school in the 1950s and '60s.

The reform school has been operated by the state under several names, including the Florida Industrial School for Boys. It is currently operated as a maximum-security youth facility, the Arthur G. Dozier School for Boys.

Several of the former students said they have witnessed murders or suspected that boys were killed there. Walthour's was the only public accounting of a burial in the graveyard.

The investigation found the first person was buried at the site in 1914 and the last in 1952. No graves were exhumed as part of the investigation.

Perez said that while there are no records that account for the causes of death of five boys between 1919 and 1925, he pointed to an influenza epidemic that occurred during the same time frame and said "one could presume with great likelihood" it may have been the cause.

FDLE agents interviewed hundreds of former staff members and students and reviewed school records and other records, such as death certificates, newspaper accounts of deaths at the school and aerial photographs of the graveyard.

"We found no students who had specific knowledge of any unexplained death or burial at the site," said FDLE Commissioner Gerald Bailey said. "There is no evidence to suggest that the school or the staff caused or contributed to any of these deaths."

School records have not been made public to the Times-Union because of the ongoing investigation.

A Marianna historian has said he can account for all but one or two of the graves at the school. Dale Cox said some died in a 1914 fire, others in an early 20th-century flu epidemic and others from accidents. He said two mascot dogs and a pet peacock are also buried there. Bailey acknowledged the burial of the pets, but they were not included in the 31 graves.

Crosses made of rusting, white, welded pipe now cover four rows of the cemetery. The site was commonly known as Boot Hill and several funerals were held there such as that described by Walthour for Billey.

The clearing where the graveyard is located, on the former black side of the long-segregated school, is maintained by the nearby Jackson County Corrections Facility.

Fifty other students died at the school from 1911 to 1973, but there's no information to indicate they are buried at the cemetery, Bailey said. He said those deaths were mostly caused by accidents or illness. Two were murdered by other students.

Boys were sent to the school for everything from truancy to petty crimes and were subjected to corporal punishment for violating school rules. Corporal punishment was ordered ended at the school in 1967, but abuse was reported for decades afterward.

A report released by the FDLE today gave this list of the boys buried in the graveyard and the cause of death, when available:

1914 fire deaths (staff):

--Bennett Evans

--Charles Evans

--1914 fire deaths (students)

--Waldo Drew

--Louis Fernandez

--Walter Fisher

--Clifford Jefford

--Earl Morris

--Clarence Parrott

--Harry Wells

--Joe Wethersby (report said spelling uncertain)


Other student deaths, dates and death certificate causes (when available):

--Leonard Simmons, 1919, no certificate issued

--Nathaniel Sawyer, 1920, no certificate issued

--Arthur Williams, 1921, no certificate issued

--Schley Hunter, 1922, pneumonia

--Calvin Williams, 1922, no certificate issued

--Charlie Overstreet, 1924, died during tonsillectomy

--Edward Fonders, 1925, accidental drowning

--Walter Askew, 1925, no certificate issued

--Nollie Davis, 1926, pneumonia

--Robert Rhoden, 1929, pneumonia

--Samuel Bethel, 1929, tuberculosis

--Lee Smith, 1932, lung ruptured after fall off mule

--Joe Stephens, 1932, influenza

--Thomas Varnadoe, 1934, influenza/pneumonia

--Richard Nelson, 1935, influenza/pneumonia

--Robert Cato, 1935, influenza/pneumonia

--Grady Huff, 1935, acute nephritis

--James (Joseph) Hammond, 1936, pulmonary tuberculosis

--George Owen Smith, 1941, no certificate issued (found deceased under home after running away)

--Earl Wilson, 1944, murdered by other students

--Billey Jackson, 1952, kidney illness



Gov. Charlie Crist has ordered an investigation into the discovery of 32 unmarked graves at the former Florida Industrial School for Boys in Marianna. Abuse was common for decades at the reform school, now known as the Arthur G. Dozier School for Boys. Much of that abuse has recently come to light thanks to The White House Boys, a group of former inmates at the school. Here's some background on the school and its troubles: 1900 Segregated campus officially opened for boys, mostly in their teens, accused of everything from truancy to car thefts. Maximum capacity reached 800. Early 1900s Evidence of abuse documented in legislative reports. 1940-late 1960s Corporal punishment administered, including beatings with a weighted leather strap in a white, concrete building known as the White House. 1967 Gov. Claude Kirk tours the school and labels conditions "deplorable." 1968 School integrated and corporal punishment ordered ended. 1982 ACLU sues state, claiming forms of abuse are continuing at the school. 1987 ACLU suit is settled. Reforms instituted. October 2008 During ceremony attended by five former inmates, state officials erect a plaque and plant a tree in memory of The White House Boys. The plaque reads in part: "In memory of the children who passed these doors, we acknowledge their tribulations and offer our hope that they have found some measure of peace." December 2008 Crist orders investigation into 32 unmarked graves (pictured) at the site after alerted to abuse by The White House Boys Survivors Organization. January Class-action lawsuit filed against state on behalf of The White House Boys. Jacksonville residents Herbert Baker and Henry Williams III said they are among the plaintiffs. Sources: Times-Union archives, state records, "The White House Boys: An American Tragedy" by Roger Dean Kiser

About this continuing series

The Times-Union has interviewed dozens of former inmates and staff of a century-old reform school in Marianna once known as the Florida Industrial School for Boys.

The inmates, many who were at the school more than 40 years ago, have offered a mix of stories about campus life from being brutalized in a building known as the White House to receiving structure that turned their lives around. The first story appeared in February.


More about the White House Boys | top

08/04/09 Bill seeks compensation for 'White House Boys'
Mary Ellen Klas, Times/Herald Tallahassee Bureau

TALLAHASSEE — Victims of abuse at the Florida Reform School for Boys should be compensated for their injuries at the hands of school staff during the 1940s, '50s and '60s, a Tampa state senator said in a bill filed on Friday.

Sen. Arthenia Joyner, a Tampa Democrat and lawyer, filed the claims bills to pay an undetermined amount to the victims known collectively as the White House Boys, a reference to the white concrete-block house where the boys at the reform school in Marianna were sent for beatings.

Joyner's bill says that boys at both the Marianna and Okeechobee campuses suffered "physical and psychological abuse'' that "included beatings in which the boys were forced to lie face down on a blood-stained cot'' and were "struck repeatedly with a leather razor strap."

The bill details many of the allegations made by former students of the schools, which were reported by the St. Petersburg Times, Miami Herald and other news organizations.

"Some boys as young as 10 years of age were severely beaten, requiring the pieces of their cotton underwear be extracted from the boys' flesh," the bill reads. Other victims "needed medical attention," and others "were placed in solitary confinement for as many as 30 days'' in an 8-foot windowless cell with a bunk and a bucket.

The news reports prompted Gov. Charlie Crist to order an investigation into 31 unmarked graves at the Marianna school in December.

In May, the Florida Department of Law Enforcement concluded that there was no evidence that the graves held the remains of abused boys or that state officials covered up abuse. It found that there were 31 bodies buried at the school between 1914 and 1952 and each of the deaths was attributable to a known cause.

Hundreds of the alleged victims have since filed a class-action lawsuit in Pinellas-Pasco County Circuit Court. The suit now has more than 400 claimants "and is growing daily," said attorney Greg Hoag.

The bill says that the class-action claimants are willing to hold off their lawsuit while the Legislature considers the claims bill. The bill also would limit the attorneys' proceeds in the case to 25 percent.

Mary Ellen Klas can be reached

More about the White House Boys | top

07/07/09 EDITORIAL: Zero tolerance for old policy
Palm Beach Post Editorial

Tuesday, July 07, 2009

Jason Welty, legislative director for the Florida Department of Juvenile Justice, tells the story of an elementary school child whose mother packed a regular table knife with her daughter's lunch. Later that day, the kids sat down in the lunchroom. "When the knife fell out of her bag," Mr. Welty said, "she was arrested for bringing a weapon to school."

That is an example of a so-called "zero-tolerance policy" run amok. There are others, like the kid who brings aspirin to school and is busted for "drug" possession. Or the Palm Beach County child arrested for setting off an "explosive device," which was an overflowing soda bottle.

It's OK to discipline kids who need it or to let a parent know that certain things shouldn't be sent to school. The problem comes when the response is out of proportion to the offense. And if the response includes referring children to the police when that is not necessary, the consequence can be to put that child on what Mr. Welty calls the "schoolhouse to jailhouse track." Once children make that first contact with police, they are much more likely to get into trouble over and over again. Not only will they end up in court, they'll often drop out of school first.

That's why in the last legislative session, the Department of Juvenile Justice, acting on a recommendation from the 2008 Blueprint Commission, worked with sponsors Sen. Stephen Wise, R-Jacksonville, and Rep. Jennifer Carroll, R-Jacksonville, to pass SB 1540, which injected common sense into Florida school districts' zero-tolerance policies. The measure passed the House and Senate unanimously, and Gov. Crist signed it on June 18. At the signing ceremony in Jacksonville, DJJ Secretary Frank Peterman Jr. said the new law "will reduce the number of children entering the juvenile justice system and better address misbehavior in our schools without jeopardizing school safety."

To replace zero-tolerance policies, schools will write comprehensive policies that provide appropriate discipline geared toward getting the students back on track. That's a big change for a state that has been too eager to "get tough" on kids. Lawmakers finally are realizing that getting tough is most effective - and needed less often - when it's the last option. Not only is this solution better for the students, it is better for the state's budget. It costs less to intervene short of incarceration, and it prevents the waste of all that money "teaching" kids who then drop out.

"Zero tolerance" supposedly was a way to make sure no one was shown favoritism. It didn't work out that way. Teachers and administrators who knew a small infraction could bring a big penalty could be reluctant to turn in a student. And minority students were more likely to be singled out.

Rather than zero tolerance, the new law sets a better goal: policies should be 100 percent appropriate.


04/19/09 For their own good: a St. Petersburg Times special report on child abuse at the Florida School for Boys
Ben Montgomery and Waveney Ann Moore, Times Staff Writers

MARIANNA — The men remember the same things: blood on the walls, bits of lip or tongue on the pillow, the smell of urine and whiskey, the way the bed springs sang with each blow. The way they cried out for Jesus or mama. The grinding of the old fan that muffled their cries. The one-armed man who swung the strap.

They remember walking into the dark little building on the campus of the Florida School for Boys, in bare feet and white pajamas, afraid they'd never walk out.

For 109 years, this is where Florida has sent bad boys. Boys have been sent here for rape or assault, yes, but also for skipping school or smoking cigarettes or running hard from broken homes. Some were tough, some confused and afraid; all were treading through their formative years in the custody of the state. They were as young as 5, as old as 20, and they needed to be reformed.

It was for their own good. [click here for complete article]

More about the White House Boys | top

03/24/09 Former State Official Says 'White House' Investigation Stalling
Jackelyn Barnard, First Coast News

BRUNSWICK, GA -- A former state official says the state investigation into claims of abuse at the Florida Reform School for Boys in Marianna is going nowhere.

Gus Barreiro made the claims at a reunion of men who call themselves the White House Boys.

The group of 156 men say they were abused in the 1950s and 1960s at the reform school. They say they were beaten in a little white building on campus called the "white house."

This past weekend the group met, for the first time, in Brunswick, Georgia, in part to try and heal from their past.

The White House Boys surfaced last fall when two survivors broke their silence to a state worker.

At the time, Barreiro was the director of residential facilities for the Department of Juvenile Justice, which now runs the reform school.

Barreiro was fired in January. He was accused of surfing sexually explicit web sites on his work computer.

Barreiro says he was let go because of his push for an investigation into the allegations of abuse by the White House Boys.

Barreiro says after he talked to some of the survivors, he went to Marianna and the school to investigate.

"It was really bizarre. The thing that caught my attention was everybody(in the town) knew about it.

He says people in the small town told him what happened at the "white house" and then told him about graves belonging to the school.

"I didn't know about the grave sites. All of a sudden someone mentions the grave site, some old timer in town tells me about the grave site. (I say)can you show me this grave site? We drove out into the woods and we came across 32 unmarked graves."

Barreiro says he took the information to his superiors and even organized a ceremony to honor the men at the "white house."

"Two weeks prior to event occurring, I was notified that the Governors office wasn't going to be at the event. And I was notified that the Secretary(of DJJ) wasn't going to be there because they felt that it was a negative tone to the department and to the Governor's office, which I was dumbfounded by. Because the department has always taken this reactive role when things happen."

Barreiro says after the ceremony he got a warning.

"The day I came back from Tallahassee, after the 'white house' event occured, I was already told by a Deputy Secretary, listen be careful, watch your back. They are going to get you. They want you out of here." Juvenile Justice says the comment was not made.

Barreiro believes the state's investigation into the unmarked graves and the claims of abuse won't go far.

"One thing about government is they try to wear you out when they want things to go away. My guess is they hope this thing just kind of dies off."

Barreiro says the investigation is taking too long. FDLE says it is still talking to people and searching through archive records.

Barreiro says those he's trying to help are now standing by him. One of the White House Boys says he believes Barreiro lost his job by letting him go through the "white house" building.

While he's out of a job, Barreiro says his mission now is to continue to help these men get their stories told, and to help bring the truth to light.

"Covering up things don't work. You can't change the truth, and it holds all answers always."

Barreiro, who has hired an attorney, says in the coming weeks there will be more details released on what happened with him at the Department of Juvenile Justice.

More about the White House Boys | top

03/16/09 County adminstrator resigns following gun accusations
Bay News 9

Citrus County's administrator, Anthony Schembri, resigned following accusations he brought a holstered gun to a homeowner's association meeting.

Citrus County's administrator has resigned following accusations he brought a holstered gun to a homeowner's association meeting.

Anthony Schembri cleaned out his office over the weekend after the county commission called a special meeting to discuss his employment with the county.

Schembri's resignation come with some contingencies.

He wants commissioners to waive the 30-days notice requirement and he wants his complete severance package, which is about $64,000.

Last week, Schembri's neighbors complained he showed up to a homeowners association meeting with a holstered gun.

The homeowner says he asked Schembri to remove the gun, but Schembri refused.

The sheriff's office wrapped up its investigation and handed the case over to the state attorney's office.

Schembri has a concealed weapons permit, but the state attorney's office could still file charges against him because it is against the law to openly carry a firearm in plain view.

Schembri told Bay News 9 that the gun accusations were not behind his resignation, but did not say what his reasons for resigning were.


02/25/09 State asks for delay in 'White House Boys' case
The class-action lawsuit claims wards were beaten and killed at the former Florida Industrial School for Boys in Marianna Andrew Gant, Daily News

The state needs more time to track down some 30 years' worth of reform-school records, attorneys in a growing class-action abuse lawsuit said Wednesday.

Some of the files may not still exist. And one former warden named as a defendant never has been found.

"This just continues to snowball into a bigger issue," said Fort Walton Beach's Bryant Middleton, one of the first people to join the suit. "They can't come up with records of who worked there. They can't validate who the staff was and things of that nature. And it seems that more than one or two records have suddenly disappeared."

State officials say they're laboring because the request for discovery is so broad.

It spans decades, alleging wardens beat and even killed students who misbehaved or tried to escape the Florida Industrial School for Boys in Marianna in the 1940s, '50s and '60s. What began as a group of four former wards soon grew to 87 members of the class-action suit. At last count, Middleton said there were 100 men with signed contracts to sue.

State agencies named in the complaint are the Department of Children and Families, the Department of Juvenile Justice, the Department of Corrections and the Department of Agriculture.

Attorneys for the state recently requested a 90-day extension on discovery, said "White House Boys" attorney David Hoag. The deadline had been this week.

"Ninety days seems like a long time. I was amenable to 60," Hoag said. "If they don't (meet the 90-day deadline), we'll likely move to compel production of that information."

A judge in Pinellas County, where the lawsuit was filed, has not ruled on the state's request.

Troy Tidwell, one former employee named in the suit, has filed for dismissal because the statute of limitations is past and the abuse allegations can't apply to an entire class. The other, Robert Curry, may be dead.

Open today as the Arthur G. Dozier School for Boys, the school still has its small "White House" building where Middleton says the most beatings occurred. The building's door has been sealed and Gov. Charlie Crist has acknowledged and apologized for unspecified abuse there.

Several unmarked graves on school grounds could hold bodies of abuse victims, the plaintiffs say.

There are "no immediate plans" to exhume the contents, said Florida Department of Law Enforcement spokeswoman Heather Smith.

State investigators assigned to the case declined to discuss which records they've found and what they're missing. The records review is under way on-site in Marianna, and interviews with former students and employees across the region are ongoing.

More about the White House Boys | top

02/15/09 Derek King nears release
Second of two brothers who killed father soon to leave prison
Kris Wernowsky,, Pensacola News Journal

Twenty-year-old Derek King, jailed since he and his brother were convicted of killing their father at their Cantonment home seven years ago, will walk out of prison next month.

His first goal when he's released, according to his grandmother, Linda French: Move into her Gulf Breeze home and sleep.

Now imprisoned at the Lancaster Correctional Facility, near Gainesville, Derek has been in a succession of jails, juvenile centers and state prisons since the murder.

He longs for a room to himself, a door and privacy, French said.

"Just being where he is, there is no such thing as privacy," she said. "He's never alone and never gets a full night's sleep."

Alex King, 19, Derek's younger brother, was released from prison last April. He went to live with former University of West Florida professor Kathryn Medico, who co-authored a book about the King brothers' case; their address is listed in Jacksonville.

French has high hopes for both young men.

"I think there are great things in store for them both," she said. "There are a lot of wonderful people out there that are giving them that opportunity."

Derek was 13 and brother Alex was 12 when, on Nov. 26, 2001, they killed their father, Terry King, 40, as he slept.

The brothers ended up pleading guilty to third-degree murder, with Derek admitting to using a baseball bat to crush his father's skull and Alex confessing to helping come up with the murder plan.

Derek received an eight-year sentence; Alex received seven years.

The murder drew international attention to a family plagued with problems, though there was never a clear explanation for what may have led to the murder.

Outside world awaits

Derek's release is scheduled for March 7, though it could come sooner if he receives additional gain time, French said.

She doesn't expect him to stay in Gulf Breeze for long.

"He wants to rest a little bit, and he's going to be going on," she said. "He's not going to stay here because of the press and the law enforcement agency here. I think it would be very detrimental for him to stay in this area."

While in prison, Derek received a GED and took courses in computer programming, French said. He has expressed a desire to help start programs for troubled children.

But before he thinks about a job, he also wants to experience some of the creature comforts not available in the prison system, she said. He'll catch up on movies. And he wants to learn more about the Internet.

Derek also will reconnect with his mother, who made headlines of her own when she was charged in 2003 with cashing the boys' Social Security survivor benefits.

Janet Lyttle, who went by the name Kelly Marino during her sons' trials, now is living in the Pensacola area, French said. She was never married to the boys' father, and she wasn't living in the area at the time of the murder.

French said Derek "has come a long way."

But she said: "He still has a lot to learn about the outside world."

A Chopra follower

Alex was released from a state prison near Cocoa after his seven-year sentence was shortened to six for good behavior.

He went to live with the family of Medico, the former UWF professor who wrote a sympathetic account of the King brothers case with WEAR anchor Mollye Barrows.

Alex has become a follower of Deepak Chopra, the Indian-American medical doctor who embraces the integration of Western medicine and natural traditions.

Chopra is the author of some 50 books and 100 audio and video titles, which have been translated into 35 languages. His PBS television presentations include "The Happiness Prescription, The Soul of Healing: Body, Mind, and Soul.''

Alex has been working with Chopra "off and on,'' French said.

"He had Alex come to speak on nonviolence and peace in the world, " she said. "He's been traveling to different places and speaking."

Alex, Medico and Medico's daughter, Katie, appear in profiles on, a social networking Web site founded by Chopra's daughter, parenting expert Mallika Chopra.

Katie Medico wrote in her blog that she and her "adopted brother" Alex gave a 90-minute seminar on nonviolence at an inner-city high school in Jacksonville.

She also said Alex and her mother were invited in November to attend the New Humanity European Forum, a conference hosted by Chopra in Barcelona, Spain.

After the forum, Alex wrote about his experience.

"My relationships are getting better by the day, my health is soaring and I just simply feel better about myself and my life," Alex wrote in an post dated Nov. 14. "I encourage anyone who reads this to take the vow of nonviolence."

A spokeswoman for Chopra's organization did not respond to a request for an interview.

A troubled family

Since birth, Alex and Derek lived a disjointed life, at best.

Their mother came and went. Their father didn't make enough money to support them.

Both boys were placed in foster homes for varying periods of times.

Alex had been living with his father for four years at the time of the murder. Derek had returned only two weeks before after living for six years with Pace High School Principal Frank Lay and his wife, Nancy.

The Lays, trial testimony would reveal, had come to believe Derek was too much to handle and had discontinued the relationship.

It was against that backdrop that a Pensacola man who turned out to be a convicted child molester entered the boys' lives.

The possible role of that man, Ricky Chavis, in the murder has never been fully understood.

Chavis, who was then 40, worked with the King boys' father and befriended the children. But, evidence would later suggest, he sexually abused Alex.

What prompted Derek and Alex to kill their father has never been uncovered. There was no evidence he abused them.

After the murder, the children set the house on fire. They then went to a pay phone and called Chavis, who hid them out at his home.

Chavis ultimately was charged with first-degree murder in King's death, under the theory that he had helped orchestrate it or even participated. He was acquitted.

However, he was convicted in another trial on several charges related to his involvement after the murder, including false imprisonment, tampering with evidence and accessory to murder.

Chavis was sentenced to 35 years. Currently at the Century Correctional Institute, he's scheduled for release in 2036.

French did not want to speak about the legal proceedings, but she believes her grandsons were under Chavis' influence.

"They were, very much so," she said.

Assistant State Attorney David Rimmer, who prosecuted the King brothers and Chavis, also believes Chavis abused his influence over the children.

"It's without question if Ricky Chavis had not been in their lives, this wouldn't have happened," Rimmer said.

Rimmer hopes that the King brothers "turn their lives around."

"I hope they become hardworking productive members of society,'' he said. "But I hope they will always accept responsibility for what they did."


02/15/09 King brothers timeline
Staff reports, Pensacola News Journal

-- Nov. 26, 2001: A fire is reported at Terry King's house in the 1100 block of Muscogee Road at 1:39 a.m. While one side of the house burns, firefighters find King's body in the other half. Dr. Gary Cumberland determines at the autopsy that King died of blunt force trauma to the head, later determined to be blows from a baseball bat.

-- Nov. 27, 2001: Ricky Chavis, a family acquaintance who has been harboring the boys, drives Derek and Alex King to the Escambia County Sheriff's Office, where they turn themselves in. Officers obtain confessions to their father's death from both boys. Derek said he bashed Terry King's head with an aluminum baseball bat. Alex said it was his idea because deputies were afraid their father would punish them for running away from home.

-- Nov. 28, 2001: Derek and Alex King are charged with an open count of murder. They are housed in the Juvenile Detention Center.

-- Dec. 11, 2001: A grand jury indicts Derek and Alex on first-degree murder charges. They are transferred to the Escambia County Jail, where they are ordered held without bond. Chavis is charged with accessory after the fact and tampering with evidence. He is jailed.

-- Jan. 4, 2002: Chavis, a convicted child molester, pleads not guilty to harboring Derek and Alex after their father's murder.

-- April 9, 2002: Chavis is charged with first-degree murder, arson and lewd and lascivious act upon Alex. He is ordered held without bond.

-- Aug. 27, 2002: Chavis trial begins. Derek and Alex testify their confessions were a lie to protect Chavis.

-- Aug. 28, 2002: Circuit Judge Frank Bell says there is minimal evidence to indicate Chavis killed King. Bell dismisses alternative theory that Chavis aided or encouraged the brothers in killing their father, stating the evidence to support that claim is "just not there.'" Assistant State Attorney David Rimmer admits, "It is not my strongest case."

-- Aug. 30, 2002: After five hours of deliberation, jury reaches a verdict in Chavis case. Verdict is sealed pending the outcome of the King brothers' trial.

-- Sept. 3, 2002: Trial of Alex and Derek begins.

-- Sept. 6, 2002: Jury finds both boys guilty of second-degree murder without a weapon and arson. They face a prison sentence of 22 years to life. Sentencing is scheduled for Oct. 17.

-- Sept. 6, 2002: The Chavis verdict is unsealed. It acquits him of first-degree murder and arson. He remains in jail pending trial on the remaining two charges.

-- Oct. 17, 2002: Bell throws out the convictions against Alex and Derek, saying their trial was unfair. He orders new trials for the boys but also orders the case into mediation. Mediation is common in civil cases, but legal experts say it may be the first time a criminal murder case in Florida has been ordered into mediation.

-- Oct. 17, 2002: Comedian Rosie O'Donnell retains two Miami attorneys, Jayne Weintraub and Ben Kuehne, to help with the appeals process. Alex's attorney, James Stokes, says the Miami lawyers are not likely to be that involved in the case.

-- Nov. 14, 2002: The teens plead guilty to third-degree murder as part of mediated agreement. Derek is sentenced to eight years in prison; Alex is sentenced to seven. The brothers are sent to the North Florida Reception Center, where all state prisoners are processed.

-- Dec. 14, 2002: The Department of Corrections angers Rimmer and Bell when they transfer Alex and Derek to the Department of Juvenile Justice. Alex is ordered to the Okeechobee Juvenile Offender Correctional Center; Derek to the Omega Juvenile Prison. On the transfer, Rimmer says, "The lady of justice has been beaten, gang-raped and left for dead.''

-- Feb. 11, 2003: Chavis' trial on 10 counts of lewd or lascivious battery on Alex and one count of kidnapping the then-12-year-old begins. Alex testifies, detailing his sexual relationship with Chavis.

-- Feb. 12, 2003: Chavis' six-person jury acquits him of the sexual molestation charges but finds him guilty of falsely imprisoning Alex. Bell immediately sentences Chavis to the maximum possible five years in prison, calling Chavis actions "unconscionable."

-- March 5, 2003: Jurors find Chavis guilty at a third trial of being an accessory after the fact to first-degree murder and of tampering with evidence. He is sentenced to the maximum of 35 years.

-- April 9, 2008: Alex King, now 18, is released from the Brevard Correctional Institution.

-- May 7, 2009: Derek King is tentatively scheduled for release from the Lancaster Correctional Institution.

-- Dec. 14, 2036: Ricky Chavis is scheduled for release from prison.


02/11/09 DeFede: Barreiro Says He Was Set Up
Jim DeFede, CBS4

MIAMI (CBS4)----"Where do I begin?" an agitated Gus Barreiro asked me Wednesday afternoon.

Less than an hour earlier the Department of Juvenile Justice released an Inspector General's report outlining why the former state representative was fired in January after serving ten months as the department's head of residential programs. The IG investigation found between 300 and 400 pornographic images from an adult website on his state issued laptop computer.

"Really, where do I begin?" he repeated.

Did you download pornography onto your computer?

"Absolutely not," he said.

How did it get there?

Barreiro believes he knows. He claimed he was being set up by officials inside DJJ who were tired of Barreiro uncovering problems within the agency. Barreiro has been a longtime critic of the DJJ, going back to his days in the Florida Legislature. Barreiro broke with his fellow Republicans and exposed the state's role in the deaths of two black teenagers – Omar Paisley in 2003 and Martin Lee Anderson in 2006.

Paisley, 17, died while at the Miami Dade Juvenile Detention Center after writhing in pain for days from a ruptured appendix. He pleaded for help, but guards and nurses at the facility ignored his cries.

Martin Lee Anderson, 14, died at a Panhandle boot camp after being beaten and forced to exercise by guards at the facility.

In both cases efforts were made to cover up the truth behind the deaths and Barreiro played a key role in exposing the department's complicity.

In the case of Paisley more than two dozen DJJ officials, including the department's secretary, were either fired or forced to resign.

Barreiro continued to be a source of friction for department officials after joining DJJ. Last year, he helped a group of men who were abused in the Fifties and Sixties at the Arthur G. Dozier School for Boys in Marianna. The story of the so-called "White House Boys," has caused a new round of consternation for the department.

Barreiro claims after the White House Boys went public he was warned by people within the department that his days with DJJ were numbered and that they were going to find a way to embarrass him.

"After the White House Boys story my whole world changes," Barreiro said.

"Am I surprised?" he asked rhetorically. "No, I'm not surprised. Am I outraged, you bet I am. If they were willing to lie and falsify documents in the deaths of two young boys, then imagine the lengths they would be willing to go to get rid of me."

Barreiro claims that several people in his office had access to his laptop and his password. "I was warned by someone that I better start watching my back, so I was concerned," he said.

Fearing he might be set up, he said that on January 12 he asked a friend of his in the agency's IT department in Miami to quietly go through his computer and see if there was anything unusual. He said the report came back that it was clean.

Two days later he was ordered to turn over his computer for a random inspection. The next day he was called into his supervisor's office and was told there were numerous pornographic images on his computer and was immediately terminated.

He said he didn't fight the firing at the time because he is a political appointee and has no rights to appeal a termination. "But now I am going to fight it," he said. "Not to get my job back, but to fight what they are doing. This is not right, now they have crossed that line."

Barreiro | Boot Camps | White House Boys | top

02/11/09 DJJ: Official pushing reform-school case was fired for porn

February 11, 2009 - 6:23 PM Andrew Gant and The Associated Press

A state official who worked as a liasion between the Department of Juvenile Justice and "the White House Boys" - a group of former reform school students suing the state for abuse - was fired for having pornographic images on his work computer, according to a report released Wednesday.

Gus Barreiro, 49, lost his job in January after nearly a year as the DJJ's chief of residential programs. The reason for his firing was not immediately made public.

Today state officials say Barreiro had 300 to 400 images of adult porn on his laptop's hard drive. When questioned, he told investigators, "I don't know how in the hell that got on my computer," according to the report.

Barreiro couldn't be reached for comment Wednesday, but in the report he is quoted as saying he'd been "set up" in the past, that others had used his computer and that "there was all kinds of stuff on it" when he got it.

Some of the images were accessed early Nov. 18, when Barreiro was on travel status in Marianna - site of the Arthur G. Dozier School for Boys (formerly the Florida Industrial School for Boys), where dozens of men claim they were abused in the 1950s and 60s.

Barreiro had been a point of contact for the men, many of whom are seeking class-action status in a lawsuit against the DJJ, three other state agencies and two former school employees.

And even before he got the DJJ job, Barreiro - a state representative from 1998 to 2006 - had pushed the agency to investigate complaints.

He probed the Panama City boot-camp death of 14-year-old Martin Lee Anderson, who died in 2006 after guards subdued him.

The camp was closed and the case went to trial, but a medical examiner determined the cause of death was an undiagnosed sickle-cell blood disorder. The guards were cleared of manslaughter charges.

Barreiro recently said he was planning to run for his old state House seat.

Barreiro | Boot Camps | White House Boys | top

02/04/09 'White House Boys' sue Florida system (with LAWSUIT, VIDEO)
4 Dozens of men say they were beaten and sexually abused as boys at the Florida Schools for Boys in Marianna and Okeechobee
Andrew Gant, Daily News

Some 87 men who say they were brutally abused as boys in Florida's reform-school system have joined a class-action lawsuit against the state, a former ward confirmed Wednesday.

"We want those individuals that have committed the crimes to be brought to justice and to account for their crimes," said Bryant Middleton of Fort Walton Beach, one of four men representing the class as plaintiffs.

In 1959, Middleton, now 63, was held at the Florida School for Boys - open today as the Arthur G. Dozier School for Boys in Marianna - where he said he routinely was beaten in a small cinder-block building known as "the White House." Others, the lawsuit alleges, were killed and buried on school grounds.

The "White House Boys," as they're known, have been pressing the case for months. In December, Gov. Charlie Crist acknowledged some abuse occurred and asked the Florida Department of Law Enforcement to investigate more than 30 unmarked graves at the school.

But the complaint against the state, filed in January, demands records on all employees and residents dating back to the 1940s and payment of "all damages allowed under Florida law."

Troy Tidwell, an ex-warden named in the complaint, already has filed a motion to dismiss, claiming the statute of limitations for battery is long past and the vast abuse allegations can't apply to an entire class for damages.

"It cannot logically be argued that all of the potential members of this class had repressed memories," Tidwell's motion to dismiss states. In other words, they should have filed decades ago.

The White House Boys argue the wardens "should not be permitted to profit from their own horrendous and despicable misconduct by asserting the statute of limitations."

The complaint details alleged abuse between 1940 and 1969 at segregated reform schools in Marianna and Okeechobee, with the victims being children from 9 to 17 years old.

It charges "vicious beatings" and sexual abuse were commonplace. After one particular beating, boys overheard a warden say, "I think he is dead," according to the complaint. Another allegedly was loaded into an industrial clothes dryer, killed in a tumble cycle and disposed.

After beatings, boys spent as many as 30 days in "the hole" - a dark solitary confinement cell - with little food or water, according to the complaint.

In Okeechobee, the men claim some boys were sodomized with a "probing rod" as a method of punishment. One man claims he was tied between two trees and beaten in the groin so severely that it remains numb today.

Defendant Robert E. Curry "was the purported psychologist" in Marianna, responsible for counseling boys, according to the complaint. He also is accused of abuse.

Tidwell's attorney H. Matthew Fuqua did not immediately return a phone call seeking comment. Beyond the statute of limitations issue, Fuqua has argued there is no basis for venue in Pinellas County.

Tidwell has told the Miami Herald that wardens used beatings only as a last resort to deter runaways.

"We would take them to a little building near the dining room and spank the boys there when we felt it was necessary," Tidwell told the Herald. His listed number was disconnected Wednesday.

In January, the Department of Juvenile Justice fired Gus Barreiro, its chief of residential programs, for policy violations. Barreiro had been a liaison between the agency and the White House Boys, Middleton said.

An attorney for the White House Boys, Greg Hoag, said Wednesday he expects the state to respond to the complaint later this month.

- Bryant Middleton
- William Horne
- Roger Kiser
- Jimmy Jackson
- "All others similarly situated"

- Florida Department of Agriculture
- Florida Department of Children and Families
- Florida Department of Juvenile Justice
- Florida Department of Corrections
- Troy Tidwell
- Robert E. Curry

More about the White House Boys | top

01/26/09 White House Boys: Justice may come, finally
Editorial, Florida Times-Union

You find Roger Dean Kiser in a double-wide trailer at the end of the cul de sac near Interstate 95 and Brunswick, Ga.

There, with the dog out of the way and two rescued cats, you enter his study.

The smell of cigarette smoke is in the air. There, for 90 minutes, you listen as this bearded 63-year-old bares himself to a stranger, an editorial writer from Jacksonville.

The story Kiser tells is unbelievable, at least you don't want to believe it.

In the late 1950s, the era of Leave it to Beaver and Father Knows Best, Kiser's life was like an X-rated horror movie.

Abandoned by his parents, sent to a Jacksonville orphanage, Kiser was sent to a reform school in Marianna for being incorrigible and being unable to follow rules.

Part of this campus-like setting of brick buildings was the White House, a cinderblock building. There, according to Kiser, he and many others were beaten.

Not spanked, not paddled, but struck multiple times with a leather strap, the kind often seen in barber shops. But this strap had a metal insert to increase the painful impact.

Since he began sharing his memories on a Web site, Kiser says more than 80 others have come forward.

The Miami Herald interviewed five former clients of the reform school who tell these stories.

The official name of the facility is the Arthur G. Dozier School for Boys. Opened in 1897, it was viewed as a progressive way to deal with troubled boys. And to view the campus-like setting, it gives that appearance.

Yet, there was evidence of beatings at the school, documented in the early 1900s by legislative reports, The Miami Herald reported.

Corporal punishment was banned in the late 1960s, and Kiser is not alleging that abuses are taking place today.

But he wants the story told of what happened at the school around the time he was there.

In response, the Florida Department of Law Enforcement is conducting an investigation following a request from Gov. Charlie Crist.

"Justice always cries out for a conclusion," Crist said, as quoted by The Associated Press. If there were "horrible atrocities," then we have a duty to find out, he said.

Chilling allegations

What kind of atrocities? There are disturbing hints, such as the more than 30 unmarked graves near the area housing African-American children. Six of the children died in a fire. The others? Who knows? Kiser contends there could be more graves. Thus far, none of the bodies have been exhumed, an FDLE spokesman said.

A class action suit provided by co-counsel Masterson Law Group of St. Petersburg contends abuses took place at reform schools at Marianna and Okeechobee from 1940 to 1969:

- "Discipline" received there was more akin to treatment found in a torture chamber.

- Lashes from a weighted leather strap could number 100 at a time and last 30 minutes.

- One boy was killed after having been placed in an industrial-sized clothes dryer.

- The beatings were so severe that pieces of their cotton underwear had to be extracted with tweezers. Kiser said the flesh would turn black.

- There also are allegations of sexual assaults and solitary confinement. Besides the White House, used for beatings, Kiser recalls there was a "rape room" in another building.

One side so far

In fairness, allegations are just reaching the public. There has been little evidence presented from the other side. The class action suit was recently filed, so the Florida Attorney General's Office was in no position to comment. Nor have there been responses filed by the two former officials named in the suit.

One former resident told The Associated Press the paddlings were severe, but not horrific.

A former school employee named in the class action suit, Troy Tidwell, 84, told The Miami Herald that no boys were injured.

Impact over a lifetime

For Kiser, much of his adult life has been spent searching for normalcy: married six times, divorced five times, he says he was incapable of giving affection. He worked many menial jobs and now has contributed to a number of the Chicken Soup for the Soul books.

In a newly published book titled The White House Boys: An American Tragedy, Kiser writes in a clear, Hemingway style: "I was just an innocent, confused, incorrigible, hungry, unwanted and unloved young boy who needed someone to let him know that he had a value to someone, somewhere in the world."

Kiser found that writing gave him an outlet. A special wife helped the healing process. And grandchildren opened his eyes to the power of unconditional love.

With only a sixth grade education, he regrets he could not give more to his children.

"It is not only sad what I missed from the world," he writes, "but it is also sad what they missed from me.

"I had so much to give to a world that had totally forgotten me as a child. I'm giving it now, for the child I was."

Kiser's story shows that people can overcome the worst conditions in childhood.

"... no matter how difficult the task, no matter how bad the abuse, there is still a wonderful faint light always burning at the end of the tunnel. That light is you - standing there waiting for you to hug yourself."

For the state of Florida, it is time to write the final chapter of this shockingly painful story.

It's never too late for justice.

=================Side Bar======================
An official marker

On Oct. 21, the Florida Department of Juvenile Justice placed a marker at the notorious White House at the Arthur G. Dozier School for Boys in Marianna.

"In memory of the children who passed these doors, we acknowledge their tribulations and offer our hope that they have some measure of peace. May this building stand as a reminder of the need to remain vigilant in protecting our children as we help them to seek a brighter future.

"Moreover, we offer the reassurance that we are dedicated to serving and protecting the youth who enter this campus, and helping them to transform their lives."

More about the White House Boys | top

01/18/09 Two White House Boys urge residents to come forward
Kate McCardell, Jackson County Floridan

With memories so dark they spawn nightmares, it took more than 40 years for Robert Straley to share his childhood secret. Now, he’s asking residents of Jackson County to do the same.

Straley and Michael O’McCarthy are working diligently to reveal what they say is the truth about what happened to children at the Florida Industrial School for Boys in the 1950s and ‘60s.

Straley and O’McCarthy are two leading members of the White House Boys, a growing group of men who claim to have been severely abused at the hands of a group of guards at the 108-year-old reform school in Marianna.

Last October, the Department of Juvenile Justice acknowledged the abuse by placing a plaque in front of the White House.

The site where the majority of the abuse took place, the White House still stands on the grounds of what is now the Arthur G. Dozier School for Boys, a high-risk juvenile residential detention facility.

Following a request from Gov. Charlie Crist, the Florida Department of Law Enforcement is currently investigating those claims, as well as the remains that might lie under about 30 unidentified graves located where the then-segregated black side of the school once was.

O’McCarthy and Straley were in the Panhandle last week for depositions with FDLE, and stayed in Marianna long after the interviews were over to “search for dead bodies,” as O’McCarthy put it.

The bodies, the two allege, belong to inmates of the reform school during the ‘50s and ‘60s.

Straley and O’McCarthy were also in town to talk to residents and urge others to come forward, even anonymously, with any information they might have about what happened back then.

“One of the reasons we’re here is were gonna call upon the good folks of Marianna. Now’s the time to tell the truth, to free themselves of the burden of this secret they’ve been carrying now for 50 years ... Before they die, depending on their faith, if they wanna come clean, now’s the time to do it, to help us heal,” O’McCarthy said.

O’McCarthy and Straley said 300 to 400 people have come forward so far, all of whom claim they were also victims of abuse at the school.

Additionally, the two said, a handful of anonymous elderly people in the area tell them that their search for victims’ bodies is not in vain.


All of his adult life, Robert Straley hasn’t been able to breathe it all in. In relationships, he could never fully trust or completely bond; never totally enjoy a moment without wondering what might happen next.

In 2006, Straley was hit by an image the inspired him to exhale.

He saw video footage of the ordeal that some say led to the death of 14-year-old Martin Lee Anderson at the Bay County Boot Camp.

In that moment, Straley felt knees pressing into his back. It was a flashback of a night at the reform school — the night, he said, he was escorted to what former prisoners call the “rape room.”

He realized then that sharing his story might stop someone else from feeling the suffocation only the abused find familiar.

He chose journalist Michael O’McCarthy, known for his coverage of civil rights violations, not knowing that the writer himself was also a victim of the Florida Industrial School for Boys.

Thriving on misery

Not every adult at the Florida Industrial School was abusive, Straley noted more than once.

From Staley’s account and that of many other former prisoners of the school, it was just a handful of men, “the night watchers,” he called them, who roamed the grounds at night terrorizing young men.

He and O’McCarthy believe there are people still alive who probably never hurt a child, but saw or heard something.

“This wasn’t a secret kept confined to the White House,” O’McCarthy said. “Kids obviously would have visitors, and they would tell their parents or whomever, if they were luck enough to have relatives.”

Those who worked at the facility would have seen the gory results of the abuse, and probably told their wives or family, he said.

“We knew kids were being used as child labor in the agricultural community around here. We knew that when they told us if we escaped and got away, either they’d get us, the swamp would get us or the farmers would get us, because we were told that the farmers would get a bounty of 50 bucks a head. So you’ve got this whole geographical and economic community that thrived upon our misery,” O’McCarthy said.

The tilling fields

In their efforts to shed light on to every moment of the era of abuse at the reform school, Straley and O’McCarthy have made available several methods of communication through which people can tell their stories, or their secrets.

They claim to have received multiple calls from elderly people in Jackson County.

“They say, ‘You’re doing the right thing, but you’re looking in the wrong place,’” Straley said.

The unidentified callers claim the most unfortunate boy-prisoners were “disposed of” by being tilled straight into the soil of local agricultural fields, he said.

Straley and O’McCarthy believe many of these victims were probably also victims of the what happened in “the rape room,” an underground room that is supposedly still located underneath the current Dozier School administration building.

Sexual abuse didn’t stop there, the two said.

A psychologist was brought in in the late ‘50s, O’McCarthy said, who would only ask boys questions about their sexual fantasies, preferences and experiences.

Eventually, the two said, that doctor oversaw an entire wing at the reform school.

The men are convinced that whatever was happening on the white side of the school, the boys on the black side were enduring it ten-fold.

The right to wholeness

“Don’t we have a right to be made whole?” O’McCarthy responded emotionally, when questioned about the fact the some members of the White House Boys are involved in related book deals or screenplays.

“I’m a journalist. My job is to report the truth,” O’McCarthy said.

What, he asked, is so wrong about documenting that truth for the world to see?

Straley said he’s “four thousand dollars in the hole” while getting to the bottom of what happened.

The two men said that the time, money and emotion spent as a result of their abuse, and the heartache and damage it has caused them and their loved ones, should at the least make them entitled to some financial restitution.

“If I had been hit by a state university bus and was hospitalized and had permanent damage, people would be telling me that I should sue the state,” O’McCarthy said.

Pieces of the puzzle

Certain that the abuse happened, the two men, along with state and federal agencies, are gathering pieces of the puzzle.

They think some people might be hesitant to come forward for fear of retaliation against as whistleblowers. For those fearful of speaking out, Straley and O’McCarthy urge them to at least speak anonymously.

“My hope is that the town in general will think back on this era and think about all of the abuses that were done to those boys. It’s not a point of did it happen, because over 300 people have written in with their accounts of mostly vicious beatings,” Straley said.

“Marianna doesn’t deserve this reputation,” O’McCarthy said. “Let’s clear the air.”


To share what you know:

Those who wish to provide information on what might have occurred at the Florida School for Boys may contact any of the following people :

• The Florida Department of Law Enforcement, (850) 410-7000.
• Robert Straley or Michael O’McCarthy, at .
• The news department of the Jackson County Floridan, at 526-3614, ext. 4113.

More about the White House Boys | top

01/17/09 Among bars for ever
By Stefan Scheytt, Badische Zeitung Magazin
Translated by Michal Horák [For original German version, click here]

No more freedom. About ten thousands offender serve in US prisons life term because of offences that they committed as teenagers; about one quarter of them without any chance to be released: life without parole.

She is 1.54 meter small and 44 kilogram light, porcelain skin, freckled. She cries, tears flow out from her brown eyes, she wrings her hands and says: “I don´t exist more.” Courtney Schulhoff is a small hill of unhappiness. She is 21 now und she lives five years among bars, high walls and wire obstacles. Everything indicates that she leaves the prison in a coffin, like an old and bitterish woman that in fact never lived – it is possible only in USA.

On an evening in February 2004, a few days after her 16 birthday, Courtney Schulhoff stood with her dog in front of a House in Altamonte Springs, Florida, whilst her 20 years old boyfriend clubbed by a baseball bat her sleeping father. One can’t understand why the young couple expected that their problems can be dispatched from world in this way. Problems accumulated long years and step by step brought Courtney’s family to disruption. Her parents are Mormons that keep very strict rules / no coffee, no spirits, no sex without marriage certificate – but her parents broke all rules. Courtney, teenager at that time, responded by depression, recalcitrance and revolt, she smoked, she drank spirits, she dressed black, she told stories about sex with her boyfriend. “My mom put me in the approved school. She didn’t want me to going to church with such a potato mug.” Her deeply faithful stepbrother agreed with her, because she lost and gave out her virginhood. After a scandal, her mother left the family with a new man. Courtney suffered her father; he is now her last ally in the family but as soon as his divorce trauma passed over he did suddenly “something what usually fathers didn´t do with their daughters.” Two times. “He detested me. When he came home I went out. I wasn´t able to endure his presence.” He drank spirits, he leaded women home, Courtney disliked them, only quarrels were at home, she stole him checks to by a new clothes, he incriminated her, she was several days in jail, the couple went for a drive with father’s car. She said sometimes yourself, it would be better if he would be dead.

Courtney Schulhoff, prison number 154495 is sitting in Ocala, Florida, in the visiting room of the woman prison, convicted to life without parole, similarly as her former boyfriend, in light blue prison dress, crew haircut, tears in her eyes. “I have written a poem some days ago, how so much I miss my dad.” She paused, she sobs, falters out and says with faint voice: “It makes my heart bleed. I am without everything, without my dad, without love, I will never have my family. It’s a great fester, I feel a terrible rage, fear and hate for myself. I don’t know how to survive here. It’s no life. For nobody.” She put her head at the shoulder of her friend Alicia, 25, also convicted to life. “We must die here”, says Alicia with a cool voice.

Everything in America is bigger, larger, and greater than anywhere in the world: cars, chocolate bars, popcorn paper bags in cinema, salaries of corporate directors, violence, fear of violence, the strictness and rigidity of the law and of the courts, just to violence and force didn’t govern. There is something abnormal and monstrous in US criminal law.

There is no other country in the world that keeps so many its citizens in prison for so long time as USA. In USA lives only 5% of all people in the world, but in US prisons there is one fourth of all prisoners in the world, 2.3 million men and women are in US prisons. There are 751 prisoners of 100 000 inhabitants in USA, 151 in Great Britain, 88 in Germany, 63 in Japan. The investigation of the newspaper New York Times showed that the number for ‘life term’ convicted people grows quickly up, today the number is more than 130 000 men and women, and about 10 000 of it are people that perpetrated their crime as children or teenagers.

And the facts are even worse: about 2500 juvenile offenders serve ‘life term’ with the addition ‘without parole’ – these words exclude any chance to be released, possibly after long years and for good behavior as it is usual in many other countries. Amnesty or clemency is very rare, thus the imprisonment often continues up to the death. In the late of 2006, United Nations approved the resolution against this manner of imprisonment of juveniles – 176 countries accepted and signed the resolution, only one country didn’t, USA.

One can understand it as a kind of hate if courts adjudicate children and juveniles as adults. And in doing so, children and juveniles are considered too much young, so that they are not allowed to buy cigarettes or bier, they are not allowed to vote, to open a bank account without their parents’ signature, or to close lawful bargain.

Men like Kenneth Young, 23 today, are victims in the country of unlimited possibilities and potency. When he was 15, he burgled four motels in Florida together with a thirty-year-old drug dealer with the aim to get money for paying debts of her mother. Young emptied the safe and his codefendant stuck the people up with a gun. He shot only one times, nobody was injured but the verdict for the juvenile was four times life without parole.

Sara Kruzan in California, today 28, was sentenced to life. At her 16, she killed her pimp for which she had to cruise for three years and which abused her since her 11. Or another case, Dietrick Mitchell, Afro-American in Colorado, today 34: As 16 age boy he drove his car at night, he was drunken and he ran over and put to death a white girl; he never saw her before. State attorney fabricated the charge: murder in gang. Or another case, Tim Kane, Florida: To test his courage at his 14, he burgled an apparently empty old house together with a 17 age and a 19 age complices. However, the house owners were at home. Whilst his older complices slaughtered the old women and her son, Kane trembled with fear and cried in the entrance-hall, paralyzed by the scene that he stood by. He is now 31, thus he spent most part of his life, 17 years, in prison.

Rebecca Falcon, today 27, is sitting on a concrete-bank in the garden of the Lowell Correctional Institute for women in Ocala. She was born at Christmas time and she sings with a strong and firm voice. She has long undulating hair, full lips, she has a well-built stature. If she lived in a village, she would sing proudly and in a loud voice in the first row of the church choir. Somebody is washing Jesus’ foots with tears in her song, one talks about fear and pain, about former life when inmate sinned, love and salvation is at the end. In a few weeks, Rebecca Falcon will sing this song with the prison band in face of more than hundred inmates. The song is only a smaller part of a long theatre performance entitled “A real life story about a girl named Lovely”. Rebecca is the author of the performance and she narrates her own story.

Her mother, her grandmother, her stepfather, her friends, the judge pronouncing sentence ‘life without parole’, death in prison and also demons and angels are in the story. Rebecca Falcon stands at the altar at one moment and the devil says to Jesus: “You can’t have her, she is a bad woman.” And Jesus answers: “Yes, she was bad, but I restored her.”

Rebecca Falcon lives the tenth year among bars now. She says: “I was permanent deranged during the first five years. I was incursive, I spared and jangled.” She spent long weeks in separate confinement, 23 hours a day in a cell as small as a toilet, because she berated the wardress, she shouted at them, she rolled about on the floor because of rage. She shows her right forearm: “I did injuries myself, with razor blades, nails, scissors, with her own fingernails.” She smiles: “I have good skin – my scars nearly disappeared. I didn’t injury myself more, since they rescued me three years ago.”

In her havenless situation, Rebecca found a new starting-point in faith. One has not many choices if as a young woman for life sentenced was. Meal with frozen pieces of tuna fish for lunch – for life, unpleasant odors and smack of plates that are not often washed with soap, to wake up at 5.30 every day – for the rest of one’s life; one can have a shower by itself never more, the breakfast mustn’t take more than 20 minutes; inspection and counting of inmates five times per day – and if one already sleeps at the time of the evening inspection at 22.30, he/she is waken up and must stand up. There are many senseless rules: what socks to wear, what color of eye-shadows and eyelids are allowed.

“God helped me to find a beneficial life, I’m busy for the whole day,” says Rebecca Falcon. She works like auxiliary worker in the community of inmates. She performs administrative work; she organizes scriptural lessons and celebration of masses. She and her four friends are like a family, she called them “my Christian sisters”. The eldest is 62, “we called her mom, and Jesus is our dad.” The job in the community helped her, she got a double cell, she has her own lighting at her bed, and a bit of privacy. It is completely different from a big sleeping hall where 100 or 150 other women cry, sob, blow nose, talk, quarrel, and rave, where women put their shirts over face to screen the light during sleeping. The pertinence to the Christian substitute family helps Rebecca Falcon at least a bit to pass the fact that she is nearly without any contact with her mom and with her three younger brothers. “I miss them since my 15. I could see my mom only three hours over the last two years.

She lives far away and she can’t afford so long journey.” Perhaps, her faith allows her to pass the fact that she may never embrace or kiss a man, excluding a visitor in welcoming and leave-taking; that she must keep down her sexuality for the rest of her life.

However, her faith gives her hope and promise, that’s sure; similar to hope to win toss. “If it is God’s intention that I must stay here up to the end of my life, nothing can be changed. But God make wonders. Every morning I wake up with the idea that somebody call: ‘Rebecca Falcon, take all your things, your data disappeared somehow from computer, it’s beyond reason, but you can go home.’ I dream about it and I believe that God gives me the second chance.”

Her first chance, when she as “a girl called Lovely” on the other side of walls was, was not the true chance. The beginning was that she nobody regard her as “lovely” – because she was chubby and she had thick spectacle glass. When she 6 was, the fiancée of her mother, who later her stepfather is, pawed her; when she told it to her mother and grandmother, they didn’t believe it. At her 12 she had sex for the first time with a boy; at 13 she was assaulted by her schoolmate and by his four acquaintances; at 14, one of her friends says her to face and in public she is a hustler and a bitch that gives him sex whenever he wants. “I never dared to tell him ‘no’, even if I didn’t want, I believed he loves me,” she tells. Already at that time she injured her forearm, she began to drink spirits like her mother and she swallowed her pills against pain. At 15 she attempted to suicide. Her mother and her stepfather, a crude warder, were unable to find any other solution than to send her to grandmother in Florida, far away from Kansas where everything could have been better.

And even worse time falls. She got under the thumb of group of elder boys again. “I didn’t want to injure myself and that’s why I became hard and harder. I drank, I was listening to the hardest rap, and we were very rude to each other.” So, at one November night 1997, Rebecca Falcon, she was 15, and her 18-year-old friend got on a cab, she was intoxicated from whisky, he had his gun, and because nobody wanted to admit fear, they carried out their spontaneous and unprompted idea to rob the cabdriver – he was killed by one gunshot. The court never cleared up who fired the death-shot and both teenagers were convicted to life without parole. Rebecca Falcon is in contact with the cabdriver widow and she now says that the penalty was too harsh for a 15-age girl.

Auraria Campus in Denver, Colorado. In St. Cajetan’s Center, former a church, takes place a public discussion; subject: “When Kids get Life.” One judge, woman, sitting at the dais, one former sheriff, one professor of law, one man that at his 17 shot to dead her mother and after 17 years he is free again. Rightmost is sitting Carol Johann, meager old woman, 69 years old, wrinkled face, her voice is gruff and deep like a man’s voice. It seems she is a bit doubtful, only one times she asks for the floor as she wants to relate the story of her daughter Cheryl. Before the beginning of the discussion, she installed a wall poster near the entrance; it looks like an enlarged page of a photo album: Cheryl as a small kid, Cheryl is playing with her brothers, Cheryl roasting, Cheryl at farewell party in prison after finishing her College. Comments to photos like “Cheryl grew in a good loving family.”

“Everything was good up to my 14,” says Cheryl Armstrong, the daughter that resembles her mother. “But when we moved from a small village to the big city Denver, I got out of hands of my mother and my stepfather. When I look back I don’t understand myself, I can’t recognize myself. I was simply a dummy teenager.” She experimented with drugs, she stole clothes in cafeteria, she skipped school, she spent whole nights with and admired persons that boasted about their guns, “fuck” was every thee word in her speaking, the most important was who with whom. And then came the April night 1995 when her former boyfriend and his new girlfriend died; Cheryl was 16. Five persons were in the car, Cheryl was driving; as usual, the boys had their guns on them. Cheryl rides the block about when that came about. Two young men testified that she had shot to death the couple. Newspapers reported about “Natural Bored Killers”, state’s attorney charged Cheryl as “Mastermind” of a double murder perpetrated out of jealousy. Her penalty: 96 years in prison. In 2039, shortly before her 61st birthday, she may apply to probation.

She is 30 now; she spent 14 years in prison, from that 11 in Canon City, a town in Colorado, together with dozen prisoners. “I grew up in prison,” she says composedly. She finished her high school study in prison; she passed as many correspondence courses and distance learning as possible. She is the second woman in her institution that graduated in College. “Not long ago, authorities in prison refused me a graphics course. It would be only wasting in my case because I will never have opportunity to use it. They didn’t say it openly, but I think it was the reason.”

“I am not a bad woman,” says Cheryl Armstrong in the visiting room of the prison. Drink machine bubbles somewhere at the back, two tables further is sitting prison guard as viewer. “I am not violent, I didn’t kill anybody. I was only 16 when the tragedy came to pass, tragedy that quarry me for the rest of my life. If I’m set free now or in a few years, I’m able to start again. But it is senseless to keep me here until I’m as old as my mother today is.”

Carol Johann explains the story of her daughter in Denver, 150 miles north of prison. She narrates about the unimaginable act, about her success in College study, about her excellent model behavior, about her maturing in prison. When she comes to end, she closes the wall poster with photos, she brings it in her car standing in front of the hall. She is going home, to Canon City, where she followed her daughter long years ago; she lives only 8 miles far from the prison. “We applied for parole and we are waiting for many months for any response. We can only pray and light candles for Cheryl. She is a wonderful girl. I would like to see her as free, before I die.”

Also visit Kids as Adults | top

01/16/09 Dade's Barreiro fired from juvenile justice post
Steve Bousquet and Marc Caputo, Herald/Times Tallahassee Bureau

TALLAHASSEE -- Gus Barreiro, a crusader for kids and former Miami-Dade lawmaker who helped bring down a fellow legislator in a high-profile race case, has been unexpectedly fired from the Department of Juvenile Justice.

Barreiro, a one-time critic of the agency, wouldn't say why he was dismissed but said he did nothing wrong.

''I was let go by the agency,'' Barreiro said. ``I'm not going to discuss that . . . I'm very upset about it.''

DJJ spokesman Frank Penela said Barreiro was fired Thursday and that a ''termination letter'' was signed by Deputy DJJ Secretary Rod Love.

''It was for a policy violation,'' Penela said. ``I don't know what the policy violation was.''

Barreiro said he wouldn't challenge his dismissal. He was chief of residential programs at the agency, earning about $72,000 a year.

The former Miami Beach lawmaker, a Republican, is no stranger to controversy. In 2006, he filed a complaint against fellow Miami-Dade lawmaker Ralph Arza for using racial slurs to describe former Miami-Dade schools chief Rudy Crew. Arza and a cousin then left threatening messages on Barreiro's cell phone. Arza was charged with witness tampering and agreed to resign his office.

As Arza's standing in the black community sank, Barreiro's rose -- in part because he repeatedly clashed with the DJJ bureaucracy over the unrelated deaths of two black teenagers at DJJ facilities, Martin Lee Anderson in 2006 and Omar Paisley in 2003.

Aided by Miami Beach Democratic Rep. Dan Gelber, Barreiro led the charge to investigate Martin's death after the youth was beaten at a Panama City boot camp. The case divided the Panhandle along racial lines.

In the fallout, the Florida Department of Law Enforcement chief resigned over insensitive statements he made and the boot camp guards and a nurse stood trial for Martin's death. They were found not guilty.

For his work in the Martin Lee Anderson case, Barreiro was presented with a Children's Champion Award on the floor of the Florida House. Among those honoring Barreiro: Rep. Frank Peterman a St. Petersburg Democrat who eventually became his boss at DJJ.

After Gov. Charlie Crist's election in 2006, Barreiro campaigned for the job Peterman ultimately won.

Soon after accepting the DJJ job in March, Barreiro became a go-between with the agency and a group of men who were abused in the 1950s and 1960s -- the so-called ''White House Boys'' -- at the Arthur G. Dozier School for Boys in Marianna.

Marc Caputo can be reached at mcaputo@MiamiHerald.

Barreiro | Boot Camps | White House Boys | top


12/16/08 Journey to dark side of Florida history
Editorial, Miami Herald

OUR OPINION: Abuse at juvenile reform schools must be exposed

Thanks to four men, now in their 60s, who met on the Internet, and to Gov. Crist who listened to their stories, a shameful period in Florida history has been tugged from the recesses of a dark and secretive past into the sunshine of open revelation. The four men are survivors of horrific beatings and abuse that was inflicted on children who misbehaved at a Marianna reform school 50 years ago.

Crimes of the past

Their stories have so moved Gov. Crist that last week he asked two agencies -- the Florida Department of Law Enforcement and the Department of Juvenile Justice -- to investigate what happened, document the abuses as best they can and determine if crimes were committed. It isn't known what will be found or if enough evidence can be gathered to hold liable anyone still alive who committed crimes.

For now, it is commendable that the governor has launched a search for the truth about the reform school's ghastly secrets. One of the men, Richard Colon, 66, told Miami Herald staff writer Carol Marbin Miller that guards beat him and other boys mercilessly with a leather strap that had sheet metal sewn in the middle of it. Mr. Colon told the newspaper and CNN about feeling guilty for not being able to help a black boy who had been forced into a spinning clothes dryer. He believes the boy was killed in that incident.

Mr. Colon and his Internet friends adopted the name ''White House Boys,'' for the whitewashed, cinder-block building where the beatings occurred.

On a visit to the North Florida facility organized by DJJ in October, the men placed a plaque outside the building. They asked about 32 unidentified gravesites nearby, each marked only with a metal cross. The men believe that the graves contain the bodies of children who were beaten and abused, and the questions piqued Gov. Crist's interest.

In letters to the DJJ and FDLE, Gov. Crist wrote: ``During the course of the investigation[s], please determine whether any crimes were committed and, if at all possible, the perpetrators of these crimes.''

Painful journey

It would have been easy for the governor to offer the men his sympathy and condolences for their pain and suffering. But a state that sweeps its transgressions under a rug to be lost in the opaqueness of history puts itself at risk of not learning from the mistakes and wrongs of others.

We don't know where the investigations Gov. Crist has asked for will lead. It is clear, though, that it is a journey that Florida must take.

The White House Boys, as a group of grown men now call themselves, kept one of the Florida State Reform School's most shameful secrets for half a century: what was done to them inside a squat, dark, cinderblock building called The White House. (EMILY MICHOT / Miami Herald staff) Photo  

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12/15/08 State Right To Raise Ghosts Of Dozier School's Past
Opinion, The Tampa Tribune

It's a sad and appalling fact that children were routinely beaten and abused while in custody at Florida's old training schools for juvenile offenders.

The question now rightly being asked by Gov. Charlie Crist - at the urging of a group of men who were inmates at the Arthur G. Dozier School for Boys in Marianna - is whether some of the atrocities committed at the school included murder. At the center of the investigation are 32 graves of unknown persons, marked only by crude white crosses fashioned out of old pipe.

There will be some who will scoff at the governor's request that the Florida Department of Law Enforcement investigate who is buried on what once was Dozier property. Chances are any perpetrators are dead or very old and in an era of tight state resources, some would say FDLE should be focused on more recent crimes.

But a full accounting of what occurred at Dozier is as important as reopening the investigations of the Rosewood massacre, lynchings and the slaying of civil rights-era activists.

Confronting its past will help Florida build a better future for all its citizens.

And if you don't think that youngsters in state custody still face threats, remember Martin Lee Anderson, the young inmate who died after a confrontation with guards in a Panama City boot camp in 2006.

As longtime Florida children's advocate Jack Levine notes, the question of whether children in the juvenile justice system are as vulnerable today as they were at the height of Dozier's horrors remains a relevant one.

The young inmates in Florida's juvenile justice facilities - while tough and dangerous in many cases - remain vulnerable to abuse and neglect. Even after decades of improvements, the juvenile justice system lacks the resources to deal with all the youngsters it must oversee.

The bone-chilling history of Florida's treatment of young offenders is well-documented in the 1983 class-action civil rights lawsuit, known as the Bobby M. case. The case, brought on behalf children who were mistreated in the state's juvenile justice facilities, including Dozier, ushered in a new era of reform.

At Dozier, the atrocities documented included the actions of the "dog boys," a group of guards who used attack dogs on the boys. Louis de la Parte, the crusading former state senator from Tampa who recently passed away, personally saw the blood-splattered "White House" building where vicious beatings occurred.

That history was revisited recently when four men who had been inmates at Dozier met on the Internet and formed the White House Boys - a group devoted to bringing attention to the brutal history of the place. One of those men, Dick Colon, says he saw the body of a boy who had been forced into a large industrial clothes dryer by a guard. Others told of seeing boys who had gotten in trouble being led away and never seen again.

Claudia Wright, who had been an attorney with the American Civil Liberties Union on the Bobby M. case, has heard rumors that the Dozier graves contain the bodies of children killed at the hands of their captors. While no evidence surfaced in that probe, Wright said the oppressive and brutal environment that existed at Dozier is no folk tale.

Undoubtedly, Dozier is a different place now. Home to about 135 young offenders, it has been modernized and inmates are provided with education, health care and a chance to set their young lives straight. But anyone who has walked on its isolated grounds can feel it is a place haunted by its oppressive past.

This fall, the Department of Juvenile Justice took a symbolic step in acknowledging that awful past when it marked the old white building with a plaque and a tree planted in memory of pain and suffering that occurred there.

What happened at Dozier is a matter of civil rights and human rights that demands action beyond symbolism.

Whoever is buried beneath those crudely made crosses deserves the dignity of a full investigation. And if they were victims of a crime, they deserve the full measure of whatever justice can be delivered.

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12/11/08 Graves at Marianna boys home being investigated
Kate McCardell, Dothan Eagle

MARIANNA, Fla.—A wooded path leading to unmarked graves at the old grounds of Arthur G. Dozier School for Boys in Marianna is now blocked by freshly cut evergreen branches. The simple white metal crosses aren’t much to look at.

It’s what one drives past to get to the graves — old buildings, still furnished, overrun by vegetation — that suggests the eeriness of a macabre past.

Gov. Charlie Crist recently ordered the Florida Department of Law Enforcement to investigate the graves, after a group of former residents of the 108-year-old reform school suggested they might mark the burial sites of residents who were murdered at the hands of school employees.

While it’s common belief that about six of the 23 graves belong to boys who died in a 1914 fire, one man says the rest belong mostly to victims of the 1918 Spanish influenza epidemic, and a few beloved pets.

Panhandle historian Dale Cox said he investigated the history of those graves himself in the 1980’s.

“I heard that a huge flu epidemic in 1918 went all across the country and killed thousands of people. It was particularly bad in places where people were living in groups, like at Dozier. I’ve always understood that at least a few of those graves were from that epidemic,” said Cox, a former manager for the broadcast division of The New York Times.

Caused by an unusually severe and deadly influenza virus strain, the 1918 flu pandemic spread to nearly every part of the world. A large number of the victims were healthy young adults, in contrast to most influenza outbreaks, which predominantly affect juvenile, elderly or otherwise vulnerable patients.

Cox said in all of his interviews, including some with former employees and residents of the reform school, no one mentioned anything about beatings associated with the graves.

He did, however, hear that a few of the residents’ pets were buried there.

“And we should remember that a lot of the inmates or residents that were there were capable of violence. I suspect that any people (buried there) who were victims of violence, a lot of that was probably inmate-on-inmate,” Cox said.

The idea that the graves could belong to young men who perished from flu or fire is a far stretch from what the group of former residents called The White House Boys believe.

The group says the graves may contain the remains of students who were killed in severe beatings on school grounds during the 1950’s and ’60’s, when the then-segregated school was called the Florida Industrial School for Boys.

In October, the state Department of Juvenile Justice acknowledged the abuse that took place in a building on the premises called the White House.

Dick Colon, who now lives in Baltimore, is a White House Boy.

In interviews for various national news stories, Colon gave graphic descriptions of beatings that he either witnessed or endured himself.

Colon has also been a guest speaker at Dozier for at least eight years, as the sponsor of the annual Aura M. and Eusebio G. Colon Educational Awards — scholarship money given to Dozier students who stand out for academic or behavioral excellence.

At the May 2007 scholarship presentation, Colon told a crowd of Dozier residents that his success in becoming a millionaire began at Dozier.

“I got my GED right where you’re sitting. I studied hard while I was here in electric theory, wiring, welding,” Colon said during his 2007 speech. “I was learning the basics and when I left here I got a job because I had an edge over the other guys applying because of the experience I had here.”

That day in May, Colon made no mention of the horror he and the other White House Boys now claim took place.

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12/11/08 Cold-case justice: Dozier probe's not simply symbolic
Tallahassee Democrat

Their horrific stories sound chillingly familiar. We've read and heard about similar ones from parts of the world where, for a period of time, decency and humanity are challenged by the darkest, most evil tendencies in human nature. Atrocities. Crimes against humanity.

But the aging men who call themselves the "White House Boys" aren't describing events that happened so far away that it may as well be a world away. They're talking about what happened — to them and others — a half-century ago in Marianna, 60 miles from Florida's capital.

It was an era when juvenile offenders and sometimes just kids whose parents didn't want them anymore were sent away to be "reformed." Virtually no one was watching the "reformers" — agents of the state of Florida, at least some of whom were sadistic criminals and possibly murderers.

This unfortunate fraternity of Dozier School for Boys veterans banded together under a banner named for the whitewashed cinderblock building where they were beaten mercilessly. In an effort to seek some shred of justice before they die, they asked the governor and the U.S. Department of Justice to open investigations into what they have described as torture, sexual abuse and murder.

In ordering the Florida Department of Law Enforcement and the Department of Juvenile Justice to investigate, Mr. Crist asked in letters to the heads of both agencies that the probe include efforts to find out about the people buried in 32 unidentified graves and "whether any crimes were committed and, if at all possible, the perpetrators of these crimes."

In October, several White House Boys attended a ceremony at Dozier. They'd been invited to tell their stories publicly — primarily as a healing tool, but also to let the world know what had happened in the not-too-distant past.

They described beatings that left them so bloodied they thought they'd die — and maybe wished they could. Now some have described beatings that may well have caused the deaths of other boys, some of whom may be buried in those 32 graves marked only by white metal crosses.

It is important that as many details of their accounts as possible be verified; that this cold-case investigation be treated as any criminal investigation would be conducted, leading to wherever and whomever it may lead.

It's possible that none of the monsters who are alleged to be responsible for these atrocities are still living. If any of them are, they are elderly men who, one would hope, are haunted by and sincerely regret their actions so many years ago.

Regardless, Mr. Crist was right to open this case. Just as post-apartheid South Africa established a Truth and Reconciliation Commission in an effort to heal the deep wounds left by a legalized system of inhumanity, this investigation has the potential, on a smaller scale, to serve a similar function.

Even if nothing more is accomplished than helping the victims heal and close a nightmarish chapter in their early lives, it will have been worth it.

More about the White House Boys | top

12/09/08 Inquiry urged into remains buried at school for boys
Former residents of the Florida School for Boys recounted painful memories while pushing the state to investigate the unmarked graves at the school and identify the bodies.

Mary Ellen Klas, Miami Herald Herald

Tallahassee --

Convinced the 32 unmarked graves at the Florida School for Boys in Marianna are the bodies of boys abused and killed there decades ago, four former residents of the school are demanding the governor and state and federal attorneys investigate.

Standing on the steps of the U.S. Courthouse on Monday, the men recounted painful memories of their classmates who disappeared decades ago after brutal beatings or torture at the school for delinquent boys. They asked Gov. Charlie Crist and U.S. Attorney General Michael Mukasey to identify the remains to bring the families peace.

The graves were on what officials once called ''the colored side'' of the school. The men now believe they remain unmarked ''to hide the nature of those children's deaths,'' said Michael O'McCarthy, 66, who resided at the school in 1958-59.

''Given the institution's meticulous records . . . there is no practical reason that the identity of the children buried there was not recorded,'' he said.

Gov. Charlie Crist said he is supportive of an investigation and the Department of Juvenile Justice ''will cooperate with any investigation and turn over every document,'' said Frank Penela, department spokesman.

On Monday, the men recalled stories of boys who mouthed off to a supervisor and were shoved into a tumbling clothes dryer and left alone. Others were sent to the torture chamber known as the White House for beatings, and never returned, they said. And then there was the boy who mixed orange juice with rubbing alcohol and got intoxicated.

''He never came back to the cottage. He never returned to school. He just literally vanished off the face of the earth,'' recalled Bryant E. Middleton of Fort Walton Beach, now 63.

In 1959, Middleton conspired with the missing boy to spike their orange juice but, rather than get drunk, Middleton got sick.

''The last I saw of him, he was very intoxicated and I saw a very important staff member -- one that we all feared on a daily basis -- walk over and grab him and bring him up to the administration building,'' he said. ``That boy was never seen again.''

The men learned of the graves six weeks ago when the Department of Juvenile Justice invited five of the men back to the school to dedicate a plaque outside the white cinder-block building -- the so-called White House. The ceremony was held to mark an end to a dark and brutal chapter of Florida's history.

O'McCarthy is now project director of the group that calls itself ''The White House Boys'' and he believes the location of the grave provides reasonable evidence that the victims are African-American male children.

''We are shocked and puzzled . . . that neither the Florida governor's office, the Department of Juvenile Justice nor Florida Department of Law Enforcement have launched an investigation into these remains,'' he said.

Dick Colon, 65, of Baltimore, one of the White House Boys, recalled working in the laundry in the late 1950s with some black boys. Colon went into the restroom and when he came out, the room had been cleared and one black boy was tumbling in the dryer.

`` I think about it very often because I feel guilty. I could have walked over there and opened the door and try to give him some help, but what would happen to me if I were to do that? So I just walked out to the street and that particular kid was never seen again.''

Roger Kiser, 63, of Brunswick, Ga., believes he witnessed two to three deaths during his stay at the school in 1958-59 and again in 1960. One was a white boy who was shaking cream to make butter under the dining table -- but a school attendant suspected him of masturbating. He was taken away ``and never seen again.''

Another time, he saw one of the school staff members order two boys into the tumble dryer.

Later, their bodies were hauled away and he and others were ordered to say nothing about it, he said.

They were warned, Kiser said, that if they were caught talking ''we would be taken to the White House and beaten. Corporal punishment was the means by which they controlled us,'' he said. ``We lived in daily fear.''

The men are also asking for the investigation to include the school's use of the boys for slave labor, sexual abuse, sex trafficking and kidnapping for sexual assault.

Mary Ellen Klas can be reached at

More about the White House Boys | top

12/09/08 Search of 32 graves ordered at Florida reform school
Rich Phillips, Senior Producer, CNN

MIAMI, Florida (CNN) -- Florida Gov. Charlie Crist has ordered an investigation to determine whether the remains of 32 students were buried decades ago in shallow graves on the grounds of a former reform school for boys.

Authorities are investigating whether boys were beaten decades ago in this building, known as the White House.

The governor's action came at the urging of four former residents of what was known as the Florida School for Boys. The four alleged that students were abused and killed by guards decades ago at the school in Marianna, Florida, just south of the Georgia border.

In a letter Crist asked the Florida Department of Law Enforcement to investigate the graves and determine whether any crimes were committed.

"Questions remain unanswered as to the identity of the deceased and the origin of these graves," Crist wrote in his letter to the FDLE.

"The main goal is to determine the location of the graves, who owned the property at the time, and determine if any crimes were committed," FDLE spokesman Kristin Perezluha told CNN.

Authorities are only now beginning their investigation, so no one can say for certain who, if anyone, is buried in the 32 graves with the white metal crosses.

Four former residents of the school on Monday asked Crist to launch the investigation. They call themselves the White House Boys after the concrete building, where, they claim, the beatings and torture were carried out.

The White House Boys -- Roger Kiser, Michael McCarthy, Bryant Middleton and Dick Colon -- found each other on the Internet, after Kiser started a Web site. They began to talk about experiences at the reform school and eventually decided to go public, and call for an investigation.

The four believe many of the boys who were sent to the White House were killed and their remains buried on the grounds of what is now known as the Dozier School for Boys.

Reached at his home in the Florida panhandle, Middleton, 64, was told by a CNN producer that the governor ordered the probe.

"My god! That's remarkable. My god! That's all I ever wanted," he said. "That will begin a lot of the healing for those that survived that school."

"Some of us will never get over the brutality, the sexual assaults and the fear. But this is a major step in the right direction," he said.

Middleton told CNN he was "an incorrigible youth of 14 or 15" when he was sent to the reform school for breaking and entering. During a 30-minute phone interview, he recounted story after horrific story about his time there.

Middleton said he took six trips to the concrete White House, where he endured brutal beatings. He says boys were regularly struck with a metal-reinforced double strap with a long wooden handle.

"You could hear it coming through the air and when it hit your body, the pain was unbelievable," he recalled. "They just beat you to the point of unconsciousness, or you could no longer understand what was happening to you."

He recalled another occasion in which he and another boy decided to get drunk. They mixed orange juice with rubbing alcohol. It make Middleton sick and his friend intoxicated. A guard confronted the other boy, and began to treat him roughly, Middleton said.

"He dragged him to the administration building and I never saw him again. He never came back to work or to the cottage," Middleton told CNN. "He literally disappeared off the face of the earth."

Colon, 65, is a successful electrical contractor in Baltimore, Maryland. But in the 1950s, he acknowledged, he was a wayward youth who gritted his teeth through 11 beatings inside the White House.

Colon said he remembers entering the laundry one day, and his life, he said, has never been the same. Inside a large tumble dryer, was a black teen.

The White House boys, who are all white, told CNN that black kids at the school were beaten even more savagely than white kids.

"I said to myself, 'What's going to happen to me, if I take him out?' " he told CNN. He recalled being about 15 feet away from the boy in the dryer. He thought about helping him, but was afraid.

"I said to myself, I can't do it, cause I'm gonna be the next one in the God-d-- dryer if I take him out," he said.

"I turned my back and walked out and it torments me every day of my life."

Colon established an educational trust fund at the same campus, for high academic achievers, today operated by the Florida Department of Juvenile Justice.

At least one former student says the school was strict but fair.

"They were justified in giving me these paddlings because, hey, I was wrong," Phil Hail of Anniston, Alabama, told The Miami Herald.

Hail remembers going to the white building once for getting low grades in 1957, he told the Herald.

"Was [the school] run with a very strict hand? Yes, it was ... Were the paddlings very severe? Yes, they were," he said.

Another question no one seems able to answer: Why was there no outcry from the parents of boys who disappeared? Why did no one look for them?

Colon and Middleton say it's a valid question. They firmly believe that bodies will be found, and they will be the bodies of both black and white boys.

"I believe, in my own heart, that there has been a cover-up", said Middleton.

Added Colon, "White, African-American, they're all there ... I believe they will find crushed skulls, and broken bones -- and hopefully, one day, the murderers."

Authorities are investigating whether boys were beaten decades ago in this building, known as the White House.

More about the White House Boys | top

12/09/08 Unknown graves at Fla. reform school investigated
Brendan Farrington, Associated Press

TALLAHASSEE, Fla. (AP) — A former inmate at a Florida reform school known for severe beatings decades ago says he remembers walking into a laundry room, peering through a foggy dryer window and seeing a boy tumbling inside. Afraid of retribution, Dick Colon walked away.

But Colon now wonders whether the boy he saw could be buried near the school. Florida law enforcement said Tuesday they have started an investigation into the enduring mystery: Who lies beneath the more than 30 white metal crosses — bearing no names or dates or other details — at a makeshift cemetery near the grounds of the Arthur G. Dozier School for Boys, where youngsters were routinely beaten and abused in the 1950s and '60s.

"I think about it very often because I feel guilty. I felt as though I could have walked over there and opened the door and tried to give him some help, but then what the hell was going to happen to me if I did?" said Colon, now 65 and living in Baltimore. "That particular kid was never seen again."

Gov. Charlie Crist ordered the Florida Department of Law Enforcement to investigate at the urging of Colon and other men who committed crimes as boys and were sent to the school. The agency was tapped to find out what was in the graves, identify any remains and determine whether any crimes occurred.

"Justice always cries out for a conclusion and this is no different," Crist told reporters. "If there's an opportunity to find out exactly what happened there, to be able to verify if there were these kinds of horrible atrocities ... we have a duty to do so."

The Department of Juvenile Justice has no records that explain what's in the cemetery near the 108-year-old reform school.

One theory is the graves contain the bodies of six boys who died in a 1914 school fire. But that would only explain a fraction of the markers.

Current school superintendent Mary Zahasky hopes the graves do not contain children.

"When I first saw it — those kinds of things tug at your heart. I'm a mother myself," she said. "I just can't imagine having my child buried out there like that."

Colon is part of a group of men who call themselves "The White House Boys Survivors" because they suffered abuse in a small, white building known as the White House. It contained two rooms where guards would beat children, one for black inmates; one for whites.

The boys were forced to lie on a bed, face down in a pillow covered with blood, spit and mucous, and were repeatedly struck with a long leather-and-metal strap for offenses as slight as singing, or talking to a black inmate. They described beatings so severe that underwear became imbedded in skin.

The Department of Juvenile Justice acknowledged the abuse in October, placing a plaque on the now-closed white building.

"The staff was so brutal that just even the slightest frown on your face or even the slightest word out of context could cause you to be sent down to the White House and be viciously beaten to the point that you would become unconscious and bleed profusely down your legs and your back," Bryant Middleton, 63, of Fort Walton Beach, said Monday.

After the October ceremony, Department of Juvenile Justice staff took five of the former inmates to the cemetery, which is located near the facility that used to house black inmates. An adult prison now stands on the property.

"This is a big occasion for the state of Florida," Michael O'McCarthy, 66, who was sent to the detention center when he was 15 for stealing auto parts, said of the investigation. "Rarely do state or federal governments like to admit that they have committed this type of egregious, destructive kinds of crimes, especially to children."

At least one former reform school student said the men's stories may be exaggerated.

"They were justified in giving me these paddlings because, hey, I was wrong," said Phil Hail of Anniston, Ala., who remembered going to the white building once for getting low grades in 1957. "It comes down to if you abide by the rules, you're not punished."

Hail's description was similar to what the other men described, but he said the school wasn't a "house of horrors."

"Was (the school) run with a very strict hand? Yes, it was," he said. "Were the paddlings very severe? Yes, they were."

On the Net: 

In this Oct. 21, 2008 file photo, Dick Colon, a member of the White House Boys, walks through grave sites near the Arthur G. Dozier School for Boys in Marianna, Fla. Several men who suffered through severe beatings at what's now called the Arthur G. Dozier School for Boys believe the crosses mark the graves of boys who were killed at the school, victims of punishments that went too far. (AP Photo/Phil Coale, File)


More about the White House Boys | top

11/15/08 Teen held out hope for a second chance
Andrew Meacham, St. Petersburg Times

For a year inside the Orient Road Jail, Kevin Christie reassured his family that everything would be okay. He had screwed up and was paying the consequences. But just wait, Kevin predicted - he would make them proud.

But just as he was entering the final phase of his detention, Kevin collapsed while playing basketball and later died on Friday, his second full day at a juvenile rehabilitation center in Okeechobee. He was 16.

"He was the type of person who when he was right would defend himself, or when he was wrong he would say, 'Okay, I was wrong,'" said family friend Alejo Vickers, 23.

Friends say Kevin remained upbeat despite the absence of his parents in recent years. His father was arrested and deported to Jamaica several years ago. Two years ago, Kevin's mother returned to Jamaica.

He stayed with relatives and friends while attending King High in Tampa. He completed chores and obeyed curfews, said Dana Hamilton, a friend's mother who took Kevin in. He composed rap music and talked of going into the music business.

Everyone has a theory about what went wrong. Some point to the rootlessness of his haphazard living arrangements. Others say Kevin was quick to bond with those he admired, whether they were good or bad.

In October 2007, Kevin was arrested for armed burglary, a felony, and other offenses. Over the next year he complained about the food to his aunt and showed off his grades from alternative school.

"He was brilliant and smart, an 'A' student," said Deonne Crewe, 41. "He just made one bad mistake."

On Nov. 5, Kevin was transferred to the Eckerd Youth Development Center in Okeechobee. At 6 p.m. on Friday, authorities say, he leaned over during a basketball game to assist a player who had fallen - and collapsed.

Two staffers rushed to perform CPR, said Frank Penela, a spokesman for the state's Department of Juvenile Justice. Paramedics transferred Kevin to Raulerson Hospital, where he died at 7:20 p.m.

Autopsy results from the Okeechobee County Medical Examiner's Office are pending and could take weeks. The Okeechobee County Sheriff's Office is not investigating the case, spokesman Ted Van Deman said.

Kevin has passed a physical just a day before the game, said Karen Bonsignori of the Eckerd facility. Nothing in his file indicated a prior medical condition, she said.

Hours before he died, Kevin left a message through a legal guardian. "He said, 'Tell my family I love them and to pray for me.'" Crewe recalled. "'In no time they'll see me again.'"

Andrew Meacham can be reached at (813) 661-2431 or


Kevin O. Christie
Born: Nov. 22, 1991.
Died: Nov. 7, 2008.
Survivors: sister, Kerryann; brother, Kareem; mother, Denise Crew: father, Kevin Christie.
Service: To be arranged.

Click for more | top

11/11/08 Youth facility officials don't know cause of teen's death
Ana X. Ceron. Palm Beach Post

Officials are awaiting autopsy results to determine what caused the death of a teen at a juvenile facility last week.

Sixteen-year-old Kevin Christie was playing basketball with a group of boys at the Eckerd Youth Development Center in Okeechobee and collapsed as he was helping a boy who fell, said Robert Patterson, operations director for the facility.

Christie bent over to help the boy up, then fell on his back, Patterson said Tuesday. Once on the ground he lifted himself up a little, as if he were gasping for air, Patterson said.

Staff at the center rushed to administer CPR and an ambulance transported him to Raulerson Hospital, where he died between 6:30 and 7 p.m. Friday, Patterson said.

An autopsy was done Saturday, and officials are waiting on its findings to learn what caused the teen's death, Patterson said.

Christie was admitted to the Eckerd Youth Development Center about 2 p.m. on Nov. 6. He had been transferred after serving a year at Orient Road Jail in Tampa, Patterson said.

Christie was originally from Jamaica but had been living in Riverview with a family friend, Patterson said.

Patterson said grief counselors were available to talk with the boys and the staff at the center about what had happened.

"It was really a total shock for the boys and the staff for this to happen," he said.

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11/03/08 Undo zero-tolerance policy in schools
David Utter, Guest opinion,

The arrest and detention of a 9-year-old girl with mental illness at Royal Palm Exceptional School earlier this month was more than just a personal tragedy for the family.

It was a sad reminder that children with disabilities are not getting the special care they need in our schools and that too many are being shoved needlessly into the juvenile justice system.

I'm not casting blame on individual police officers or school officials. I am saying, however, that the system is broken. It's time to change the attitude pervasive in our schools that the police and the courts are the most appropriate way to handle children who have behavioral problems.

In this case, the girl was charged with two felony counts after she was accused of spitting at teachers and fighting their efforts to restrain her during a confrontation.

A statement issued by the Fort Myers Police Department after the girl's arrest says a lot about the situation: "This was the end of the line, and it is a very fine line we walk. Now, she can be mandated by a judge to get the assistance she needs."

School officials echoed that sentiment. A spokesman said the juvenile justice system must be involved "in order to get the dominoes lined up in order to get the child the help they need."

I'm sure school officials thought they were doing the right thing. But it shouldn't take handcuffs and felony charges for a child with mental illness to get the help she needs.

In fact, this harsh approach - encouraged by zero-tolerance policies that have been in vogue for the past decade or so - is just flat wrong. And it's not working for anyone, least of all the children who get caught up in the cold bureaucracy of courts, judges and jails.

It is this approach that is feeding Florida's most vulnerable children into the state's "school-to-prison pipeline" and, ultimately, into its adult prisons.

As a direct result of such policies, Florida schools sent almost 23,000 students to the juvenile justice system in 2006-07 school year. This is a shocking number. Most of these children committed nonviolent offenses.

Typically, children in Florida are held in jail-like settings even before their cases have ever been heard by a judge - even though decades of research shows that detention harms young people and can contribute to future delinquency.

In Lee County last year, 19 children younger than 9 were processed for criminal offenses by the county's Juvenile Assessment Center, according to The News-Press. That number dropped to nine children this year. However, 13 children who were 10 years old were processed by the center, as were 21 children who were 11 years old.

Why can't "the dominoes" be lined up sooner for these children?

Florida already spends more than $2 billion annually to incarcerate 93,000 adult inmates. The Department of Juvenile Justice spends another $700 million, processing more than 91,000 youths each year.

How much more can we afford to spend? How many more young lives will be shattered before we try something different?

There's a better way, and it begins in Florida's schools.

First, zero tolerance needs to reserved for the most serious crimes, not for minor, nonviolent offenses. Gov. Charlie Crist's Blueprint Commission recommended earlier this year that zero-tolerance statutes and policies be revised to eliminate the referral of youngsters to the juvenile justice system for "petty acts of misconduct and misdemeanors." It further recommended that suspension and expulsion should be avoided if possible and that discipline should be based on the particular circumstances of the misbehavior - a major departure from the one-size-fits-all scheme that is zero tolerance.

Second, schools must begin providing the individual counseling, psychological and social services to children with learning disorders that are required under the federal Individuals with Disabilities Education Improvement Act.

The fact is that 70 percent of youths referred to the Florida juvenile justice system each year have at least one mental health disorder. It will be far more economical, more humane and more effective to make sure these children get the help they need in school rather than to pay for incarceration later.

This is why the Southern Poverty Law Center and a coalition of civil rights groups have recently filed administrative complaints against the Hillsborough and Palm Beach county school districts. And it is why we've filed similar actions in Mississippi and Louisiana - actions that have brought significant reforms.

The stakes are simply too high to rely on the criminal justice system to handle behavioral problems in our schools. Students with mental disabilities need the appropriate services before they're arrested and making headlines in the local newspaper.

Schoolhouse to Jailhouse Track | top

10/27/08 Torture of kids remembered
A North Florida reform school acknowledges its history of abuse.
Associated Press as reported in St. Petersburg Times

MARIANNA — Mike McCar­thy walked into a small white building on the grounds of the Arthur G. Dozier School for the first time in 40 years Tuesday, and the memories of horrific beatings came flooding back.

“There was blood splattered all over the walls,” he said, standing in a dark room barely big enough to fit the bed he and other chil­dren lay in while they were beaten so badly he said some had to have underwear surgi­cally removed. After a moment, he muttered, “God, I’ve got to get out of here.”

McCarthy, now 65 and liv­ing in Costa Rica, and four other men who spent time in the 1950s and 1960s at what was then called the Florida State Reform School returned to hear the state Department of Juvenile Justice acknowledge the abuse that took place at the sprawling North Florida facility.

On a beautiful fall day, with birds swooping and singing in the pine trees behind them, each of the five men, who call them­selves “the White House Boys,” recalled brutal beatings, pun­ishment for offenses as slight as singing, or talking to a black inmate. Boys would be hit doz­ens of times — sometimes more than 100 — with a wide, 3-foot­long leather strap that had sheet metal stuffed in the middle.

Roger Kiser was sent to the facility after running away from a Jacksonville orphanage.

But after his first trip to the White House, he knew he would have been better off at the orphanage.

“When I walked out of this building … when I looked in the mirror, I couldn’t tell who I was, I was so bloodied,” said Kiser, 62, who now lives in Brunswick, Ga.

For years later, he worked menial jobs because he said he lost his self-respect.

All this, and he had never committed a crime. “Nobody treated me with respect; I was nothing more than a dog,” he said. “I certainly hope things have changed. I pray to God.”

In a building just across from the White House was a place the boys referred to as the rape room. Robert Straley, 62, of Clearwater, was 13 and about 105 pounds when he was sent there. He remembered being waked one night and accused of smok­ing, and told that if he denied it, he would be punished.

“I was on the entertainment list for the night. That’s what it was,” Straley said.

He remembers a man with an iron grip grabbing his arm.

“They were monsters. Oh, my God, the things they did,” Straley said.

“When these men had me down, you weren’t going to turn into Bruce Lee, you only had one option, and that was you could scream all you wanted.”

Dick Colon remembers try­ing not to scream. He was told by guards that if he made a peep, the beating would last longer. Guards would force him to lie on a bed.

“The pillow he asked you to bury your face in was all blood and snot and guts,” Colon said.

He described the pain as feel­ing like someone pouring a pot of boiling water on his naked body. The pain got worse with each hit. “You screamed in your mind and your heart, and in every ounce of your body you screamed, but you didn’t peep. The man told you, ‘Don’t peep! I’ll start at one and I’ll go all over again,’” said Colon, 66, who now lives in Baltimore.

He remembers standing up after one of the beatings and coming nose-to-nose with a guard who had a smile on his face.

“I thought to myself, ‘God almighty, if I could right now, I would reach into your chest cavity and I would pull out your heart and I would bite it while you looked at me,’” Colon said. “He looked at me with a face of satisfaction and contentment over the whipping that he gave me.”

After the men spoke, former state Rep. Gus Barreiro, now the Juvenile Justice Department’s chief of state residential pro­grams, unveiled a plaque outside the White House as an acknowledgment of the torture.

The detention center is still open, but the White House building has been locked up since 1967.

The group planted a tree outside the building. Later, they drove to a nearby cemetery where 31 unmarked iron crosses mark the graves of unknown dead — bodies the White House Boys believe are children beaten to death at the reform school.

“That’s a sorry something for a head marker,” said Bill Haynes, 65, who was an inmate at the school in the late 1950s and now works in the Alabama Correc­tions Department. “This may not be the only place they ever bur­ied them.”

Straley said as far as he knows, no one was ever prosecuted for the beatings or rapes. The men, who seek out other victims and have researched the facility, say it’s not clear why the abuse finally stopped. Perhaps the vic­tims’ complaints were finally heard.

At the end of the day, Straley said it was hard to find a sense of closure because the things that he suffered had filled him with rage. “It might lessen some of it, I don’t know,” Straley said softly.

“Maybe it did change my mind a little bit seeing what the place looks like today and knowing they aren’t just beating the hell out of these kids.”

Associated Press
 Roger Kiser, center, stands Tuesday in front of “the White House” as he recalls his time at the reform school during ceremonies dedicating a plaque. The detention center is still open, but the White House building has been locked up since 1967.

Associated Press
 Mike McCarthy, left, and Dick Colon on Tuesday recall beatings at the former Florida State Reform School in Marianna.

Associated Press
 Dick Colon walks among the graves at the school for boys after the ceremony dedicating the plaque. Unmarked iron crosses mark the graves of more than 30 boys.

More about the White House Boys | top

 10/24/08 The Sealing of the White House: A personal video
Roger Dean Kiser, trampolineone

From:> [Roger Kiser]
To: <> [Cathy Corry]
Date: Fri, 24 Oct 2008 14:01:32 -0400
Subject: Roger Kiser-White House Boys

Please feel free to use MY PERSONAL video [The Sealing of the White House Torture Chamber] on your site if you desire.

Thank you,

Roger Dean Kiser (912) 261-1014


The purchasing of my books helps me continue my work with American Orphans and abused children. Roger Dean Kiser, author (child advocate)


In memory of the children who passed these doors, we acknowledge their
tribulations and offer our hope that they have found
some measure of peace.

May this building stand as a reminder of the need to remain vigilant in
protecting our children as we help them to seek a brighter future.

Moreover, we offer the reassurance that we are dedicated to serving and
protecting the youth who enter this campus, and helping
them to transform their lives.


The White House
Officially Sealed
by the
Florida Department of Juvenile Justice
October 21, 2008


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10/23/08 Our Opinion: Memories of state abuse can't be erased
Editorial, Tallahassee Democrat

In the 1950s and '60s, the Florida State Reform School in Marianna, where many young male offenders wound up, had a notorious reputation. Backyard scuttlebutt, especially among teenagers, is often wildly exaggerated, so the tales of terrible beatings were easily dismissed. After all, they came from young men whose credibility was unreliable to begin with.

They weren't exaggerating.

In an emotional ceremony Tuesday on the grounds of the institution now known as the Arthur G. Dozier School for Boys, the Department of Juvenile Justice, which oversees the facility, acknowledged the horrific abuse.

State officials invited five men — they call themselves the "White House Boys" after the whitewashed cinderblock building where they were mercilessly beaten — to attend a two-hour ceremony at which they were allowed to make uncensored statements about their experiences. Healing was the goal.

Mike McCarthy, 65, recalled "blood spattered all over the walls."

Associated Press reporter Brendan Farrington covered the event. He described "a dark room barely big enough to fit the bed (Mike McCarthy) and other children lay in while they were beaten so badly he said some had to have underwear surgically removed."

Roger Kiser, 62, was sent to the reform school after running away from an orphanage in Jacksonville where he was being molested. He said when he got to Marianna, he realized he was better off at the orphanage. The Associated Press picks up his account.

"When I walked out of this building ... when I looked in the mirror, I couldn't tell who I was, I was so bloodied. From that day forward, I've never forgotten what rotten SOBs the human being can be.

"Nobody treated me with respect, I was nothing more than a dog," he said. "I certainly hope things have changed. I pray to God."

In the building across from the White House, the victims said, was what they called the rape room.

"They were monsters," 62-year-old Robert Straley of Clearwater said of the state employees who abused him. "Oh my God, the things they did."

After all five men spoke, Gus Barreiro, a former lawmaker who now oversees DJJ's residential programs, unveiled a plaque outside the White House.

"In memory of the children who passed through these doors, we acknowledge their tribulations and offer our hope that they found some measure of peace. May this building stand as a reminder of the need to remain vigilant in protecting our children as we help them seek a brighter future."

It is rare for a government agency to acknowledge even errors of policy, but more rare to acknowledge such dire human behavior stemming from judgments that one can only assume started from the top. This week's acknowledgment improves the credibility of DJJ, of course, and the public can only hope that such horrors are now truly part of the past.

More about the White House Boys | top

10/22/08 Florida reform school abuse victims recall horrors
Brendan Farrington. Associated Press.

MARIANNA, Fla. (AP) — Mike McCarthy walked into a small white building on the grounds of the Arthur G. Dozier School for the first time in 40 years and the memories of horrific beatings came flooding back.

"There was blood splattered all over the walls," he said, standing in a dark room barely big enough to fit the bed he and other children lay in while they were beaten with a leather-and-metal strap. After a moment, he muttered, "God, I've got to get out of here."

McCarthy, now 65 and living in Costa Rica, and four other men who spent time in the 1950s and 1960s at what was then called the Florida State Reform School returned Tuesday to hear the state Department of Juvenile Justice acknowledge the abuse that took place at the sprawling northern Florida facility, about 70 miles northwest of Tallahassee.

On a beautiful fall day, with birds swooping and singing in the pine trees behind them, each of the five men, who call themselves "The White House Boys," recalled brutal beatings, punishment for offenses as slight as singing, or talking to a black inmate. Boys would be hit dozens of times — sometimes more than 100 — with a wide, three-foot long leather strap that had sheet metal stuffed in the middle.

Roger Kiser was sent to the facility after running away from a Jacksonville orphanage where a woman was molesting him. But after his first trip to The White House, he knew he would have been better off at the orphanage.

"When I walked out of this building ... when I looked in the mirror, I couldn't tell who I was, I was so bloodied," said Kiser, 62, who now lives in Brunswick, Ga. "From that day forward, I've never forgotten what rotten SOBs the human being can be."

For years later, he worked menial jobs because he said he lost his self-respect. All this, and he had never committed a crime.

"Nobody treated me with respect, I was nothing more than a dog," he said. "I certainly hope things have changed. I pray to God."

In a building just across from The White House was a place the boys referred to as the rape room. Robert Straley, 62, of Clearwater, was 13 and about 105 pounds when he was sent there. He remembered being woken up one night and being accused of smoking, and told that if he denied it, he would be punished.

"I was on the entertainment list for the night. That's what it was," Straley said.

He remembers a man with an iron grip grabbing his arm.

"They were monsters. Oh my God, the things they did," Straley said.

"When these men had me down, you weren't going to turn into Bruce Lee, you only had one option and that was you could scream all you wanted."

Dick Colon remembers trying not to scream. He was told by guards that if he made a peep, the beating would last longer. Guards would force him to lay on a bed.

"The pillow he asked you to bury your face in was all blood and snot and guts," Colon said.

He described the pain as feeling like someone pouring a pot of boiling water on his naked body. The pain got worse with each hit.

"You screamed in your mind and your heart, and in every ounce of your body you screamed, but you didn't peep. The man told you, 'Don't peep! I'll start at one and I'll go all over again,'" said Colon, 66, who now lives in Baltimore, Md.

He remembers standing up after one of the beatings and came nose-to-nose with a guard who had a smile on his face.

"I thought to myself, 'God almighty, if I could right now, I would reach into your chest cavity and I would pull out your heart and I would bite it while you looked at me,'" Colon said. "He looked at me with a face of satisfaction and contentment over the whipping that he gave me."

After the men spoke, former state Rep. Gus Barreiro, now the Department of Juvenile Justice's chief of state residential programs, unveiled a plaque outside The White House as an acknowledgment of the torture. The detention center is still open, but the White House building has been locked up since 1967.

The group planted a tree outside the building. Later, they drove to a nearby cemetery where 31 unmarked iron crosses mark the graves of unknown dead — bodies The White House Boys believe are children beaten to death at the reform school.

"That's a sorry something for a head marker," said Bill Haynes, 65, who was an inmate at the school in the late 1950s and now works in the Alabama Department of Corrections. "This may not be the only place they ever buried them."

Straley said as far as he knows, no one was ever prosecuted for the beatings or rapes. The men, who seek out other victims and have researched the facility, say it's not clear why the abuse finally stopped. Perhaps the victims' complaints were finally heard.

At the end of the day, Straley said it was hard to find a sense of closure because the things that he suffered had filled him with rage.

"It might lessen some of it, I don't know," Straley said softly.

"Maybe it did change my mind a little bit seeing what the place looks like today and knowing they aren't just beating the hell out of these kids."

More about the White House Boys | top

10/19/08 Reform school alumni recount severe beatings, rapes
Carol Marbin Miller. Miami Herald.

Half a century ago, victims say, vicious beatings and rapes ruled the day at Florida State Reform School.

Related Content
Men recall dark days at state reformatory [video]
Report documenting beatings with leather strap (1911)
Grand jury report on abuses (1914)
Act creating the reformatory (1897)
Senate committee's hearing on troubles at Dozier (1903)
Florida State Reform School: a timeline

MARIANNA -- The Florida State Reform School -- more dungeon than deliverance for much of its 108-year history -- has kept chilling secrets hidden behind red-brick walls and a razor wire fence amid the gently rolling hills of rural North Florida.

Established by state lawmakers in 1897 as a high-minded experiment where ''young offenders, separated from the vicious, may receive careful, physical, intellectual and moral training,'' the reformatory instead became a Dickensian nightmare.

Three years after the facility opened, kids were found chained in irons. A 1914 fire took six young lives while guards ''were in town upon some pleasure bent,'' records say. And in the 1980s, advocates sued to stop the state from shackling and hogtying children there.

On Tuesday, about a half-dozen alumni will return to what is now called the Arthur G. Dozier School for Boys to confront the most painful chapter of their troubled lives.

The White House Boys, as a group of grown men now call themselves -- kept one of the institution's most shameful secrets for half a century: what was done to them inside a squat, dark, cinder-block building called The White House.

There, they say, guards beat them ferociously with a lash, some dozens of times. Some men say they also were sexually abused in a crawl space below the dining hall they call the "rape room.''

State juvenile justice administrators, who have not denied the allegations, will dedicate a memorial to the suffering of The White House Boys -- who found one another through the Internet -- at a formal ceremony at the Marianna campus Tuesday.

They number in the hundreds, perhaps even thousands.


In recent weeks, in a bid to improve transparency, administrators have lifted the veil of secrecy that surrounded Dozier and programs like it, allowing The Miami Herald to review century-old records and tour the remote campus.

Robert Straley, 64, a Clearwater man who sells novelties at city events and music festivals throughout the South, still recalls vividly what happened to him in the white stucco cracker house in March 1963.

The instrument of his torment was a long leather strap -- like the kind used in old-fashioned barber shops, except that part of it was made of sheet metal.

''If I had them people in front of me, I'd have to ask them if they realize how many lives they destroyed,'' Straley said. "They beat you. They put the rage in you.''

''When you inflict that much pain and brutality on a child, they're traumatized for life,'' he said. ``Period.''

Troy Tidwell, 84, a retired supervisor still in Marianna, acknowledges that children were disciplined at The White House, though he denied any of the inmates were injured.

Originally, Tidwell said, guards ''spanked'' the boys with a three-inch-wide, 18-inch-long board but traded in the paddle for the strap because ``we were afraid the board would injure them.''

''Kids that were chronic cases, getting in trouble all the time, running away and what have you, they used that as a last resort,'' Tidwell said. ``We would take them to a little building near the dining room and spank the boys there when we felt it was necessary.''

''Some of the boys didn't need but the one spanking; they didn't want to go back,'' he added. "Some of the kids, sometimes they would try to be tough.''


For the past several months, the Department of Juvenile Justice has been torn over what to do for the White House boys. Now in their 60s, they say the events of a half-century ago forever shaped their lives -- and not for the better.

''Our hearts go out to these men,'' DJJ Secretary Frank Peterman told The Miami Herald. "We certainly want them to understand that we want them to be healed.''

Peterman, also a St. Petersburg Baptist minister, also wants them to know the state's juvenile lockups -- and Dozier in particular -- are far different places from what they once were. ''We just don't tolerate the maiming or abuse of kids,'' he said.

"We just want to bring closure to a very tragic time in our state.''

The state banned corporal punishment -- including the strap -- at places like Dozier in 1967. But the department continued to be rocked by scandals after the deaths of children in the state's care, including a Miami boy who died of appendicitis in 2003 after begging guards for medical help.

The Florida Times Union, in June 1899, called the reformatory "a new departure in the treatment of youthful criminals.''

It was tucked amid the forests of rural Jackson County amid 1,200 acres of pristine land. By the turn of the century, the state had built two brick dormitories a half-mile apart -- one for the white children, the other for ''coloreds.'' There was corn and sugar cane and peas and velvet beans and cotton and hogs and mules, and a brick-making factory for the youths to learn a trade.

But by 1903, the lofty experiment already had gone horribly wrong. ''We found them in irons, just like common criminals, which in the judgment of your committee is not the meaning of a state reform school,'' a Senate inspection committee wrote, calling the school ``nothing more nor less than a prison.''

Seven years later, a special legislative committee reported that ''the inmates were at times unnecessarily and brutally punished, the instrument of punishment being a leather strap fastened to a wooden handle.'' The lawmakers were assured that the beatings ended with the firing of a superintendent.


In November 1914, a fire erupted in a ''broken and dilapidated'' stove in the white boys' dormitory while many of the guards had been visiting a house of ill repute in town, a grand jury reported. Six boys died.

By law, the white and black children were housed in camps a half-mile apart, and were forbidden to come in contact at any point. The camps were separate, but decidedly not equal.

Reports by lawmakers in 1911 and 1913 described the white inmates' quarters as ''neatly kept,'' housing ''comfortably clad'' and ''happy'' children.

The ''Negro School,'' however, was "more in the nature of a convict camp.''

As a rule, the report said, the black children were ''kept at work the entire day,'' only to return at night to a dormitory where they slept two to a bed in cots without mattresses. "The sleeping quarters are very poorly ventilated, and, crowded as they are, must necessarily be injurious to the health of the inmates.''


For decades, the Marianna reform school was a powerful symbol of the force Florida would bring to bear against youngsters who broke the law -- or simply refused to conform. Records show that runaways, truants and ''incorrigibles'' often found themselves locked within the same walls as car thieves and assailants.

''When kids were growing up, their parents would say to them, `If you don't behave, we'll send you to Dozier,'' said the current superintendent, Mary Zahasky. "This happened all over the state.''

Harsh treatment and outright beatings were not uncommon in lockups and youth camps throughout the United States, especially in the middle of the 20th century, but at Dozier, they ''were beyond the pale,'' said Ronald Davidson, director of the University of Illinois at Chicago's Mental Health Policy Program.

''These were organized, government-approved -- and certainly government ignored -- systems of gratuitous cruelty,'' said Davidson, who has overseen troubled juvenile justice and child welfare programs for 25 years for both the Illinois state and federal governments.

North of U.S. 90 in the county seat, the reform school is set amid a landscape of red clay, green grass, and thick stands of oak and pine. In the 1950s and 1960s, it held dormitories of red and whitewashed brick next to ramshackle cracker houses of concrete and stucco.

''When I arrived there, I was quite impressed,'' said Straley. 'It was a beautiful place. The cottages were all brick and the bushes were trimmed, there were big oak trees and it was beautifully landscaped and I thought, `Wow, this is really something. I might make some friends here and have a good time.' ''

But there was something awful beyond the first impression.

''You just knew this is not a college campus, and these kids are not having a good time,'' said Michael O'McCarthy, who went by his stepfather's surname of Babarsky during his childhood. ``You just got the sense there is something wrong. Call it foreboding.''

"You just knew then you had found a new kind of hell.''

A yellowing official binder filled with old-fashioned cursive notes Michael Babarsky's correctional journey in dispassionate details: His inmate number is 27719. He is the son of A.J. and Edna Babarsky of Islamorada. He was sentenced to the reform school by Judge Eva Gibson for stealing and running away "until legally discharged.''


O'McCarthy entered the camp on May 14, 1958, escaped July 7, 1958, and was recaptured the next day.

O'McCarthy said he was warned that running from the camp would fetch dire consequences. And some of the tougher boys wore the consequences like a badge of honor. ''How many did you get?'' they'd be asked as they hobbled back to their cottages from The White House, their bottoms bruised and bloodied under their cotton trousers.

The first thing most of the White House boys remember is the fan. It hung from the ceiling in a corridor, an industrial-sized contraption that sounded like a roaring engine. The guards apparently were trying to prevent the boys waiting in line for beatings from panicking, hoping the noise would drown out the thwack-thwack-thwack of the strap and the anguished screams. It didn't.

''I was so scared, I begged Jesus to take me out of this world,'' said Bill Haynes, who was at the reform school from April 11, 1958, to Nov. 29, 1959. ''I think everybody finds Jesus in that place.'' Haynes is now communications director for the Alabama prison system, and a former prison guard.

Said Straley: "You were terrified. It's the most scared I've ever been.''


The boys were told to lie on their bellies and grip the metal railing at the head of a bunk bed. The mattress was covered with blood and body fluids. The pillow smelled like body odor, and was flecked with tiny pieces of human tongues and lips from when boys bit themselves, said Richard Colon, 65, a Hialeah boy who was sent to the school on May 17, 1957, for stealing cars. He now lives in Baltimore.

The strap was kept under the pillow. ''It was attached to a wooden handle,'' said Straley, 64. "These guys really knew how to use it, and they prided themselves on that fact. They could bring blood with one blow.''

The boys would be told, they now say, that the whipping would stop if they squirmed or screamed or tried to jump off the cot, and when it resumed, it would start all over from the beginning. The boys never knew how many licks they were getting until it was over.

''I think the reason they didn't want you to scream was because it got to them,'' said O'McCarthy.


Five men interviewed by The Miami Herald recall being whipped by two men: Robert Hatton, an assistant superintendent who is deceased, and Tidwell, who accidentally severed his left arm with a shotgun when he was 6. The men still refer to him as "the one-armed man.''

Hatton, who did most of the beatings, would jerk and pivot on the concrete floor like a pitcher every time he raised and lowered the belt, Haynes said.

When the leather hit its mark, they say, the little army cot would heave and converge, sometimes a foot at a time. The first two or three cracks were easy. But then the reality sank in.

''I couldn't believe I was being hit with that much force,'' said Straley. "When they were hitting you in the same spot and they had already broken the skin or bruised you, you were in some serious pain. I went out of there in shock.''

Colon, who said he was only 14 and weighed less than 100 pounds, still can feel the fury. ''I can tell you that at that moment, there's absolutely no doubt in my mind, I could have stuck my hand through his heart and his chest cavity and ripped his heart out with my hand and bit it in his face,'' he said.

Some of the boys had to be taken to an infirmary to have small pieces of cotton underwear extracted from their buttocks with tweezers and surgical tools, they said.

''Your hind end would be black as a crow,'' said Haynes. "It had a crust over it. Your shorts will be embedded into your skin and would have to be pulled out. And when they pulled them out, it hurts even worse.''

Though such beatings and abuse often were justified under a ''patina of social beliefs'' that physical discipline could rehabilitate troubled children, Davidson said, decades of academic research has made clear that such punishment serves no real purpose.

''Everything we know about psychological trauma in abused and neglected children tells us that this will create a lifelong emotional scar which will color every aspect of childhood and adult development,'' Davidson said.

In recent months, some of the White House alumni discovered one another through the gripping narratives they had posted on Internet blogs. A handful will deliver brief statements in front of The White House on Tuesday, before DJJ administrators dedicate a commemorative plaque and plant a symbolic tree.

After the ceremony, the men plan to visit a small clearing apart from the new Dozier, in a remote corner of what used to be the black children's campus, where a cemetery with the graves of 32 who died there sits -- including the victims of the 1914 fire. The graves are marked by unadorned metal pipe crosses -- but bear no names.

The men say they pushed memories of the White House as far back as their minds would let them. Some of the men say they fought episodes of anger and rage, but mostly went about living their lives. Some of the men have sought counseling, they say.


Roger Kiser, a Georgia man who was taken to the reformatory on June 3, 1959, has been married six times, divorced five times. He said he had trouble expressing love, though he finally got the hang of it when he became a grandfather.

Straley, the Clearwater man, said he has rationed the time he spends out of his house since he began trembling one day at a Wal-Mart, prompting another shopper to ask him what was wrong.

It took the videotaped death of a 14-year-old Panama City boy, Martin Anderson, at a state juvenile boot camp in 2006 to bring the memories flooding back. Though the two would have had nothing in common, Straley said he felt a sudden surge of anger, clenched his fists and cussed -- much as Martin might have done.

''The thing is in your head fresh as a daisy,'' Straley said. "That feeling is there forever.''

Said Colon, the Hialeah boy who returns to Dozier yearly to hand out scholarships to current detainees: "You don't get over it. You learn how to bear pain.''

More about the White House Boys | top

 | top

10/19/08 Florida State Reform School: a timeline [Dozier]

June 4, 1897: Lawmakers vote to establish a state reform school of ''not less than 50 nor more than 320 acres.'' It is to be ''not simply a place of correction,'' but a school where young criminals can be ``restored to the community with purposes and character fitting a good citizen.''

April 2, 1898: City leaders in Marianna secure the winning bid to operate the new state reform school, offering 1,200 acres of land and $1,400 in cash for its development.

Jan. 1, 1900: The Florida State Reform School opens.

June 1, 1903: A legislative committee reports it ``found [inmates] in irons, just as common criminals.''

1911: A report of a special joint committee on the reform school says: ``the inmates were at times unnecessarily and brutally punished, the instrument of punishment being a leather strap fastened to a wooden handle.''

June 5, 1913: The school's name is changed to Florida Industrial School for Boys.

Nov. 18, 1914: A fire erupts in a ''broken and dilapidated'' stove in the white boys' dormitory while almost all of the staff members were in town. Six boys and two staff members die in the fire, resulting in a grand jury report.

Oct. 22, 1918: A flu epidemic strikes. The mayor of Marianna sends a telegram to Tallahassee: ``Industrial school in critical shape. Need nurses and doctor, am using every person able, so many places cannot attend to all.''

Jan. 4, 1926: A committee is appointed to investigate whether boys could be paroled from the Industrial School for Boys to relieve ``crowded conditions at the institution.''

Jan. 25, 1946: Arthur G. Dozier, a schoolteacher, is appointed superintendent of the camp. Later, the reform school is named for him.

July 8, 1958: Michael O'McCarthy, then named Michael Babarsky, is recaptured after an escape one day earlier. He says he was taken to the White House and beaten with a leather strap.

Dec. 24, 1982: Advocates for children and prison reform file a statewide class-action lawsuit to reform the state's juvenile justice system. Among their allegations: Children, some as young as 10, are held in severe crowding and sometimes are shackled and ``hogtied.''

May 5, 1987: State officials announce plans for a sweeping overhaul of the youth corrections system to end the four-year legal battle between children's advocates and the state.

Sources: State archival records, Miami Herald reports, United Press International.

See 10/19/08 Reform school alumni recount severe beatings, rapes | top

10/14/08 Florida NAACP recalls acquittal in Martin Lee Anderson case
Adora Obi Nweze and Chuck Hobbs, Commentary, Tallahassee Democrat

One full year has passed since a Panama City jury acquitted eight defendants in the death of Martin Lee Anderson. Since that time the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People has worked to ensure that justice is rendered in this case.

For those who fight in Anderson's memory the details of his death, as relayed to jurors during the trial, will never be forgotten. The jury learned that Anderson had been placed into a juvenile boot camp because he had taken his grandmother's vehicle on a joy ride.

During the first day of camp, Anderson and the other attendees were required to perform an initial physical assessment that included running and calisthenics. When Anderson could not complete the run, officers began using knee strikes and the application of pressure points — measures that had been outlawed by the Department of Juvenile Justice — to force the child's compliance. Officers then applied ammonia directly under Anderson's nose. Anderson, struggling desperately to breathe, was provided no relief, as officers continued to apply the pungent caplets. After Anderson lost consciousness, officers called for paramedics who rushed him to a local hospital. Anderson, who was just 14 years old, would never regain consciousness.

Dr. Charles Siebert, the local medical examiner, determined that Anderson's death was a result of his carrying the sickle-cell trait. A second autopsy performed by Dr. Vernard Adams, and under the watchful eye of famed medical examiner Dr. Michael Baden, revealed that Anderson had died from asphyxiation. The latter findings confirmed what lay persons, and members of the jury were able to see for themselves on a NASA-enhanced video surveillance tape that captured the last moments of Anderson's life in vivid detail.

Despite such overwhelming evidence, the jury exonerated the defendants. One of the defense lawyers suggested on "Court TV" that he would celebrate the verdict "with heavy drinking and lots of cigars" while the Anderson family, with their attorney Benjamin Crump, struggled to understand how such a verdict could be reached despite the evidence. Attorney Crump famously noted that "You kill a dog, go to jail, you kill a little black boy and nothing happens," an obvious reference to former Atlanta Falcons star Michael Vick who had been sentenced to prison for operating a dog-fighting enterprise.

Nearly two weeks after the verdict, the NAACP led a march on the federal courthouse where we met with then-U. S. Attorney Gregory Miller to express our sincere hopes that federal investigators would review the case and indict the perpetrators. We did so with the knowledge that in 1964, after three young civil-rights workers were brutally murdered in Mississippi, state court juries refused to convict their attackers. We knew that in 1992, after several officers brutally attacked Rodney King on tape, an all-white jury acquitted the officers, too. In those and other instances, the attackers would have gone free but for federal intervention.

During the past year, we have met with federal investigators and prosecutors in Tallahassee and Washington, D.C., who have assured us that they continue to review thousands of pages of documents and exhibits while interviewing witnesses. Despite having concerns about the pace of the investigation, we understand the old cliché that the wheels of justice turn slowly — but they do turn.

In the meantime, we remain steadfast in our belief that justice has yet to be served. While the multimillion-dollar settlement that the family reached was one form of justice — those funds were paid by the state of Florida — not the defendants. As such, the defendants have yet to be held accountable for their actions.

The NAACP, founded in 1909, has been at the forefront of every major civil-rights battle of the last 100 years. While we are proud of the many gains that have occurred during this time, we are acutely aware that one of the last major fronts in the war on equality is within the criminal-justice system. While blacks and minorities are routinely incarcerated for violent crimes, statistics still show that whites that commit violent crimes toward minorities are far less likely to receive similar treatment. There are myriad reasons for these inequities, but suffice it to say that chief among them is prosecutorial discretion in charging, judicial discretion in sentencing and, in the case of Anderson, all or mostly white juries that have a difficult time holding law-enforcement officers culpable for wrongdoing. As long as these inequities exist we will continue to educate the public and conduct peaceful protest so that the notion of "equal justice under the law" becomes not just a concept, but a consistent reality.

More on Anderson and boot camps | top

10/08/08 Complaint filed against PBC Schools — neglect, harsh discipline of special education students — lead to juvenile justice system
K. Chandler. Westside Gazette.

Nearly four years after the Advancement Project’s landmark study, Education on Lockdown: the Schoolhouse to Jailhouse Track, demonstrated how ‘zero tolerance’ policies within the Palm Beach County School District (PBCSD)— originally designed to address serious behavioral issues — morphed into a “take no prisoners” approach to school discipline, the Southern Poverty Law Center (SPLC), along with a consortium of civil rights organizations, have now filed formal complaints against the Hillsborough and PBCSD asserting that students with special needs are being subjected to neglect as well as unnecessarily harsh discipline that essentially put them on a track from the schoolhouse to the jailhouse.

The complaint, raised by the NAACP, Legal Aid Society of Palm Beach County, Fla. Advocacy Center for Persons with Disabilities and the Southern Legal Counsel was lodged with the Florida Department of Education, Oct. 1, 2008 on behalf of four special education students who’d faced frequent and harsh discipline. The complaint cites a woeful lack of psychological counseling, and other social services mandated by the Individuals with Disabilities Education and Improvement Act (IDEA), the end result being that the students were frequently removed from class to the detriment of their education.

“This is a systemic problem that really needs to be addressed at the highest levels of the school district,” said Barbara Burch Briggs, staff attorney for the Legal Aid Society.

Studies have consistently shown that by far Black males are the ones being disproportionately targeted and tracked into the juvenile justice system for relatively minor incidences that should have been dealt with by the school system. Between 2006 and 2007, Black males made up a third of the state’s 23,000 criminal justice referrals despite comprising slightly over 20 percent of Florida’s aggregate student population. Roughly 70 percent of all youth referred to the juvenile justice system have mental health issues, the Department of Juvenile Justice (DJJ) estimates.

“These school districts are violating the civil rights of their most vulnerable students — those with disabilities,” stated David Utter, director of the SPLC’s Florida Initiatives. “Rather than providing these students with the educational services they need and are entitled to under federal law, they are pushing them out of school.”

Compounding the situation, many elementary students enrolled in the PBCSD with behavioral and emotional issues, despite having an average IQ, were found to lag far behind their academic grade level when they advanced to middle school. Making matters worse, only a third of students with disabilities attending Palm Beach County schools graduated compared to nearly two-thirds of students in general. Moreover, the dropout rate is 13 percent for emotionally disabled students compared to 4 percent overall, according to statistics compiled between 2005 & 2006.

The complaint filed by the consortium also comes on the heels of a national report by Human Rights Watch (HRW) released in September, entitled: A Violent Education: Corporal Punishment of Children in U.S. Public Schools that noted, among other things, that African Americans were punished 1.4 times more than white students even though their alleged transgressions were not disproportionately higher, and “special education students — students with mental or physical disabilities — also receive corporal punishment at disproportionate rates.”

The report coincides with a newly-proposed State Board of Education rule, that if enacted, would permit even greater use of force in schools by administrators and teachers – something many parents and child advocates reject out of hand as only making matters worse, particularly with respect to special needs students who are already bearing an unfair burden of harsh discipline and neglect.

“Over-inclusion and under-inclusion each have race implications, as do zero-tolerance practices that lead to racially disparate suspensions and expulsions – and involvement in the juvenile justice system for Black and Latino students with disabilities,” stated Florida State Conference NAACP President, Adora Nweze, who was formerly involved in special education. “Children of color were already being ground down by this flawed system in Palm Beach County schools. Now it appears the entire system has collapsed on top of them.”

top | more about schoolhouse to jailhouse track


09/15/08 Probe into officer firings done

Investigators report finding sexually explicit material in detention center case

Chad Smith. St. Augustine Record


The 15 officers who were fired or resigned from the state-run juvenile detention center in St. Augustine following an investigation last month were found to have accessed "possible sexually explicit material" on the facility's computers, according to state officials.


The dismissals leave the center without more than one-third of its officers.


Officially, the officers at the St. Johns Regional Juvenile Detention Center were dismissed because they violated the state Department of Juvenile Justice's Internet-use policy, which states employees are prohibited from using the Web for any personal tasks, such as checking personal e-mail accounts, sports scores or bank statements.


But, according to summaries of investigators' interviews with the officers, all 15 had accessed Web sites, photographs or e-mails that were sexual to some degree.


The violations ran the gamut from sexually suggestive junk mail in personal e-mail accounts to pictures of cheerleaders to an e-mail with the subject of "Irish Sex Fairy" to animated pictures of two men engaged in sex acts to photographs of naked women sitting on motorcycles, according to the interview summaries.


Karen McNeal, the facility's superintendent, said recently that she won't change the way the computers are accessed, only that she thought the firings sent a loud enough message about what isn't acceptable.


"There is really no way to monitor a person unless you stand over them every time they go to the computer," McNeal said. "The staff members are trained on the proper use of the Internet. They sign an Internet agreement that tells them where they can and cannot go."


The department announced on Aug. 7 that it intended to fire 12 officers at the facility, but since then the department's inspector general found three more had also violated the policy, McNeal said.


She said the firings seemed "harsh," but she understood the department's tough stance.


It would be difficult to determine what content was "minimally sexually suggestive and who went to pornography," she said. "It all violates the policy."


Frank Penela, a spokesman for the Department of Juvenile Justice, said the department took a zero-tolerance approach to the St. Johns officers in part because of the sexual nature of violations.


"The bottom line is the rules were broken in regards to Internet usage," Penela said. "Especially, especially with regards to this adult content."


However, the firings have left the facility, located on Avenue D near the county jail, in need of more than a dozen officers.


McNeal said two officers had been hired already, and neighboring juvenile facilities are lending officers in the interim.


There were 15 juveniles being housed there Thursday, so the officer-to-offender ratio is manageable for now.


"It hasn't infringed on our safety or security or our services to the youth," she said. "If we were full, then we'd be having a problem."


Officers fired:

- Danny Allen

- Dick Charlton

- Chadwick Demarco

- David Evans

- Craig Fox*

- Harry Hontz III

- Sara James

- Jerome McCoy

- Jason Miller

- Sonical Mitchell

- Richeleiu Montoya

- Derrick Philmore

- Matthew Quinn

- Tekita Thomas

- Marie Vertule

 *Resigned during investigation

St. Johns JDC | top

09/06/08 Changes made, but violence continues
Yet the firm that runs Hastings Youth Academy eluded a state takeover.
Deirdre Conner, The Times-Union

Violence at a troubled youth center in St. Johns County has persisted for more than a year since it first reached a boiling point, a Times-Union review has found.

Brawls, staff misbehavior and inappropriate relationships between staff and youths have plagued Hastings Youth Academy since 2006, leading the Florida Department of Juvenile Justice in March to threaten to take over the facility if improvements weren't made.

In late July, the department said the center had substantially improved. It released G4S Youth Services, the private company that runs it, from the threat of takeover, called a cure notice. Now it says G4S will be eligible to rebid for the contract to run the center. The contract expires in December.

However, in late June, a brawl broke out that left one boy with a broken jaw and a staff worker without a job for letting it happen. Since then, three youths have been arrested for battery on workers.

The brawl happened a week before the department's quality assurance inspectors arrived for a scheduled review in July, the center's first since 2005. Among their most disturbing findings: The majority of the students they interviewed said staff bribed youths with candy and food to beat other youths, a practice called "candy on a head."

Parents who contacted the Times-Union have made similar allegations.

A company spokesman said those claims are not true. The department closed an investigation Friday after finding a report of those allegations unsubstantiated, said Mary Mills, the department's North regional director. But the late June fight remains under investigation.

In a written statement, G4S pointed out that it has been removed from the takeover notice, and Hastings' quality assurance score was in the top third of programs reviewed this year.

Mills said progress has been made since the spring.

"They've made substantial improvements, with their behavior management system, staff training, staff interaction with kids," she said.

That G4S continues to run the center angers some parents. They say the experience left their sons with emotional and physical damage.

One of them is Susan Taylor, whose son was released from Hastings earlier this year.

The "candy-on-a-head" practice is one of the traumatic experiences that have been painful for her son, Micah, to talk about, Taylor said. He told her that youths who don't participate in fights will become targets for worse beatings.

Her son was arrested not long before he left Hastings for spitting on a staff member, one of at least eight youths to face felony battery charges related to staff altercations since January.

He has been hospitalized with depression since returning home, and Taylor believes the cycle of violence is to blame. She said her son came home in far worse shape emotionally than when he went in.

"They're not teaching these children better coping abilities," said Taylor, of Fort Walton Beach. "Instead, you have people who incite violence."

Having heard about her son's experience, she also worries about the youth who remain at Hastings.

"I believe that every child presently in there is at risk," Taylor said., (904) 359-4504


Last fall, G4S Youth Services leaders promised they were on the way to improving Hastings Youth Academy and had developed a plan for corrective action. Instead, the violence continued, a slew of reports and arrests show:

October 2007: A Times-Union review of problems at the facility since 2006 includes the arrest of two workers for crimes involving youths at the facility, and three workers were involved in romantic relationships with youths. Four youths escaped during a six-month period in late 2006.

January 2008: Two staff workers are fired for improperly supervising youths. Two youths are arrested for felony battery on staff workers.

February: A staff worker takes down a boy in the program during a dispute, breaking his shoulder. She is fired for using unnecessary force, but the St. Johns County Sheriff's Office declines to pursue criminal charges.

March: The Department of Juvenile Justice sends a letter to G4S Youth Services, saying the company was in default of its contract to run Hastings Youth Academy because of the high number of serious incidents, inappropriate staff/youth relationships, and failure to develop an effective behavioral management system. The department, which oversees more than 90 residential programs for juvenile offenders, has issued five takeover notices in the past 10 months, a spokesman said.

April: Two youths are arrested for felony battery on staff workers.

June: Two staff workers are reprimanded for improper supervision. In a separate incident, one staffer is fired and one suspended for a youth-on-youth battery incident that left one boy with a broken jaw and two others charged with felony battery. A Department of Juvenile Justice inquiry into the fight is not completed.

July: The Department of Juvenile Justice releases G4S Youth Services from the takeover notice, saying it had substantially complied with requirements to improve. Two youths are arrested for felony battery on staff workers.

August: Two youths are arrested for felony battery on staff workers.


08/08/08 Juvie detention officers fired
Some of 12 may have used computers for porn, e-mail
Chad Smith, The St. Augustine Record

Twelve officers, including a supervisor, at the juvenile detention center in St. Augustine were fired Thursday after an investigation into pornography found on three computers there, leaving the facility down almost one-third of its officers.

Frank Penela, a spokesman for the state Department of Juvenile Justice, which oversees the St. Johns Regional Juvenile Detention Center near the county jail on Avenue D, said the officers admitted to using a state computer inappropriately, but that could range from checking a personal e-mail account to accessing pornography.

The department is investigating the matter, and it wasn't immediately clear who or how many of the 12 had accessed porn, Penela said.

Karen McNeal, the superintendent at the 50-bed facility, said it wasn't clear how many images were found, but Penela said it was in the hundreds.

McNeal said there are about 10 juveniles being held there.

The juveniles didn't have access to the computers, and nothing illegal, such as child pornography, was found on them, she said.

Samadhi Jones, a spokeswoman for the department, said information technology experts were called about two weeks ago after one of the computers got a virus.

When they got it back to Tallahassee they found "suggestive to explicit adult images" and alerted the department's inspector general, who immediately put the 12 on administrative leave, Jones said.

McNeal said there are about 40 officers at the facility, and she hadn't had major discipline problems with any of the 12 who were fired, one of whom, Derrick Philmore, had worked there for about 15 years, and another, Jerome McCoy, was a supervisor.

"These aren't officers that we have trouble with who have progressive discipline and are on the verge of being terminated," she said. "Unfortunately they are officers who utilized the computers in an inappropriate way, and the department is taking a stance."

Detention officers fired:

* Danny Allen
* Dick Charlton
* Chadwick Demarco
* David Evans * Craig Fox
* Harry Hontz III
* Jerome McCoy
* Richeleiu Montoya
* Derrick Philmore
* Matthew Quinn
* Tekita Thomas
* Marie Vertule

St. Johns JDC | top

07/26/08 State report faults Collier deputy in boy’s beating in Juvenile Center
Aisling Swift. Naples News.

A state investigation into a 14-year-old Immokalee boy’s assault by two teens at the Collier County Juvenile Assessment Center reveals that a sheriff’s deputy didn’t conduct required 10-minute cell checks and then falsified forms to show he did.

The Department of Juvenile Justice investigation also revealed that 10-minute check forms involving the unnamed victim, whose assault was videotaped by surveillance cameras, have disappeared, leaving only the forms about his attackers.

The 19-page investigative report shows Deputy Shadrick McCausland didn’t conduct the required 10-minute checks for 58 minutes, then filled out forms showing he had checked on Joshua Richard Tirado, 17, of 4348 9th Place S.W., Golden Gate, and Tyler “T-Boy” Joseph Murphy, 15, of 5100 19th Ave. S.W., Golden Gate.

“Deputy McCausland is required to ensure the safety and security of the staff and youth in the assessment center,” the report says. “On the shift this night in question, it is confirmed through security camera surveillance (that) Deputy McCausland did not perform his required duties.”

The report says the 11 p.m. to 7 a.m. shift, which McCausland was assigned to, usually is staffed by one detention officer who also screens those entering the detention center, at the Collier government complex at U.S. 41 and Airport-Pulling Road.

“They have many duties that do not allow time to simply watch the security monitor for eight straight hours per shift,” the report says.

An initial report by sheriff’s Cpl. Dave Shreeve said the repeated assaults occurred between 11:37 p.m. May 14 and 12:46 a.m. May 15, when the teens slapped, kicked and pushed the 14-year-old and forced him to lick the floor after they appeared to urinate or spit on it.

His report said the younger boy also was forced to slap himself until he bled and to wash his face in the toilet and lick the toilet several times.

The report said all those allegations couldn’t be confirmed due to the poor quality of the videotapes, the camera’s angle and the boys obstructing some actions.

About 40 seconds of the 69-minute taped incident wasn’t seen because one teen covered the camera with his shirt. Officials initially believed the victim could have been sexually assaulted, but he denied it.

After the attack, reports say, he was defecating in his pants and blamed it on the assault. Investigators, however, couldn’t confirm whether he had a pre-existing medical condition because his family hired an attorney and communications with the family halted.

The Daily News obtained the 19-page report under the state public records law.

For nearly one hour and 43 minutes, the investigation shows, McCausland conducted five visual inspections, when the minimum required is 10.

The report says McCausland hired an attorney, so he wasn’t available for questioning by investigators.

He was transferred out of the juvenile center, the report says, and is undergoing an internal affairs investigation by the Collier Sheriff’s Office. Sgt. Gus Santos, the sheriff’s lead Internal Affairs investigator, also determined McCausland falsified forms and didn’t conduct the required checks, the report says.

The Sheriff’s Office wouldn’t comment.

“We have an active internal investigation into that matter and therefore we can’t comment on it at this time,” sheriff’s spokeswoman Michelle Batten said.

Juvenile Justice operates the center, but the Sheriff’s Office is under contract to oversee juvenile and staff safety, patrol the cells and watch a video monitor.

The report says a Juvenile Justice employee, Meghan Marino, a probation officer in the screening unit, didn’t report the incident to the proper authorities within two hours, as required.

She was ordered to undergo further training.

“It was a matter of hours and she was retrained and counseled,” Juvenile Justice spokeswoman Samadhi Jones said. “Apparently, she was unclear on that.”

State officials also were notified about the matter by Collier County Judge Mike Carr, who sent a letter May 19 to State Attorney General Bill McCollum, urging an investigation.

Both boys were charged with battery in the boy’s attack, and Tirado, now 18, is being prosecuted as an adult. He also is charged with felony resisting arrest after a deputy was forced to use a Taser to subdue him.

During an initial hearing on the boys’ battery charges, Carr angrily questioned how the attack could occur.

“As loathsome as the conduct that’s alleged by the juvenile, the fact that authorities that are getting paid by the taxpayers, the citizens of Florida, to protect the juveniles in custody apparently are unwilling or unable to do their jobs is of grave concern to the court,” Carr said during the hearing.

“This is disgusting. It is loathsome. It is unacceptable,” Carr said.

Reports say Tirado is a serious habitual offender who has undergone two residential treatment programs and has a history of juvenile delinquency dating to 2003. Murphy, now 16, is a gang member who was on probation for a felony, according to the report.

Michael Schneider, Tirado’s defense attorney, said he was told his client was the least culpable.

The report says Tirado told investigators he’d been under the influence of marijuana when the incident occurred and didn’t remember anything.

“The other defendant was the leader and my client was the follower,” Schneider said.

The report, however, says Tirado was the primary perpetrator, so the other youth wasn’t charged as an adult. The assaulted boy told investigators the one without the shirt was the main aggressor; which teen that was is deleted from the report.

A detention center employee, Norma Collymore, first noticed something was wrong when she saw the younger boy crying after defecating on himself. The report says he cried as he described what had happened, telling investigators he was forced to follow the boys’ orders and was assaulted.

Collymore sent him to the medical unit, where he was examined, and he was taken to a Naples hospital on May 17. In addition to medical care, and treatment at the hospital’s emergency room, the boy was given crisis counseling by a licensed social worker and was released to his mother’s custody on May 18.

Investigators slowed down the videotape — which is “not of superior quality” and doesn’t provide audio — to a per-second time-lapse to determine what occurred. But they couldn’t verify all the boy’s allegations and said a boy seen doing pushups wouldn’t be considered unusual and wouldn’t prompt a check.

Each cell has a camera attached to the 10-foot-high ceiling, and the report says investigators looked at videos from two camera angles.

Videos show the teens aggressively kicking the younger boy while he did pushups and the younger boy “is seen recoiling from the contact of the kicks and, it can then be surmised, from the pain caused by the kicks.”

McCausland is seen standing at the window to the boys’ cell for 56 seconds and accurately writes that check on one boy’s form, but not the other, the report says, noting that McCausland returns about two minutes later and appears to talk to one boy before leaving.

The report calls that “significant,” pointing out he didn’t return until 58 minutes, 13 seconds later, when he unlocked the cell door to allow the victim and one of the others to be interviewed and screened by staff.

The report says it’s not possible to determine if the victim was forced to lick urine or spit from the floor, noting, “The youth victim’s body does come into contact with the floor during push-ups, but it cannot be determined from the video if he licks the floor.”

It says one youth is seen urinating, but it’s unclear if it’s into a toilet or the floor.

“It is also difficult to determine if the youth victim slaps himself as he alleges the youth subjects made him do,” the report says, citing the poor quality of the tape and noting that one youth sometimes obstructs the camera’s view.

The report says detention officers were unaware of any problems to report to McCausland.

“There was no mention of the security camera in room 209 losing video, no mention of a youth placing his head in the toilet and no mention of the youth being kicked by the youth subjects while he performed pushups,” the report says.

“Hence, since the (juvenile detention officer) working the master control position did not observe and record any unusual behaviors from holding area room 209, there was no call to alert the deputy working ... to investigate suspicious behavior.”

Other articles|top

06/27/08 DJJ fires “Nurse Jane”: She expected us to care about the kids; to be honorable, says the department
Special to Appropriated Press.


TALLAHASSEE --Providers who put profits before kids must be rejoicing today. DJJ executives have removed yet another employee who saw too much as she did her job too well, a person who advocated for the kids and refused to "go with the flow" of the currents of corruption in DJJ. They have fired my friend and mentor, Nurse Jane, the Registered Nurse Consultant who worked in QA, after 4 years of continuous harrassment and retaliation against her, following her testimony in the Omar Paisley case...


06/26/08 Nurse to plead guilty in death at juvenile lockup
Carol Marbin Miller, Miami Herald.

A nurse who treated youths at Miami's juvenile lockup will plead guilty to culpable negligence in the death of 17-year-old Omar Paisley five years ago, ending one of the most tragic chapters in the history of Florida's long-troubled juvenile justice program.

Dianne Demeritte, who was employed by Miami Children's Hospital but worked under contract at the Miami Juvenile Detention Center, will be adjudicated guilty and serve one year of probation, according to a plea agreement released Thursday by a spokeswoman for the Miami-Dade courts.

Demeritte ''further agrees that she will voluntarily relinquish her license to practice nursing, that she will never practice nursing again, and that she will never provide patient care to anyone outside of her own family,'' says a letter signed by Assistant State Attorney Reid Rubin, who prosecuted the case.

''Further, it is our understanding that Ms. Demeritte will apologize to the family of Omar Paisley,'' the letter says.

Prosecutors have dropped charges against a second nurse, Gaile Loperfido, who like Demeritte was originally charged with manslaughter and third-degree murder, a courts spokeswoman, Eunice Sigler, wrote in a release.

Detained at the lockup on a battery charge, Omar begged officers and nurses for medical help for three days before he finally succumbed June 9, 2003 to a ruptured appendix -- a death the family's attorneys described as ``agonizing but entirely preventable.''

For much of the next year, Omar's case came to symbolize a host of failings at Florida's Department of Juvenile Justice. At legislative hearings across the state prompted by stories in The Miami Herald, DJJ employees and critics alike described what lawmakers called a ''culture of neglect'' at the agency.

Six months after the teen's death, a Miami-Dade grand jury issued a scathing 50-page report, decrying ''the utter lack of humanity demonstrated'' by officers at the 226-bed lockup, at 3300 NW 27th Ave. in Miami. As the presentment was handed to a judge, the grand jury's forewoman dabbed tears from her eyes and softly wept.

Following the scandal, about 25 DJJ officials left the agency, including former Secretary W.G. ''Bill'' Bankhead -- who later died -- two of his top assistants, the lockup's superintendent and the assistant superintendent.

06/27/08 Plea deal for juvenile center nurse in teen death. AP, Miami Herald.

06/27/07 Plea deal for juvenile center nurse in teen death. AP, Tallahassee Democrat.


06/21/08 Cuts force Florida's last youth boot camp to close
Susan Jacobson, Orlando Sentinel.

Budget cuts are forcing the only remaining youth boot camp in Florida to close at the end of the month, the Polk County Sheriff's Office said Friday.

The Sheriff's Training and Respect program, known as STAR, started in 1994. In February, the state cut its $4.4 million budget to $2.5 million, forcing the downsizing of the program and the elimination of 38 jobs. At its height in October 1998, STAR had 110 beds, sheriff's spokeswoman Donna Wood said.

On Tuesday, the Florida Department of Juvenile Justice announced another 50 percent would be cut from the budget -- a 72 percent reduction in one year.

The remaining 30 STAR employees will be transferred into other positions at the Sheriff's Office. It's up to the state Department of Juvenile Justice to find places for the 10 boys still at the boot camp, Wood said.

"Obviously, we can't sustain a program with only 72 percent of the original budget," she said.

In September, Gov. Charlie Crist recommended that the state abolish STAR, which replaced youth boot camps mired in controversy after the January 2006 beating death of Martin Lee Anderson, 14, at a Panama City boot camp. Legislators created STAR in June 2006.

In October, seven former guards and a nurse were acquitted of manslaughter in Martin's death, sparking outrage.

STAR emphasizes education, vocational training and volunteerism and provides counseling to youths and their families. Community-service projects range from growing plants for nearby parks to raising fish and harvesting vegetables to give to halfway houses and civic clubs.

Chip Thullbery, a spokesman for the State Attorney's Office in Polk County, said the program gave boys a chance for a better life and an opportunity to avoid going farther in the criminal-justice system.

"I think it's a shame," Thullbery said of the closing. "I think it did serve a purpose."

Susan Jacobson can be reached at 407-540-5981 or

More on boot camps | top

06/17/08 Off-the-cuff compromise [shackles]
Palm Beach Post Editorial

A federal judge in December refused to force Palm Beach County's juvenile court judges to remove leg irons, waist chains and handcuffs from the kids brought into their courtrooms.

But in throwing out the lawsuit filed by the county's public defender, U.S. District Court Judge Donald M. Middlebrooks urged a compromise to the "disturbing" sight of juveniles of various ages and various criminal charges shackled together in court.

The four county juvenile court judges have agreed to a change that preserves courtroom security and treats juveniles accused of crimes humanely. Legs will stay chained, to help prevent escapes, but most teens will appear without handcuffs.

Public Defender Carey Haughwout, one of several public defenders throughout the state who opposed chaining children in courtroom hearings as psychologically abusive, called the new policy a "vast improvement."

The shackles are used by the Florida Department of Juvenile Justice in transporting juveniles from detention centers to courthouses. In the courtroom, they were not impractical: Large groups of teens often are brought into a courtroom at once, and some teens in the past have overturned tables and tried to run out of the courtroom. Nor are the shackled teens facing juries, who could judge a juvenile more harshly based on his appearance as a shackled criminal.

The compromise keeps teens who have misbehaved in court in handcuffs, and allows for handcuffs during detention hearings when several teens appear at the same time.

Security had to remain the judges' priority. The new policy maintains safety without sacrificing the teens' humanity.


06/12/08 Teacher charged with punching juvenile
Robert Napper ( Bradenton Herald.

MANATEE --Authorities say a Manatee County School District substitute teacher was arrested on a charge he punched a 15-year-old boy in the face inside a state juvenile detention facility.

Manatee County Sheriff's Office deputies arrested Wanick Damour, 31, at his Wimauma home Tuesday night on a charge of child abuse.

Damour was working as a substitute teacher at a Florida Department of Juvenile Justice detention center near the Manatee County jail when he struck an inmate in a drug treatment program there, according to DOJJ officials.

Another teacher and case worker told detectives they saw Damour punch the boy. Surveillance video in the detention center also captured the beating that cut the boy's lip, causing him to need two stitches, according to a sheriff's report.

Damour told sheriff's detectives he hit the boy because he feared for his safety.

He said "he has had nothing but trouble from the victim since he started working at the facility in April of this year," the sheriff's report stated.

DOJJ spokesman Frank Panela said the state contracts with a security company, G4S Youth Services, to operate and provide security at the detention center.

G4S spokesman Mike Powers said the company hires all of its teachers for its programs but contracts with local school districts to provide substitute teachers when needed.

"As far I know, we obtained him from the school board there," Powers said.

School officials Wednesday confirmed Damour was on the district's substitute list.

Panela said Damour, who was being held in the Manatee County jail on $10,000 bond, has been removed from teaching at the program and would not be allowed back into the facility.

DOJJ officials will also be conducting a full investigation into the incident, Panela said.

"We don't tolerate this kind of behavior at all," he said.


06/11/08 Juveniles in court losing handcuffs - but will stay shackled
Kathleen Chapman. Palm Beach Post.

WEST PALM BEACH — Juvenile court judges have agreed on a compromise solution to the controversy over whether teens should appear for court in shackles.

All four judges in Palm Beach County Circuit Court will allow teens to attend some hearings without handcuffs. But teens' legs will stay chained, said Juvenile Court Judge Peter Blanc, because "if one of them chooses to take off, it might be harder for an older guard to catch up."

To prevent escapes, the Florida Department of Juvenile Justice has a statewide policy of transporting the teens from juvenile detention centers to the courthouse in leg irons and handcuffs fastened to waist chains.

With up to 25 teens brought into a courtroom at once, judges across the state typically let the teens continue wearing restraints for court hearings. But in 2006, public defenders in several counties protested the practice, saying it was psychologically abusive to chain children in the courtroom without considering their age, alleged crime or past behavior.

Palm Beach County Public Defender Carey Haughwout filed suit to stop shackling of juveniles, but lost. Local judges initially balked at her request, saying they had seen fewer teens flipping over tables or bolting for the door since the state began its policy of shackling juveniles several years ago.

But about six months ago, Blanc quietly tried the compromise solution. Judge Ronald Alvarez followed about six weeks ago, and Judge Karen Martin sent a memo saying she would adopt the same policy beginning this month. Judge Moses Baker will also allow the change.

Teens who have been a problem in the past can still stay in handcuffs. And juveniles will continue to wear handcuffs in detention hearings, where large groups of teens make courtroom security more difficult.

Blanc said there have been no security problems so far. One teen in his courtroom even asked if he could keep the handcuffs on, Blanc said, because the teen was upset and knew he might not be able to control himself.

Haughwout said she believes the change is a "vast improvement."

"And I am comfortable with doing this for a while and then seeing how we feel about trying to go forward with regards to the leg irons," she said.


05/21/08 State, county probing teen’s beating, supervision in Collier juvenile detention center
Aisling Swift. Naples Daily News.

A 14-year-old boy was beaten by two teens inside the Collier County Juvenile Assessment Center while surveillance cameras taped the 69-minute assault that wasn’t spotted by guards required to patrol cells every 10 minutes.

The state Department of Juvenile Justice, which operates the center at the Collier County Government Complex on U.S. 41, is conducting an administrative review of the incident, DJJ spokeswoman Samadhi Jones said Wednesday.

“Based on the findings, the department will take appropriate action,” Jones said. "... The secretary of DJJ, Secretary (Frank) Peterman, is adamant about protecting children and DJJ will work with the Collier County Sheriff's Office to make sure that this doesn't happen again."

Reports say repeated assaults occurred between 11:37 p.m. May 14 and 12:46 a.m. May 15, when two Golden Gate boys, ages 15 and 17, slapped, kicked and pushed the 14-year-old and forced him to lick the floor after the suspects appeared to urinate or spit on it. The younger boy also was forced to slap himself until he bled, reports say, and to wash his face in the toilet and lick the toilet several times.

At a juvenile detention hearing Saturday, County Judge Mike Carr grew angry as he read the reports, saying he was sending the suspects’ files to State Attorney General Bill McCollum for an investigation. Carr, who noted both boys had violent criminal pasts, characterized their criminal records as “extensive” in a May 19 letter obtained by the Daily News.

“As loathsome as the conduct that’s alleged by the juvenile, the fact that authorities that are getting paid by the taxpayers, the citizens of Florida, to protect the juveniles in custody apparently are unwilling or unable to do their jobs is of grave concern to the court,” Carr said during the taped hearing. “I’m going to figure out why, why people in custody here are being treated in this manner with no safety while they’re in the care of — in the care of — our authorities.

“This is disgusting. It is loathsome, it is unacceptable,” Carr continued.

It could not be immediately determined whether the Department of Juvenile Justice or Collier County Sheriff’s Office employees watch the video monitors, but Sheriff’s Office employees are in charge of patrolling the cells every 10 minutes and writing their observations in a logbook.

“We’re trying to find out what happened and how it came to happen,” said Sheriff’s Office spokeswoman Karie Partington. “Everybody is looking at this situation.

“The camera was covered for about 30 seconds,” she said, adding that the boy was questioned about whether anything sexual occurred while it was covered and he denied it.

She said the log books, and whether checks were recorded during that period, would be part of the investigation. By law, faking those records could result in criminal charges of falsification of public records.

Joshua Richard Tirado, 17, of 4348 19th Place SW, Golden Gate, is charged with battery by a person detained in jail and resisting arrest, and Tyler “T-Boy” Joseph Murphy, now 16, of 5100 19th Ave. SW, Golden Gate, is charged with battery with a prior conviction or second offense, according to a sheriff’s report.

Because the investigation is continuing into what was videotaped or concealed, the victim’s name is being withheld by the Daily News. A sheriff’s report by Cpl. Dave Shreeve provides this account:

A juvenile detainee told him the two juveniles in a holding cell with him said they would hit him if he didn’t do what they said. He said they made him lick the floor and toilet, hit him in the face “a couple of times” and made him do push-ups. He said the main aggressor was the teen who took off his shirt. He wanted to press charges and provided a sworn statement.

Shreeve identified Murphy as a juvenile being held for a violation of probation, while Tirado was released to a parent or guardian shortly after the incident — only to be picked up after this investigation.

Shreeve then reviewed the video tape, which showed the two juveniles committing battery “on several occasions” by slapping, kicking and pushing the younger boy in the holding cell. Another investigator is reviewing possible additional charges due to what the video showed. However, the victim denied any sexual contact while the camera was covered by one boy’s T-shirt.

Deputies located Tirado and his father brought him in. Tirado became agitated, made fists, tensed, refused to cooperate and appeared to be ready to swing at deputies, reports say. When he moved his feet, as if to start a fight, Shreeve fired a Taser at his chest and torso, causing the teen to hit the ground.

While behind bars, he cursed at his father.

At the hearing, an unidentified juvenile justice intake officer recommended that Murphy be held for 21 days in secured detention “with absolutely no contact with the victim.” Carr admonished Tirado for being hostile and resisting arrest. The judge asked the juvenile justice officer who monitors the juveniles’ cells about the incident. She was uncertain who watched the surveillance cameras, but said a county deputy checks cells every 10 minutes. That angered Carr.

“I hope the local authorities, whoever they may be, find the time in their busy day to look into this and see this doesn’t occur again and get to the bottom of how it is possible for someone to be on camera, have the camera ignored, and have this kind of multiple assault for long periods of time go on without someone noticing it,” Carr said. “This is disgusting.”

Carr also asked Assistant State Attorney D.J. Miller, the prosecutor, “what it takes” to charge the juveniles as adults, noting that both have a “very violent past” and if found guilty, the charges should result in very long sanctions. Miller said he’d speak to his supervisor, Assistant State Attorney Mara Marzano. Carr asked him to give her the taped evidence and added: “I don’t want anything to be missed.”

If prosecuted as adults, the third-degree felonies are punishable by a maximum of five years in a state prison. The resisting charge is a first-degree misdemeanor.


04/09/08 Too popular, DJJ bans
Special to Appropriated Press.

TALLAHASSEE --In one of his first acts since his anointment as Secretary of Florida’s Department of Juvenile Justice, former state representative Frank Peterman awarded the number nine spot in the coveted Top 10 rank of the department’s prestigious Sites to Block List or S2Bid.

Cathy Corry, Founder and President of the not-for-profit advocacy group, was jubilant. In an open statement to Peterman, posted on her blog,, she wrote, “Your critical decision to 'ban' DJJ staff from accessing JUSTICE4KIDS.ORG may actually bring more attention to JUSTICE4KIDS.ORG!”

The S2Bid list acknowledges websites repeatedly visited by DJJ employees. In effect, the list represents an employee popularity vote. Other sites on the list, frequented by DJJ staff, include,, and The current list has twenty-two sites.

Elisa Watson, DJJ Public Information Officer, added, "We know that all things work together for good."

As representative of Florida’s district 55 and member of the state legislature’s juvenile justice committee, it was Peterman, who earlier refused to follow through with his support for’s initiative to allow books in the rooms of youth held in DJJ’s juvenile detention centers (JDC). According to Corry, a Peterman aide told her, "Frank Peterman is not your representative; you should have addressed your concerns with your representative in Clearwater.” Despite Peterman’s lack of interest in youth, prevailed. Today, youth in detention may read books in their rooms. Visit Now they can read!

To read the text of DJJ’s e-mail to all of its employees announcing the list, click "Blocked Internet Sites", from Dave Kallenborn, Chief of Management Information Systems, to “All-DJJ” dated April 8, 2008. To view the list, which was attached to the agency-wide e-mail, click BlockList.pdf.


03/18/08 Barreiro, going to DJJ, scrambles House race
The Buzz, St. Petersburg Times.

In a surprise twist that will affect the GOP's quest to take back the HD 107 seat, Gus Barreiro is taking a job with the Department of Juvenile Justice.

The former lawmaker has long wanted to work with the agency but when the opportunity seemed to fade, Republicans courted him to run for his old House seat, now held by Democrat Luis Garcia of Miami Beach. Barreiro declared he was running but never formally filed.

Barreiro, who starts his new job Monday, will be chief of residential operations and quality improvement. He will earn $72,000.


02/08/08 Savvy chief at child justice
St. Petersburg's Frank Peterman has long advocated children's causes.
Alex Leary and Steve Bousquet. St. Petersburg Times.


Rep. Frank Peterman, a minister, is to be officially named today.

TALLAHASSEE - State Rep. Frank Peterman, a St. Petersburg Democrat long involved in child welfare issues, will be named this morning as the head of the Department of Juvenile Justice.

Gov. Charlie Crist is to make the announcement at the Carter G. Woodson African American History Museum in St. Petersburg.

Peterman, 45, replaces Walt McNeil, who has been appointed corrections secretary, and will join McNeil as one of two high-ranking African-American appointees in the Crist administration.


02/07/08 TYC conservator Nedelkoff to resign from Florida
Emily Ramshaw. The Dallas Morning News

The Texas Youth Commission’s new conservator announced Thursday he was stepping down from his job with a Florida juvenile justice firm, a job he’d intended to keep while reforming the embattled state agency. Richard Nedelkoff’s decision follows strong questioning from state lawmakers on Wednesday about whether his dual employment posed a conflict of interest. “I take this action to avoid any appearance of impropriety,” said Mr. Nedelkoff, who was appointed conservator by Gov. Rick Perry in late December. "Reforming TYC and improving the lives of the staff and youth in the agency’s care will be my solitary goal.” Until Thursday, Mr. Nedelkoff was still receiving a salary from Florida-based Eckerd Youth Alternatives. [Read article below.}


02/06/08 [Florida] Legislators cast wary eye on TYC consulting deals
Mike Ward, American -Statesman

New conservator defends deals with Florida [DJJ]officials.

One — and perhaps three — Florida officials being brought in at taxpayer expense to assist with reforms at the troubled Texas Youth Commission have work-related connections to a company headed by the Texas commission's new conservator, officials said Tuesday.

News of the consulting deals — one of which has been signed, while two others are pending — drew surprise and questions from legislative leaders who expressed concerns about a possible conflict of interest at an agency that has been plagued by problems in the past year.

Richard Nedelkoff Conservator over TYC.

Richard Nedelkoff is continuing in his job as chief operating officer of Florida-based Eckerd Youth Alternatives Inc. while he serves as the $160,000-a-year Texas Youth Commission conservator. On its Web site, Eckerd promotes itself as "a leading provider of day treatment and residential therapeutic programs for delinquent youth" for the Florida Department of Juvenile Justice.

Nedelkoff said he sees no conflict of interest in contracting to bring in Rex Uberman, the Florida agency's deputy secretary for residential services, as an outside expert to "evaluate different aspects of TYC's operations." Uberman, the former head of the Crime Victims Services Division at the Texas attorney general's office, could not be reached for comment.

According to the contract, Texas is paying Uberman's travel and living expenses while consulting. He is to work 15-30 hours a week. The contract, signed by officials at TYC and the Florida agency, runs through August.

A Youth Commission spreadsheet shows that TYC is negotiating consulting contracts with at least two other officials at the Florida agency: John Criswell, a top quality assurance official who monitors the agency's residential and detention contracts, and Mary Mills, a regional director who oversees an Eckerd Youth Alternatives program.

State Rep. Jerry Madden, the House Corrections Committee chairman, learned Tuesday about the consulting deals. The Richardson Republican said the contracts "need some explaining. There's a valid question here that needs to be answered."

State Sen. John Whitmire — who is Criminal Justice Committee chairman and heads a special legislative committee with Madden overseeing TYC reforms — said the Florida consultants "raise serious concerns." Whitmire, D-Houston, said, "It looks like (Nedelkoff is) bringing in people who use his business."

Nedelkoff said contracts have not been signed with several people on the list, and may not be. "We're still talking ... I don't know whether they're coming or not," he said.

"As I said earlier, I'm going to be bringing in people who I think have the expertise we need," Nedelkoff said. "They have resources we need ... I can't understand the concern about bringing these people in."

Kevin Cate, a spokesman for the Florida agency, said he was not familiar with details of the Texas contracts and could not immediately comment on whether the arrangement might pose a conflict of interest. But, he said, "I can tell you, Rex is fantastic. He's the best in the business."


02/02/08 More Principal, Less Police
Editorial. St. Petersburg Times.


Schools are no doubt safer by the presence of uniformed police, but that doesn't mean the officers can be in charge. The principal is ultimately responsible for protecting every student and, as a recent Times report reveals, too many of them disregard the rights of students and allow misconduct to be treated as a crime.

A playground incident at Riviera Middle School in St. Petersburg is a prime example. As described in the reporting of Times writers Tom Marshall and Jonathan Abel, two 14-year-old students knocked down another student and stole his $2 in lunch money and a handful of candy. Not waiting on parents to arrive, the school resource officer interrogated the teenagers and arrested them for what he deemed to be felony strong-arm robbery...

People need not feel sympathy… The perpetrators had been caught and were in no position to harm any other students, yet the principal let police call the shots. Together, the principal and police then ignored the legitimate interests of the students… Maybe the students should ultimately have been charged with a crime, but there is little evidence the principal considered any other option…

Robert Evans, a circuit judge in Orange and Osceola counties who has fought for reform, sees what happens to students when schoolyard fights become crimes. "They won't be able to get a job, they won't be able to go to college," Evans told the Times. "They're screwed for life."


01/20/08 When students are suspects, lines blur
Tom Marshall and Jonathan Abel. St. Petersburg Times.


The officer radioed for backup. A crime had been committed on the playground at Riviera Middle School in St. Petersburg. The cop called it felony strong-arm robbery.

He tried to reach detectives. School officials tried to phone parents of two suspects, but the officer could wait no longer and began interrogating them. Eventually, the two 14-year-olds waived their Miranda rights, confessed and went to jail.

Their crime? Knocking down a 13-year-old classmate, stealing $2 in lunch money and a handful of candy. They got Jolly Ranchers, Snickers and a lollipop.

Florida police frequently skirt state and federal laws, or violate them outright, when questioning children at school, a St. Petersburg Times investigation has found.

Often police question juvenile suspects first, and leave the Miranda warning for later. In some cases they question kids at school and take them to jail without notifying the principal. Or they interrogate them as suspects before trying to notify their parents, in violation of state law.

Even when police don't cut legal corners, experts say the push to station officers in most middle and high schools has brought a raft of unintended consequences: blurred roles, unclear legal authority and a sharp increase in school arrests for minor infractions that could be handled out of court.

Principals, the last line of defense for kids jeopardized by police misconduct, rarely challenge resource officers or other police who enter school to interrogate students.

And children are saddled with criminal records that can follow them for a lifetime.

"They won't be able to get a job, they won't be able to go to college," said Judge Robert Evans of the 9th Judicial Circuit. "They're screwed for life"...


01/16/08 Juvenile chief to head prisons
Crist cites a personal affinity in picking the former police chief.
By Steve Bousquet, Tallahassee bureau chief 850 224-7263. St. Petersburg Times.


TALLAHASSEE - Walt McNeil traded one tough state job for another Tuesday as Gov. Charlie Crist tapped Florida's juvenile justice chief to run the exponentially larger prison system…

"I wanted to pick somebody that I knew, that I had confidence in," Crist said at a morning news conference. "I just had a personal relationship and an affinity for this man."

The decision was Crist's, not McNeil's, and happened with breakneck speed after McDonough's resignation plans leaked out last week…

McNeil's salary has not been set. McDonough was paid $125,750…

His master's degree from St. John's University, a correspondence school in rural Louisiana, came under scrutiny last year because it came from an unaccredited school. However, neither of his state jobs has required a master's degree.



12/24/07 Give our children a brighter future
Tim Niermann, Chief Probation Officer, Circuit 6 St. Petersburg Times.

To the readers of the St. Petersburg Times: There are children in our community in need of your help this holiday season. I am a circuit coordinator of the Department of Juvenile Justice in Pasco and Pinellas counties. In our area last year, 11,482 children were referred to our department. This figure highlights the challenge DJJ faces in reducing the number of young people in the juvenile justice system.

Our community can give local children a brighter future by volunteering time and ideas. There are a number of ways you can help this holiday season and throughout the year. Each county in our area has an active juvenile justice council that is looking for innovative approaches to stop juvenile delinquency. I invite you to become part of one of our councils so that you may offer your help and ideas on how to stop the growth of juvenile crime. If you are interested in becoming a member of your local juvenile justice council, or in learning about other ways of volunteering - such as mentoring, assisting with faith- and community-based programs, or offering jobs to our youth - a new Web page is available to let us know of your interests. Please visit  for a list of volunteer opportunities with DJJ, or call me for more information at (727) 893-2000.

This season let us join hands and build on the good work required to fix juvenile justice. By volunteering, you can intervene with a child before they enter our care. Please volunteer.

Tim Niermann, chief probation officer, Circuit 6, Florida Department of Juvenile Justice, St. Petersburg


12/24/07 STAR Academy 'fighting' for funds
Stephen D. Price, Pensacola News Journal.

TALLAHASSEE—They were to bring a "new day" to juvenile justice in Florida—a softer, gentler way to steer children away from crime.

Now, more than a year after they were created, only one STAR Academy exists in Florida and that single operating program is cutting back.

Born as a response to tragedy at the juvenile boot camps that were its predecessor, the STAR Academy system for juvenile offenders was doomed by a lack of resources to get off the ground, tight money since and the quick setup of the program.

"Every year we're fighting," said Kurt Lockwood, who runs the STAR Academy program of the Polk County Sheriff's Department. "I've got personnel leaving left and right."

As the Department of Juvenile Justice struggles to change its image and state lawmakers grapple with less revenue, Polk County officials say they are finding it tough to keep afloat the only STAR program in the state. Its $4.4 million budget may get hacked to $2.5 million, Lockwood said.

Legislators say the program is a victim of hard economic times for the state and perhaps a program created without the proper funding.

The STAR Academies program was born in 2006 as a more gentle replacement to the juvenile boot camp system. It was to be known as "Sheriff's Training And Respect," and developed to emphasize education, family counseling and post-release monitoring of offenders.

The new program was a response to the death of Martin Lee Anderson. The 14-year-old Panama City resident was beaten by drill instructors at the Bay County juvenile boot camp on Jan. 5, 2006, and died the day after. The incident was captured on videotape.

Eight defendants in the case were acquitted of felony aggravated manslaughter of a child in October and cleared of all charges in Anderson's death. A federal investigation of the incident is ongoing.

Some say the five juvenile boot camps operating in Florida at the time Anderson died weren't all bad and that their get-tough model worked.

"Unfortunately, they were all painted with a broad brush from what happened in Bay County," said Cathy Craig-Myers, executive director of the Florida Juvenile Justice Association. "The military aspect had to go away. It was perceived as part of the problem."

Juveniles arrested and charged criminally get into the Department of Juvenile Justice that works in conjunction with counties.

Minor offenses usually end up with the juvenile at home and in a diversion program. More serious offenses, or repeat offenders, get the kids placed in a secure residential program.

Between 1993 and 2006, six counties ran juvenile boot camps as one of the options for those more serious offenders. After Anderson's death, the boot camps were shut down and STAR Academies proposed as an alternative. They were designed for high-risk youth who, once they are sent to the secure, residential programs, stay there on average between 18 and 36 months.

STAR Academies were designed to be less confrontational than boot camps and weren't supposed to use physical intervention, as boot camps did.

The boot camps, Craig-Myers said, were ineffective because of poor resources and not enough well-trained staff.

"When you don't have the right resources to attract them, it's a real challenge," she said. "No one wants to run a program that is set up to fail."

The same has proven true of the STAR Academies.

Sen. Victor Crist, chairman of the Criminal and Civil Justice Appropriations committee, said it would've been easier to reform the boot camp program instead of creating a new one, as STAR set out to do.

"Ultimately, we can only work with resources appropriated, and to start a new program you need startup capital," said Crist, R-Tampa. "The sheriffs were left to eat a whole lot of capital they weren't supposed to swallow."

Finding new money to invigorate STAR won't be any easier.

Crist said the Criminal and Civil Justice committee is facing a 2.2 percent reduction in funding for its programs this fiscal year and 4 percent less in the coming one.

Most sheriff offices that ran boot camps for juvenile offenders—in Bay, Manatee, Pinellas and Martin counties—said they opted not to move to the STAR Academy program because of a lack in funding, said Kevin Cate, DJJ spokesman.

Crist said the STAR program is valuable.

"But if it's going to take new money, we don't have it," Crist said. "The transition to it happened at the last minute and the locals weren't prepared for it."

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11/27/07 Teen sentenced for battering guard
Kate McCardell. Jackson County Floridan.

A former Department of Juvenile Justice resident has been sentenced to five years in prison after being found guilty of battery on detention facility staff. Eight-teen-year-old Justin Caldwell was found guilty by a Jackson County, Fla., jury Nov. 7 of battery on detention staff or commitment facility staff stemming from a February incident at Arthur G. Dozier School for Boys in Marianna, according to the Office of State Attorney Steve Meadows.

Caldwell was accused of elbowing, head-butting and kicking Dozier guard James Wooden Jr. during the incident, at which time Caldwell was a resident of the high-risk detention facility.

According to Caldwell's attorney, Rick Reno, Caldwell was just five months away from being released from DJJ custody, after an incarceration that began almost five years ago, when he was 13.

Caldwell, according to his father, Mark Caldwell, initially began his DJJ incarceration at 13 after being found guilty of theft.

Mark Caldwell said it was a series of "petty accusations" that prolonged his son's stay at various DJJ facilities, ultimately landing him at Dozier School.

He and Reno allege that Wooden's accusations of battery were made to cover up an incident that occurred later that day, which involved a different guard, Alvin Speights.

Speights was accused of battering Caldwell and the incident in question was caught on surveillance footage.

After reviewing testimony and the surveillance footage, a Jackson County grand jury exonerated Speights last September, saying "Speights was justified in the use of force required to insure the protection and safety of himself and others and that no criminal charges are warranted against" him.

The incident that involved Speights occurred in a Dozier Intensive Supervision Program room, where Caldwell was sent to, as Wooden put it, "cool down" after the incident that has resulted in Caldwell's five-year prison sentence.

According to the State Attorney's Office, the five years sentence is the maximum allowed by statute. Florida law requires that an inmate serve at least 85 percent of his sentence.

related articles on Caldwell. Sholly and Dozier | Justin Caldwell | Christopher Sholly's Diary | top

11/07/07 Jury finds Caldwell guilty of battery in Dozier officer
Kate McCardell. Jackson County Floridan.

A Jackson County jury found Justin Caldwell guilty of battery on a facility employee at the conclusion of his one-day trial on Wednesday. Sentencing is set for Nov. 27 at 1:30 p.m.

Caldwell, 18, was accused of battery on James E. Wooden, an officer at Arthur G. Dozier School for Boys last February, where, at the time, Caldwell was a juvenile resident.

The verdict came roughly 30 minutes after the jury posed a question to the court.

The panel wanted to know the difference between battery on a facility employee and the lesser charge of battery.

Caldwell faces up to five years behind bars on the offense. The lesser charge of battery would have been a misdemeanor.

On the witness stand, Wooden said Caldwell had pushed him with his elbow as he passed the guard in the facility's dining hall.

Wooden said Caldwell walked on and entered the food line, where Wooden approached him to "counsel" Caldwell, who appeared to be upset over something.

Wooden said that was when Caldwell "cussed" him and head-butted him, knocking off his Department of Juvenile Justice hat.

Wooden said that, after the alleged head-butt, he attempted to implement a "straight-arm take down," but his feet and Caldwell's became entangled and both fell to the ground.

Wooden claimed that after he stood up, Caldwell, still on the ground, kicked him twice.

Caldwell's defense attorney Rick Reno disputed Wooden's claims and, in his cross-examination of the witness, used a demonstration in which he and Wooden lightly acted out the incident.

Wooden, at 5'11, stood several inches taller than Reno, 5'6, who, as observed by Judge William Wright, was very close to the same height as Caldwell.

Reno said that Caldwell was too short to reach Wooden's forehead or hat, claiming that Wooden's accusation was highly questionable.

Reno also laid down on the floor of the courtroom in the position Wooden alleged Caldwell was in when he kicked Wooden.

The defense attorney, still on the ground, said it was impossible for his feet to reach Wooden where he stood.

Witnesses for the defense, which included three Dozier residents, claimed Wooden acted unfairly. They also claimed that Wooden slapped Caldwell in the forehead during the incident.

State prosecutor Jonna Bowman argued that the contusion observed on Caldwell's forehead by a Dozier nurse after the incident was not caused by Wooden's hand, rather it was made when Caldwell head-butted the officer.

In closing statements, Bowman asked the jury why Wooden would risk his seven-year career with the Department of Juvenile Justice by acting out toward Caldwell.

Similarly, in Reno's closing, he asked the jury why Caldwell would act out in the manner for which he was accused when he was only five months away from his release after living in juvenile detention facilities for almost five years.

What happened later that day after the incident involving Wooden may be more widely known in the Panhandle.

Caldwell was escorted to the Intensive Supervision Program, a one-room cottage used to hold juveniles until they regain self-control.

In ISP, Caldwell was involved in an altercation with Dozier guard Alvin Speights.

Speights was accused of battering Caldwell and the incident in question was caught on surveillance footage.

A Jackson County grand jury exonerated Speights last September, saying "Speights was justified in the use of force required to insure the protection and safety of himself and others and that no criminal charges are warranted against" him.

This conclusion, according to the grand jury presentment, was made after reviewing testimony, photographic images and video footage.

Caldwell's father, Mark Caldwell, said he plans to continue "to pursue justice," claiming the grand jury was not presented with all of the footage available.

He claimed Wooden's accusations against his son were just an effort to cover up the incident that occurred in ISP later that day.

related articles on Caldwell. Sholly and Dozier | Justin Caldwell | Christopher Sholly's Diary | top

10/27/07 Degree inspires little faith.
Florida's juvenile justice chief draws praise. But his degree doesn't.
Steve Bousquet and Ron Matus. St. Petersburg Times.


TALLAHASSEE - When Florida's top juvenile justice official, Walt McNeil, pursued a master's degree, he said he wanted to combine his two passions of religious faith and criminology.

But even though he lived in a state capital with two major universities, he chose an obscure correspondence school in rural Louisiana, a decision that has brought criticism from academic experts…

McNeil's degree links one of the Florida's top law enforcement officials to a long-festering national problem: the proliferation of degrees from institutions that are widely considered to be questionable. Experts estimate there are thousands of such institutions - and hundreds of thousands of people who have used them to cut corners, pad resumes and, in the view of critics, perpetrate academic fraud…

In a previous interview, McNeil was asked whether St. John's might have deceived him. "I can be fooled like anyone else, I guess, but I saw this as a Christian school," he said…

Still, some leading experts on the subject question McNeil's motivation and judgment.

McNeil is "putting himself on the same standard as other people with legitimate master's (degrees). It's not morally acceptable," said Allen Ezell, a former FBI agent who has written books on the issue and now investigates corporate fraud as a Wachovia vice president in Tampa. "He's a cop. He's a law enforcement officer. He's supposed to lead by example”…

In an initial interview last week, McNeil said he could not remember any courses he took at St. John's or the names of any professors or how much tuition he paid. He also was not sure whether he wrote a master's thesis. "I think I did," he said.

Friday, McNeil said he was not required to write a master's thesis…

A police chief who McNeil said encouraged him to attend St. John's, John Packett of Grand Forks, N.D., has a doctorate in criminal justice from the school but said he does not list it on his resume.

"It's just not an appropriate academic credential," said Packett, a former St. John's instructor. He said that while St. John's students did legitimate coursework, he viewed it as continuing education or in-service training…

Pamela Winkler, the retired president of St. John's and widow of its founder, said the school has "private accreditation." A 1998-1999 St. John's catalog says the university was accredited by the Beebe, Ark., Accrediting Commission International.

"It's basically a guy in some church," said Alan Contreras, who heads Oregon's Office of Degree Authorization, which closely tracks schools with questionable accreditation. "Anything accredited by ACI in Beebe, Ark., is either fake or substandard, as far as I know."

Accreditation is a stamp of approval and credibility, a signal that the institution has consistently met an outside group's standards.

Winkler said it was school policy to only respond in writing to questions from the media. The Times dictated a list of questions to her last week.

As of Friday, Winkler had yet to respond to most of them and did not return two followup calls. But hours after the conversation, she faxed a press release to the Times congratulating McNeil on his appointment as secretary…

Times researchers Caryn Baird and Angie Drobnic Holan contributed to this report. Steve Bousquet can be reached at (850) 224-7263. Ron Matus can be reached at (727) 893-8873.


10/21/07 Hastings troubled-youth facility has troubles of its own
Deirdre Conner [  (904) 359-4504]. The Times-Union.

A youth-care worker is arrested for trying to sell marijuanaA worker is charged with pulling a knife on a 16-year-oldA worker is fired after sexual touching with a 16-year-old

HASTINGS - Teens are sent to the Hastings Youth Academy with a criminal past and a tenuous future.

But the facility, designed to turn young criminal offenders' lives around, has become mired in allegations of drugs, assaults and romantic liaisons.

State officials said they are concerned. They have required a corrective plan from the private company that has a $19.3 million contract to run the youth academy, but the three-year taxpayer-funded contract isn't in jeopardy.

The firm, Group 4 Securicor Youth Services, acknowledges the program has been what Chief Executive Officer Gail Browne calls "declining," but it promises change.

Among the most serious allegations about the Hastings Youth Academy since Group 4 Securicor Youth Services took over a year and a half ago:

- Two workers were arrested for crimes involving youths at the facility.

- Three workers were found to be having romantic relationships with youths.

- State inspectors were called to the facility nine times and substantiated seven misconduct claims; others are pending.

- Four youths escaped during that time, all in a six-month period in late 2006.

"I will tell you that we're concerned - we're very concerned - about ... Hastings," Department of Juvenile Justice Secretary Walter McNeil told the Times-Union last month while in Jacksonville for public hearings.

McNeil, appointed in January by Gov. Charlie Crist, said the state is working to resolve issues there.

"We will not stand for any [employee], whether it's a DJJ employee or a contractor employee, mistreating the children," McNeil said.

This isn't the first time a Group 4 Securicor-run Northeast Florida facility has made headlines. Last year, a Jacksonville teen died at Cypress Creek Juvenile Offender Corrections Center. Workers thought he was playing a prank - by lying motionless and unresponsive - and didn't immediately call 911.

Keeping the Sheriff's Office busy

Hastings Youth Academy is designed for juvenile offenders considered "high risk" or "moderate risk," which means they could have committed crimes that range from trespassing on school property to aggravated assault with a deadly weapon.

The St. Johns County Sheriff's Office was called to the Florida 207 facility about 150 times from January 2006 to Sept. 11, according to Sheriff's Office statistics. The calls include everything from incidents of escape to assault to drugs being found.

In some cases, there have been allegations of inappropriate touching by staff members or of staffers selling drugs to the 14- to 19-year-old males housed there.

In two of the most recent incidents, youth care worker Paulette Michner was arrested on charges of taking marijuana into the facility to sell and this spring, youth care worker Cynthia Terrell was fired after videotapes showed her and witnesses told of her engaging in sexual touching with a youth during class. She wasn't charged with a crime because the youth was 16 and was the one touching her, according to St. Johns County Sheriff's Office spokesman Chuck Mulligan.

Browne said the company is "ruthless" when it comes to reporting such incidents and has a low tolerance for employee misconduct.

She places some of the blame for problems on a lack of money. She said that has kept front-line staff salaries down - some are paid $8 an hour - and leads to trouble recruiting staff members who are more likely to stay out of trouble.

"Over the years, that has really hurt the program, all of our programs - but especially Hastings," Browne said. She said the facility's remote location in western St. Johns County and its proximity to St. Augustine mean more enjoyable service jobs are available elsewhere.

A change of service course

Soon the facility will house only moderate-risk youths, with the high risks already transferred and those spaces being converted to use by moderate-risk youths who need intensive mental health services.

A new administrator also will arrive at Hastings this month, Browne said. The last two left for other positions within the company.

Lisa Steely, juvenile coordinator for the Public Defender's Office in Jacksonville, said she's encouraged by the new secretary, McNeil, but is waiting to see if cash and action follows.

She said juvenile justice programs have suffered since privatization because of low funding and inadequate oversight.

"Taking a kid and warehousing them for six to nine months if you don't deal with underlying problems won't help," Steely said.

Michael O'Loughlin, who oversees St. Johns County school system-run classes at the Hastings Youth Academy, said he believes the new administration at Hastings is trying to resolve the problems.

The school system has no control over the facilities, and teachers at Hastings have told their principal they were at times afraid to venture into the hallways because of disturbances.

"We're very much trying to be supportive of their efforts," he said.

If the institution isn't under control, he said, it's hard for the district's teachers to do their job.

"What we're trying to do is ... make sure that things that happen outside the classroom don't interfere," he said.  (904) 359-4504



Among the incidents reported at the Hastings Youth Academy in the past year and a half:


Marijuana found

Marijuana is found under a sink and three youths test positive for the drug. Case manager Patrick Fessel, the former facility administrator, is reprimanded more than a year after the incident for improperly supervising visitors, who introduced the contraband. (Feb. 23, 2006)

Pills found

A bag of the psychotropic drug Adderall is found. It was determined inmates were "cheeking" the pills - holding them in their mouth instead of swallowing them. (Sept. 15, 2006)

Worker sells drugs

Youth-care worker Paulette Michner is arrested on charges of taking marijuana into the facility to sell to at least one and possibly two students. (Aug. 31)


Text messages

After a youth is found with a cell phone, administrators discover he had been trading romantic text messages with youth care worker Dawnyell Denson. She was suspended and never returned for a conference, which constituted an automatic resignation according to the facility's policy. (May 19, 2006)

Porn found

A youth reports that mental-health therapist Robert L. Harris Jr. was viewing pornography on his office computer while on duty. The investigation was inconclusive as to whether another employee shared it with youths. Both were terminated for other reasons. (Dec. 7)

Love letters

Youth care worker Graciela DeLeon was found to be trading romantic letters with a youth. She was terminated Feb. 17. (Feb. 7)

Classroom touching

A youth anonymously reports that worker Cynthia Terrell and another youth were engaging in sexual touching during a class. The St. Johns County Sheriff's Office declines to arrest her because the youth was 16 and because she was allowing him to touch her, not the reverse. She was terminated May 1. (April 25)


Unreported incident

State investigators find a supervisor forged the signature of a youth and refused to allow him to call an abuse hotline after he was hit in the head by a radio thrown by a youth-care worker in September 2006, an incident that sent the youth to the hospital. Shift supervisor Tyrone Wilkerson was terminated Dec. 26. The youth-care worker, Ramon Powell, also was terminated. (Dec. 12)

Threat with knife

Youth-care worker Kevin Dewayne Ford was charged with aggravated assault after a surveillance tape showed him pulling a knife from his pocket and flicking it open during an argument with a 16-year-old inmate. (June 22)

Source: Florida Department of Juvenile Justice, St. Johns County Sheriff's Office


10/16/07 Boot camp case's final verdict still unwritten
Editorial. St. Petersburg Times.


Another criminal trial with racial overtones has come to a conclusion that failed to satisfy many Floridians, black and white, that justice was served. Seven boot camp guards and a nurse were acquitted of aggravated manslaughter in the death of 14-year-old inmate Martin Lee Anderson. Four of the guards and the nurse are white (one guard is Asian-American and two African-American) while Anderson was black. The death and trial took place in Panama City in Florida's conservative Panhandle. Add those elements together, and you have a recipe for racial tension and distrust…

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10/13/07 All acquitted at boot camp all not guilty at boot camp
Abbie Vansickle; Colleen Jenkins. St. Petersburg Times.


THE VERDICT: After a long controversy, decision is swift. REACTION: A protest breaks out; a U.S. inquiry is planned.

REACTION: Verdict brings a protest and a boycott threat. WHAT'S NEXT: Federal officials promise to investigate.

The quiet lasted just seconds after the judge read the jury's verdicts.

"Not guilty, not guilty, not guilty ..."

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10/12/07 Boot camp trial's tone: this city vs. the world

Sue Carlton. St. Petersburg Times.

Excerpt: From the beginning, the case of the boy and the boot camp had two distinct backdrops: this small Southern town where it happened, and pretty much everywhere else.

The world reacted with horror at the grainy scenes of 14-year- old Martin Lee Anderson being struck methodically by guards, being forced to inhale ammonia, his body gone limp.

Thousands protested in Tallahassee. The governor got hip deep in the situation. Boot camps got shut down.

In some corners of Panama City, things looked a little different…

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10/06/07 Defense attorney, doctor spar on Day 3 of boot camp trial
Abbie Vansickle, Times Staff Writer. St. Petersburg Times.


PANAMA CITY -- In early 2006, Dr. Vernard Adams first watched a video of Martin Lee Anderson's last moments at a juvenile boot camp. He saw guards force ammonia in the 14-year-old's face.

To Adams, it all looked wrong. He disagreed with a fellow medical examiner's opinion that Anderson died of a rare blood disorder.

"The death could not be natural because it was not caused exclusively by disease," Adams testified Friday in the trial of boot camp employees accused of killing the teen.

… Defense attorneys criticized his approach.

"If your interpretation of the video is wrong, then your cause of death is wrong. Would you agree with that?" asked attorney Robert Sombathy.

"Yes," Adams replied…

Graham questioned Adams' motivations in a high-profile case that led to harsh criticism of Bay County Medical Examiner Charles Siebert…

…"You were the man of the hour, weren't you?" Graham asked sarcastically. "And you looked upon this as a duty thrust upon you by the governor, right?"

"Yes," Adams answered calmly.

…Graham portrayed Adams as an outsider who fell victim to political pressure. He asked Adams where he grew up. Adams answered, "Maine." Graham responded: "I grew up right here."

…Graham asked if Adams felt a need to please everyone.

Adams said no…

Still, Graham continued to press him on that point.

"All this background, all this knowledge that you had and, lo and behold, Dr. Vernard Adams issues a report that clearly will not get him criticized by the media?" Graham asked.

"No, sir, that's incorrect," Adams said.

Adams said he had no doubts the guards and nurse played a role in Anderson's death.

"This is the only place in the world that I am aware of where ammonia capsules were used in this way," he said.

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10/05/07 Anderson trial tells two tales of a town
Sue Carlton. St. Petersburg Times.


The jurors, the accused, the courtroom so divided you could label one side "guilty" and the other "not guilty" like guests at a wedding - all went still when the video played.

Up front, Martin Lee Anderson's mother gave a low moan. You couldn't read the face of the judge, a working man's Harrison Ford, or the jurors, who did not take their eyes off the screen.

What will they make of that infamous, silent boot camp video of a 14-year-old boy manhandled by seven guards as a nurse looks on...

Tired of scenes of a boy collapsing and dragged upright again, scenes you don't stop seeing, I left and drove to where Martin lived. It is literally on the other side of the tracks, a scrubby street of ramshackle houses.

A few blocks over is the cemetery, the grass too high, fence sagging. He is there, flanked by stone angels, not a hero, not a monster, just gone.

What will the jury call what happened to Martin Lee Anderson? Sad comes to mind. And sorry. And wrong.

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10/03/07 Boot-camp-death trial begins today
Stephen D. Price. Tallahassee Democrat.


PANAMA CITY - The trial in the death of Martin Lee Anderson will begin this morning and along with it the controversy of two conflicting autopsy reports, racial divisions surrounding the teen's death and unrest that the verdict will come from a jury with no black jurors.

It's been a year and nine months since Anderson died, and after protests at the Capitol demanding charges in the boy's death and a $5 million settlement with the boy's parents, the high-profile case is sure to stir emotions again.

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10/02/07 Martin Lee Anderson's boot camp guards go on trial
Marc Caputo Miami Herald.


A year and 10 months after Martin Lee Anderson's caught-on-tape beating and subsequent death -- and the widely publicized fallout, scandals and settlements -- a jury will begin to hear the case today in Panama City to answer just one question:

Did seven guards and a nurse each commit aggravated manslaughter?

Despite the seeming simplicity of the charge, the complexities of the black teen's death and the fact that not one African American sits on the jury will make getting a conviction difficult, legal experts and observers of the case say.

''Panama City is a tough place to try a case like this,'' said Miami lawyer Edward Carhart, who is not connected to the case and has reviewed it for The Miami Herald.

''This is a very conservative community, with a lot of retired military people…,'' Carhart said, ``but there is a base population in the Panhandle that has been here for many years.''

... NAACP plan to protest today the racial make-up of the jury as well as what they say was an ''agreement'' between a special prosecutor and the defense to limit experts who would testify over the use of force.

Defense lawyers say that there was no use calling those experts because they canceled each other out...

Also, though the defense kept four black jurors off the case, the prosecution removed one black potential juror. Two jurors allowed to serve, though, are acquainted through church and work with two of the defendants. Each faces a maximum 30-year sentence…

Perhaps an even higher hurdle than the jury's racial make-up: The case has dueling autopsies, each with controversial findings. One found that Martin died of natural causes, the other from asphyixiation from ammonia capsules shoved in his face by the guards who body-slammed, kneed, punched and pressure-pointed him the morning of Jan. 5, 2006…

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07/13/07 Doing time for no crime
Arthur Carmona. Los Angeles Times OPINION: OP-ED


ARTHUR CARMONA testified recently in support of state legislation aimed at preventing wrongful convictions.

One week after my 16th birthday, I was arrested and charged with crimes I did not commit. . . . three years of suffering beatings, threats and degradation in a series of juvenile and state prisons. . . The criminal justice system took my innocence from me. Now, I am fighting to prevent wrongful convictions and to help innocent people still in prison. A young man freed after being wrongly imprisoned argues for three remedies.


The article: ONE WEEK after my 16th birthday, I was arrested and charged with crimes I did not commit. I remained behind bars in a life unsuitable for any innocent person. After I served nearly three years of a 17-year sentence, the real facts of my case began to emerge and a judge let me go free. My life, however, will never be the same, and I am determined to change the laws that make it so easy for innocent people to be convicted.

On Feb. 12, 1998, I decided to visit a friend. While I was walking down a residential street, a Costa Mesa police officer stopped me at gunpoint. I was handcuffed and surrounded by other police officers with guns drawn. One officer forced a baseball cap onto my head and made me stand on the curb. I did not know it at the time, but witnesses from a robbery had been brought to identify me in what is known as an "in-field show-up," a procedure that is highly likely to produce mistaken identifications. I was arrested in connection with 13 strong-arm robberies.

My mother was able to gather evidence proving that her 15-year-old son was in school during 11 of the robberies. But we had no evidence to prove that, at 2 a.m. on a school night, I was home asleep while someone robbed a Denny's restaurant, and we had no proof that I was home baby-sitting my 11-year-old sister during the time a juice bar in another city was being robbed.

The getaway driver, a parolee with a long criminal record, admitted being involved in the robberies. He first told police he did not know me and that I was not involved. Then the Orange County district attorney offered him a sentence of two years if he would say I was. He took the plea bargain and his story changed; he was freed from prison before I was.

The court found me guilty of two strong-arm robberies, and I was facing 35 years for crimes I took no part in. The judge sentenced me to 12 years in state prison. I was 16, with no criminal record. I would have been eligible for parole in nine years, with two strikes to my name, one strike away from a life term.

Two and a half years later, just before my hearing on getting a new trial based on a writ of habeas corpus, the Orange County district attorney offered me a deal, and after three years of suffering beatings, threats and degradation in a series of juvenile and state prisons, I accepted it. I signed a "stipulation" — a piece of paper stating that I would not sue any city, county or state prosecutors. Orange County Superior Court Judge Everett Dickey ordered me released and my felonies vacated.

Although I could finally go home, I could not go back to my old life. While I was behind bars, my high school class graduated without me. I was no longer the fun-loving teenager I once was. The criminal justice system took my innocence from me. I have not received any compensation, or even an apology. And the two felonies remain on my record, despite the judge's order and the intervention last year of then-Atty. Gen. Bill Lockyer.

Now, I am fighting to prevent wrongful convictions and to help innocent people still in prison. I am also supporting a series of state bills that would make it harder for what happened to me to happen to other people. I have traveled to Sacramento in the last two years to urge the Legislature to pass legislation that would help prevent wrongful convictions. Two of these bills passed last year, only to be vetoed by the governor. This year, three bills are being considered.

Senate Bill 756, sponsored by Mark Ridley-Thomas (D-Los Angeles), would require the state Department of Justice to develop new guidelines for eyewitness identification procedures. For example, guidelines in other states limit the use of in-field show-ups like the one that led to my wrongful conviction.

Senate Bill 511, sponsored by Elaine Alquist (D-Santa Clara), would require recording of the entire interrogation, including the Miranda warning, in cases of violent felonies. Electronic recording of interrogations would not only help end false confessions but also discourage police detectives from lying during interrogations — as they did in my case by claiming to have videotaped evidence of me.

Senate Bill 609, sponsored by Majority Leader Gloria Romero (D-Los Angeles), would prevent convictions based on uncorroborated testimony by jailhouse snitches.

The Legislature should pass all three bills, and the governor should sign them. These reforms are urgently needed to prevent wrongful and unjust incarcerations.

Prison is no place for an innocent man, let alone an innocent kid.



06/09/07 Juvenile facilities rated among state's worst
Deirdre Conner, (904) 359-4504. The Times-Union.


Northeast Florida facilities for juvenile offenders are rife with unacceptable problems, from crumbling buildings to shoddy treatment, according to state audits putting them among the worst in Florida.

Seven of the region's eight centers are minimal or failing, the audits show. The one exception, Hastings Youth Academy in St. Johns County , hasn't had a thorough state review since 2005.

Statewide, only a quarter of residential programs were ranked as minimal or failing in 2006.

Among the common problems found at the teen prisons here were moldy and crumbling buildings, falsified records and inadequate treatment plans…

Depending on their crime, young offenders can land at one of about 100 residential programs scattered throughout the state. The state spent $291 million for the programs in fiscal year 2005-06.

It's hard to know how some, like the Hastings Youth Academy, are doing because they haven't been checked in years. That's because a good rating ensured a reprieve from audits. The number of such programs tripled from 1997 to 2005, according to a Bureau of Quality Assurance report, which at the time heralded the news as a good thing.

This year, all the department's facilities will be audited, regardless of scores.

Auditors also won't be giving them advance notice like before…

"Providers are in crisis, and prices keep going up," [Amanda Ostrander, a spokeswoman for the advocacy group Children's Campaign] said. "It almost seems that those issues continue not to be a priority for the Legislature."

As early as December 2003, the Legislature's investigative branch slammed Juvenile Justice for the reviews. It said the department gave acceptable ratings to places with clear problems, such as the Florida Institute for Girls in West Palm Beach, where a grand jury investigated alleged sexual and physical abuse…

That's a good thing, said Michael O'Loughlin, who directs alternative programs for the St. Johns County school system. The district sends teachers to the Hastings Youth Academy, where the average stay is six months to a year, as well as the St. Johns Juvenile Correctional Facility, a longer-term residential facility for high-risk sex offenders…

"I think it's important we have a good idea of what's going on inside these facilities," O'Loughlin said. "It's a population that's otherwise easily written off."

Breakdown of the area's eight juvenile facilities. PROBLEMS NOTED

St. Johns Juvenile Correctional Facility - Significant staff turnover and shortages. - Workers are supposed to check rooms every 10 minutes, but videotape shows they falsified log books. - Nine in 10 workers reviewed were hired before the program received preliminary background checks. - During review period, team members observed lack of good order or control, with staff ignoring bad behavior in some cases. Youths were improperly punished.

Duval Halfway House - Reviewers believe the youths' safety and health are jeopardized because of the building's structural problems. - Youths are at risk because the facility was not screening them for suicide risk and one youth with suicide concerns was seen wandering the facility by himself. - Wires hanging from the ceiling and bathrooms that reeked of urine.

Nassau Juvenile Residential Facility - Building is structurally challenged inside and out, with rotting wood and holes in the wall. - Reviewers found a knife cabinet unsecured in the kitchen and debris littered on the grounds, including glass, old batteries and inoperable lawnmowers. - Thirty-seven fire violations. - Insufficient staff checks, with youths seen on video running in and out of their rooms into other youths' rooms and roaming the hallways.

White Foundation Family Homes - Not all severe and serious incidents were reported, including an arrest and an allegation of physical abuse. When reviewers followed up, all incidents were reported. - A problem with escapes. - Pregnant girls did not get proper prenatal care.

STEP (Outward Bound) - Program didn't properly log incident reports. - Three escapes since last review.

TigerSHOP - Workers are supposed to check rooms every 10 minutes, but videotape showed they falsified log books and also falsified a medical file. - Program is under investigation for a worker accused of taking seven youths out in the courtyard and giving them marijuana, Ecstasy and Xanax. The worker, who has been dismissed, was already under investigation after reports of taking 13 youths outside to supervise them alone. - Unkempt facilities with objects lodged in the razor wire and floor stripping coming up. - Program is not completing suicide assessments or follow-up assessments of suicide risk. - Improper staff conduct, use of excessive/unnecessary force and multiple youth-on-youth assaults, plus a continuous problem with youth having contraband.

Impact Halfway House - Workers are supposed to check rooms every 10 minutes, but videotape shows them falsifying log books. One night, checks weren't made for more than hours while a staff member apparently slept. - Better dental care needed.

Hastings Youth Academy (not reviewed since 2005) - Staff reportedly cursed at youths and acted unprofessionally, and youths said they didn't break up fights fast enough. - Workers and youths reported there had been gang activity in the facility during the past year. - About half of the toilets were not in good working order.


05/23/07 Anderson family compensated
Marc Caputo. Miami Herald


The family of Martin Lee Anderson was officially awarded $4.8 million Wednesday, when Gov. Charlie Crist signed a law to compensate them for the 14-year-old's death after he was at a juvenile boot camp last year.

''No amount of money can bring Martin back,'' said Crist as he stood next to Martin's parents. ``But the only way we can attempt, as a society, to make this family whole is to compensate them.''

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05/01/07 State refuses to step into juvenile justice fray
Will Van Sant (445-4166). St. Petersburg Times.


"The DJJ doesn't have any authority to dictate," [Richard Davison] said. "It's my understanding that there is no issue."

Tell that to critics of county Commissioner Calvin Harris, the board's chairman. They waved signs that read, "Harris says 'You shut up' " and "Calvin Harris snubs the law."

"I'm elected, whether he likes it or not," [Bruce Wright] said. "I'm an elected board member."


04/30/07 Strife erodes a voice for kids
Will Van Sant (445-4166). St. Petersburg Times.


"It's been such a volatile atmosphere in the year that I've been on there I don't know what we've accomplished," said Pinellas County Commissioner Ken Welch, whose position on the board is in dispute. "As I understand it, we are supposed to be advocates for youths in the juvenile justice system."

"I'm not going to play any mind games," [Calvin Harris] said during the meeting. "What I'm telling you is that these people are not going to be seated. They are not part of this board. And that's that."

"They're just getting nothing done," [Bob Dillinger] said. "It's just totally dysfunctional."


04/28/07 Imprisoned since 13, an adult Justin Caldwell remains walled in
Kate McCardell. Jackson County Floridan.


When he closes his eyes, Mark Caldwell sees his son when he was 2 years old, following his father's grownup lawn mower with a little plastic version...

Caldwell said that back then, he couldn't imagine what was to come 11 years down the road for his only child.

He had no idea Justin Daniel Caldwell would enter the juvenile justice system at age 13 and remain there until he became an adult...

Despite the unexpected, Mark Caldwell is not surprised that his son's name would have a hand in a revitalization of the system at Arthur G. Dozier School for Boys in Marianna that, if successful, could change the futures of the young men who are still hidden behind its walls.

The Incident

"They didn't expect us to fight back...

What is clear on the footage is the violent take-down Caldwell was subjected to by guard Alvin Speights. . . took Speights two seconds to slam Justin by his throat to the floor, where Speights remained on top of Justin for over a minute.

Reno said that during that minute, Speights continued choking Justin...

related articles on Caldwell. Sholly and Dozier | Justin Caldwell | Christopher Sholly's Diary | top

04/27/07 Juvenile Corrections Officer Arrested
Polk County Democrat.

A 34-year-old Polk County juvenile correctional officer was arrested Monday for having sex with a 15-year-old he met online.

Irish Streeter was charged with two felony counts of lewd battery by a suspect over 18 on a victim under 16.

During a two-day investigation, Special Victims Unit detectives identified a 15-year-old victim from Mulberry who engaged in sexual intercourse with Streeter after chatting with him online.

Streeter admitted to detectives that he had sex with the victim but claimed he did not know her age. He was booked into the county jail without incident. Bond was set at $6,000; Streeter is out on pre-trial release.

Streeter is employed by Group 4 Securicor, a private contractor under the auspices of the Florida Department of Juvenile Justice, to work as a correctional officer at the Polk Correctional Facility in Polk City.


04/21/07 Videotape shows guard choking teenager
Stephanie Garry. Miami Herald.


TALLAHASSEE -- The Department of Juvenile Justice released a video Friday showing what it described as inappropriate use of force by a guard, who choked a teenager at the Dozier School for Boys in Marianna. The incident, which happened in February, led to the firings of the guard and the head of the state-run Panhandle school for troubled young men... McNeil said he was hoping to act swiftly and publicly to show he is serious about the ''systematic operational problems'' at the school that he said "span the chain of command from top to bottom"...

related articles on Caldwell. Sholly and Dozier | Justin Caldwell | Christopher Sholly's Diary | top

04/21/07 Admission frozen at Dozier School
Kate McCardell. Jackson County Floridan.


In what has been called an action that "is certainly not common" among Department of Juvenile Justice facilities, admission at Arthur G. Dozier School for Boys in Marianna has been frozen at 162 beds... "At this point no admission is being taken in," said DJJ assistant secretary of residential services Rex Uberman... The boys' facility has been under investigation, Uberman said, since February. Around that time, allegations of abuse on 18-year-old resident Justin Caldwell were presented with a plea for help to a wide range of government agencies and media outlets by his father, Mark Caldwell. DJJ secretary Walt McNeil has been quoted in the media as saying the investigation has confirmed that on Feb. 11 Justin Caldwell was choked and thrown down by residential officer Allen Speights, and Caldwell was knocked unconscious when he hit his head on a table during the incident...

related articles on Caldwell. Sholly and Dozier | Justin Caldwell | Christopher Sholly's Diary | top

04/17/07 Justin Caldwell abused at Dozier School for Boys: The Truth
Coalition Against Institutionalized Child Abuse.


Vancouver, WA (April 17, 2007) - Florida Department of Juvenile Justice abuse.

Justin Caldwell, an 18-year old boy, has been incarcerated in the Florida Juvenile Justice System since he was 13. What should have been a 12-15 month stay in a residential treatment center to allegedly “help” Justin turned into a five-year nightmare.

Under normal circumstances what occurred in Justin’s life when he was 13 would have been handled with therapy and at home. In any normal state, that is. But in Florida things are different. There is a “Zero Tolerance Policy” when it comes to teenagers in Florida. Children are unjustifiably locked up for years at times, for what most would consider normal teen behavior... There is an entire website dedicated to the Florida DJJ (

related articles on Caldwell. Sholly and Dozier | Justin Caldwell | Christopher Sholly's Diary | top

04/14/07 Head of school for juveniles loses job DJJ cites 'systematic' problems at institution
Stephen D. Price. Tallahassee Democrat.


Florida Department of Juvenile Justice Secretary Walt McNeil on Friday fired the acting superintendent and a juvenile justice officer at the Arthur G. Dozier School for Boys in Marianna after an investigation into abuse of a youth. McNeil said the action was a call for a ''change of culture'' at the school. ''There are systemic operational problems at our Dozier facility that span the chain of command from top to bottom,'' McNeil said. The incident occurred Feb. 11. Justin Caldwell, an 18-year-old at the school, is charged as an adult with battery in an attack on an officer at Dozier School that day. Later that day, McNeil said in an unrelated incident, Caldwell accused juvenile justice residential officer Alvin Speights of choking him, causing him to hit his head on a table that knocked him unconscious. That incident was caught on a security camera... The tape was given to the Florida Department of Law Enforcement and could be released early next week... Speights was in the process of being fired Friday, and charges against him are pending in the ongoing investigation, McNeil said. Also, in response to the investigation, John Tallon, regional residential services administrator and acting Dozier superintendent, was fired Thursday... ''We will not accept abuses of any type of our youth,'' McNeil said.

[Click here for a first person account of life at  Greenville Hills Academy. J4K.]
related articles on Caldwell. Sholly and Dozier | Justin Caldwell | Christopher Sholly's Diary | top

04/14/07 DJJ fires 2 after choke hold
Stephanie Garry. Miami Herald.


TALLAHASSEE -- The Department of Juvenile Justice has fired the head of a school for troubled youths after an investigation concluded that a guard at the Panhandle facility used inappropriate force in February when he choked a teenager, causing him to hit a table and lose consciousness.

DJJ Secretary Walt McNeil told reporters Friday that the superintendent of the state-run Arthur G. Dozier School for Boys in Marianna had been fired on Thursday and that the guard is also being fired. He cited ''systematic operational problems'' at the school that "span the chain of command from top to bottom.”

''When the safety and security of any of the youth in our facilities is compromised for any reason, we will act swiftly and decisively to care for those youth,'' McNeil said, urging anyone knowing of abuse in DJJ programs to report it to him.

McNeil said the investigation has not yet concluded whether the guard, Alvin Speights, was acting in retaliation. The Florida Department of Law Enforcement is reviewing the incident, and Speights may face charges when the investigation ends…

Rex Uberman, the department's assistant secretary of residential services, will move his office from Tallahassee to Dozier to supervise the school, which houses 162 boys ages 14 to 21. DJJ has also hired Community Trust, a consulting firm specializing in juvenile-justice management, to take over daily operations. Trust CEO Isaac Williams will act as superintendent…

Miami Herald staff writer Tina Cummings contributed to this report.

[Click here for a first person account of life at  Greenville Hills Academy. J4K.]
related articles on Caldwell. Sholly and Dozier | Justin Caldwell | Christopher Sholly's Diary | top

04/07/07 Boot camp video used in legislative hearing
Alex Leary. St. Petersburg Times.


…"Everyone it seemed had to get in on it, and once that happens, that's intentional. There's no question it's intentional," William T. Gaut, a law enforcement expert, said of the guards who now face criminal charges.

"It was unlawful, it was unreasonable, it was excessive and it directly contributed to the death of Mr. Anderson," Gaut asserted.

The daylong hearing was much like a court hearing, though the Department of Juvenile Justice offered little rebuttal or cross examination. Deputy Secretary Richard Davison said the agency supports the claims bill, which was first proposed by Gov. Charlie Crist.

Two lawyers appointed by the House and Senate will hear the testimony and later offer a recommendation whether the Legislature should pay the $5-million.

The legislature must sign off on any award against the state greater than $200,000 by approving a claims bill.

Senate lawyer Jason Vail asked particularly pointed questions trying to establish whether the Department of Juvenile Justice had direct authority over the actions in Panama City…

…a former department inspector, who claims he was fired for disagreeing about the handling of the case, said sheriff's officials described the manhandling as routine.

"There was no shock, there was no alarm, there was no surprise," Steve Meredith said. "It was like this is how you bake a cake ... It was so clinical.”

…Anderson's parents spoke only briefly. "We can't describe what we're going through," Robert Anderson said. He turned away, putting a hand to his head.

"Martin is gone," Gina Jones added. "What happened to him was wrong. You all think it's right. You know that's not right at all."

Rep. Frank Peterman, D-St. Petersburg, watched the hearing and said there is only one outcome.

"It's my belief and great hope that every legislator who believes in justice will vote this claims bill up. Anything short is unacceptable."

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04/07/07 Weeping parents testify in boot-camp case
Marc Caputo. Miami Herald.


The parents of a 14-year-old boy who died after he was at a boot camp came a step closer to receiving $5 million in compensation at a legislative hearing. . . . Assuming the Martin Anderson bill reaches his desk, Gov. Charlie Crist intends to sign the claim into law. Crist called the case ''horrible'' and recently agreed the state should pay Martin's parents $5 million for his death after he was beaten by Panama City boot-camp guards last year. . . . Department of Juvenile Justice lawyers said the agency wouldn't defend itself, allowing family attorney Benjamin Crump to call witnesses who portrayed the department and the boot camp as ineffective and cruel. A former inspector general for the department, Steve Meredith, said agency staffers kept use-of-force reports from him for years. Meredith is suing the agency, saying he was fired for speaking out about Martin's death. Meredith also said that when sheriff's personnel showed him the videotape shortly after Martin's death, they used matter-of-fact language to describe the knee-strikes and use of ammonia capsules on Martin in a failed effort to revive him so he could continue running laps. Criminal profiler William Gaut testified the guards were punishing Martin and acting with a "mob mentality.''

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03/30/07 Fewer troubled children, fewer adult criminals
Editorial. Palm Beach Post.


Since the Legislature created the Florida Department of Juvenile Justice in 1994, the agency's mission has shifted from one that "affords opportunities for youth to develop into responsible citizens" to one that primarily warehouses kids who have gotten in trouble with the law. The now-diluted mission statement - "to protect the public by reducing juvenile crime and delinquency" - is reflected in the state's weak commitment to rehabilitating youth and treating them for mental illnesses and drug and alcohol addictions that contribute to their crimes.

New DJJ Secretary Walter McNeil wants to change that.

Mr. McNeil has proposed a new vision, mission statement and guiding principles for the agency that in 2004-05 handled more than 95,000 young, delinquent Floridians. He envisions that "The children and families of Florida will live in safe, nurturing communities that provide for their needs, recognize their strengths and support their success." As he sees it, DJJ's mission is "To increase public safety by reducing juvenile delinquency through effective prevention, intervention and treatment services that strengthen families and turn around the lives of troubled youth."

To get there, he wants all DJJ employees to be led by a goal of ensuring that "when youth leave our system, they do not return or later enter the adult corrections system." He wants to provide "the right services at the right time and in the least restrictive environment."

The fatal beating last year of 14-year-old Martin Lee Anderson at a Bay County juvenile boot camp uncovered dozens of abuse reports that illustrated DJJ's poor oversight. This week, Bay County agreed to pay the teen's family $2.4 million, and the state is fast-tracking a $5 million settlement.

The Palm Beach County juvenile detention center, which also serves the Treasure Coast, has been under court monitor because of understaffing, overcrowding, poor building maintenance and a lack of treatment services. Now, two private companies have bid to take over the center for less money.

As the new leader of an agency that has failed to adequately respond to the specific needs of girls, abandoned responsibility by privatizing services with too little money and lax oversight, allowed private companies to hire unqualified guards and failed to protect children in its care from abusive guards, Mr. McNeil's pledge is more than symbolic. His proposals are posted on DJJ's Web site ( He has invited the public to send comments to by April 6.


03/28/07 Parents awarded $2.4M in death
Alex Leary, Justin George. St. Petersburg Times.


The parents of a teenager who died after a violent encounter with guards at a juvenile boot camp reached a $2.4-million settlement Tuesday with the Bay County Sheriff's Office...

"We were certain the jury would have awarded a $40-million verdict," said the family's lawyer, Benjamin Crump.

"The question is: How long would this matter have gone on? It's just been grueling for the family"...

A criminal case against the seven guards accused of beating 14- year-old Martin Lee Anderson, and against the nurse who watched, is not affected by the settlement. The defendants have pleaded not guilty...

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03/28/07 Parents in boot-camp death reach $2.25M settlement
Carol Marbin Miller and Marc Caputo. Miami Herald.


The sheriff's office that ran the boot camp where Martin Anderson was manhandled by guards has agreed to settle with the dead boy's family for more than $2 million... "The civil matter ends this legislative session,'' Crump said. "We wanted a compromise. I think a jury would have given them $50 million. But when would they have collected?"

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03/22/07 Adult charges harmful to kids?
Jeff Kunerth. Orlando Sentinel.


A report says prosecuting juveniles as adults boosts the likelihood of them being repeat offenders.

An estimated 200,000 juveniles a year are charged as adults across the country, and Florida is one of the states leading the charge, said a report released Wednesday...

Florida was one of the first states in the 1990s that changed the law to allow prosecutors, instead of juvenile-court judges, to decide whether a youthful offender should be charged as an adult. The result, Ryan said, was that Florida prosecutors charged more kids as adults than all the juvenile-justice judges in the rest of the country combined -- about 7,000 a year.


03/15/07 Crist seeks $5M for teen who died at boot camp
Abbie Vansickle (813 226-3373), Colleen Jenkins, Rebecca Catalanello and Justin George. St. Petersburg Times.


TALLAHASSEE - Gov. Charlie Crist implored state legislators Wednesday to give $5-million to the family of a teen who died after guards roughed him up at a Bay County boot camp…

If granted, the settlement would be among the largest ever paid to someone aggrieved by the state of Florida, surpassing payments to wrongly imprisoned death row inmates…

In letters to House and Senate leaders, Crist urged lawmakers to support a claims bill, part of what he hopes is a $10-million settlement for the family. Such bills are rare. He said he will encourage Bay County officials to match the state's $5-million…

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03/14/07 New documents emerge in boot camp death case
Carol Marbin Miller. Miami Herald.


Almost two years before a Panama City teenager died after he was violently restrained by guards at a Panhandle boot camp, Florida's top juvenile justice administrator wanted to know whether the use of physical force on children in custody was causing ``injuries to youth and staff.''

In an April 29, 2004, e-mail to ranking administrators at the Florida Department of Juvenile Justice, a DJJ staffer requested detailed information on the use of force at state programs, along with reported injuries to youths and guards. The study had been requested by the agency's interim secretary at the time, C. George Denman.

''This data is necessary for helping senior management make critical decisions,'' DJJ staffer Jeffrey Solie wrote.

It is unclear what the study concluded, or if it was even completed. Months later, Denman returned to the state Department of Corrections, where he was an assistant secretary, and Anthony Schembri was named DJJ Secretary by Gov. Jeb Bush. Schembri had previously run New York City's jails...

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02/02/07 Judges refuse to unshackle juveniles
Kathleen Chapman. Palm Beach Post.


Palm Beach County's juvenile-court judges agreed Thursday to leave handcuffs and leg irons on juveniles in their courtrooms.

The county public defender's office asked the judges last fall to unshackle children who aren't violent or likely to escape, saying the restraints are inhumane and unfair. . .

Gov. Charlie Crist has said he opposes the indiscriminate shackling of children, saying it is unfair to restrain those who aren't charged with serious offenses.


01/25/07 DJJ faces suit over suicide
Stephen D. Price. Tallahassee Democrat.


An Orlando mother whose 13-year-old son committed suicide while at the Volusia Regional Juvenile Detention Center in 2001 has filed two suits against the Department of Juvenile Justice and the agency's attorney for access to records and making defamatory remarks, seeking more than $100,000. Terri Mestre also has a wrongful-death suit pending against DJJ on behalf of her son, Shawn D. Smith, who died in 2001. The suit is set for trial in August, said Mestre's attorney, Ernest Eubanks Jr., who filed the two related suits Tuesday in Leon County Circuit Court. . .

Among the claims in the Leon County suits filed this week are that agency attorney Brian Berkowitz made defamatory, false remarks that Mestre caused the death of her son and that DJJ was not at fault. The suit said that Jane McNeely, a nurse consultant with DJJ, said in a deposition that after Smith's death, while in the Quality Assurance Department, Berkowitz was discussing a case unrelated to Mestre's lawsuit when he made what the suit describes as the defamatory remarks about Mestre. . .


01/12/07 Boy, 7, arrested after throwing backpack
Rebecca Catalanello and Colleen Jenkins. St. Petersburg Times.


TAMPA - A deputy arrested a 7-year-old boy at school Wednesday after the boy flung a backpack at an 11-year-old's head at a bus stop, authorities said. . . . Prosecutors say they had advised against arresting the boy. And the county's Juvenile Assessment Center wouldn't take the 7-year-old, so he was returned to school. . . The state attorney will now decide whether to charge the child with misdemeanor battery.


01/09/07 FDLE sued over online access to juvenile arrest data
Forrest Norman [ (305) 347-6649].  Daily Business REVIEW

[Subscription is required, although you can sign up for a FREE 30-day trial subscription.]


A Miami couple is asking a judge to force the Florida Department of Law Enforcement to remove their teenage daughter’s arrest record for stealing a can of Coca-Cola from its publicly accessible, online database. The record details the Oct. 15, 2006, arrest of then 13-year-old G.G. for shoplifting. It was the girl’s first arrest... The complaint, filed in Miami-Dade Circuit Court by attorneys Don Hayden, Allan Sullivan and Effie Silva of Baker & McKenzie in Miami, asks for a declaratory judgment stating that FDLE’s publication of the arrest record is a violation of a Florida statute requiring that minors’ misdemeanor records be kept confidential. The suit also seeks a writ of prohibition preventing the agency from publishing or selling the record... The Miami-Dade public defender’s office has drafted legislation to block publication of juvenile misdemeanor records. Carlos Martinez, the chief assistant public defender in Miami, said FDLE’s practice of posting juvenile arrest records on their Web site and selling them for $23 is in conflict with Florida law.


01/08/07 Crusading for confidentiality
Forrest Norman [ (305) 347-6649].  Daily Business REVIEW

[Subscription is required, although you can sign up for a FREE 30-day trial subscription.]


Cathy Corry of Tampa heard that a young relative had been turned down for a job after an employer ran a background check and came across the family member’s juvenile misdemeanor arrest years earlier.

Corry searched through the Florida Department of Law Enforcement’s online public records data base three years ago and quickly found other misdemeanor records of juveniles. One record she found listed the criminal history of a boy who had been convicted of shoplifting at 13 and presenting false identification to police when he was 14...

For a $23 initial charge, plus $8 for each additional search, anyone can peruse the criminal history data base maintained by the Florida Department of Law Enforcement ( and buy a copy of an individual’s state criminal record. Searching on a name, or keying in a racial group, age or gender selection, you can mine a lot of data about people charged as juveniles with minor offenses. A quick search of the FDLE data base by the Daily Business Review turned up records for a 14-year-old from Jacksonville charged with two misdemeanors. Critics including Carlos Martinez, Miami-Dade County’s chief assistant public defender, say the public disclosure of juvenile misdemeanor records is wrong and should be stopped. They say it’s another example of the growing problem of juveniles and adults being stigmatized by the online posting of their criminal records...


01/05/07 Anderson death on McNeil's mind
Stephen D. Price. Tallahassee Democrat.


Tallahassee Police Chief Walt McNeil takes the reins of the Florida Department of Juvenile Justice as the agency recovers from last year's death of a 14-year-old in a juvenile boot camp.

Though McNeil said Thursday he hadn't read any reports on the case, he did watch the video of Martin Lee Anderson being hit by drill instructors.

''A life was lost and that's something tragic, especially when it's a child in a custody situation,'' McNeil said. ''We want to prevent those type of occurrences from happening again"...

Attorney Ben Crump, who represents Anderson's parents in a civil suit against the state and the drill instructors involved, said news of McNeil's appointment was encouraging...

Crump also said McNeil was supportive to Anderson's parents during a rally to encourage charges against the drill instructors seen on the videotape...

Gov. Charlie Crist didn't say he thought of the Anderson ordeal when considering McNeil for the job, but... ''I couldn't think of a better person to bring in regardless of circumstances.''

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01/04/07 Tallahassee police chief to take over troubled juvenile justice agency
Gary Fineout. Miami Herald


TALLAHASSEE - Gov. Charlie Crist has tapped a Tallahassee police veteran to take over the state agency responsible for handling kids who break the law. Crist announced today that he is appointing Walt McNeil, who has been the Tallahassee police chief for nine years, as the next secretary of the Department of Juvenile Justice... Former Rep. Gus Barreiro, a Miami Beach Republican who led the charge to shut down the juvenile boot camps after Anderson's death, had interviewed for the Department of Juvenile Justice job. Barreiro said Thursday that he supported Crist's decision. ''I know he has a fine reputation and he's a stand up guy,'' Barreiro said of McNeil. "To me, I have been honored by all the support I received, but at the end of the day it's his call. I support his decision.''...



12/30/06 Ex-boot-camp guard: We tried to help boy
Staff and Wire Reports. Orlando Sentinel.


PANAMA CITY -- A former juvenile boot-camp guard charged in the death of a 14-year-old boy says he and other camp guards rushed to help the teen when they realized he was in trouble.

Charles Helms is among seven guards seen kneeing, hitting and kicking Martin Lee Anderson on a video surveillance tape from the Bay County Juvenile Boot Camp on Jan. 5. Martin died early the next morning.

Speaking to ABC's 20/20 in a segment about video surveillance that aired Friday night, Helms said he and the other guards thought Martin was "faking it" when the teen first stopped participating in group exercises…

The men were "trying to see if the kid was faking it, feigning illness, which happens quite often with a new kid coming into the program, because a lot of these kids are used to manipulating people and the system," he said…

"We did not disregard the fact that he was in trouble as soon as it was recognized. We changed hats and went to a rescue mode," he said...

Meanwhile Friday, Juvenile Justice Secretary Anthony Schembri announced his departure…

A spokeswoman for Crist said she could not comment on whether the decision to accept Schembri's resignation signaled a different direction for the department.

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12/30/06 Juvenile justice chief to step down Tuesday
Kathleen Chapman. Palm Beach Post.


Department of Juvenile Justice Secretary Anthony Schembri will leave his position Tuesday, a spokeswoman confirmed Friday.

Schembri had hoped to stay in his job and donated to the campaign of incoming Gov. Charlie Crist. But he was widely criticized for his handling of the case of 14-year-old Martin Lee Anderson, who died after being kicked and hit by guards at a Panama City boot camp a year ago.

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12/05/06 A bit of justice [Re: 8 charged in teen's boot camp death Nov. 29]
Cathy Corry, President St. Petersburg Times.

Justice for Martin Lee Anderson has finally begun with manslaughter charges levied against seven good ol' boys and one good ol' girl of the Bay County Sheriff's Office juvenile boot camp.

These arrests are also a bit of justice for the countless silent victims of juvenile boot camp abuse who have been threatened to keep quiet, but who carry physical and emotional scars forever.

I wonder how many children were abused over the years by the nurse and guards before the tragic death of Anderson. Observing the video of Anderson being battered, this was "just another day" and seemed routine treatment of the children in their "care." These "professionals" were obligated morally and ethically to provide essential care, and they were also obligated legally. Our society is in great despair when we have lawless law enforcement.

Cathy Corry, president,, Clearwater

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11/29/06 8 charged in teen's boot camp death
Times Staff Writers. St. Petersburg Times.


Seven guards and a nurse at a Panama City boot camp were charged Tuesday in the death of Martin Lee Anderson…

Each faces a charge of aggravated manslaughter on a child, punishable by as much as 30 years in prison if convicted….

"This conduct cannot and will not be tolerated in our society, and none of us are above the law," Ober said in Tallahassee…

"We hope at the end of the day justice will be served," said Gov. Jeb Bush, who appointed Ober as special prosecutor after concerns arose about the Florida Department of Law Enforcement's review of the death…

The case has ruined the life of one of the accused, Lt. Charles Helms Jr., according to his attorney, Waylon Graham…

"He's been vilified, and that's what's crushing him…

If anyone is to blame, it's the nurse, Graham said. Kristin Schmidt told guards the teen faked his illness… The guards waited to call 911 at the nurse's advice, he said…

"When I first saw the video, I knew it wasn't simply a kid collapsing on a field," former state Rep. Gus Barreiro said Tuesday. "No criminal charges or convictions will ever bring this young man back. But people who work with kids ... have to understand that if you mistreat a child you will be held accountable."…

Ober said the guards and nurse caused the death by culpable negligence, failing to provide Anderson "with the care, supervision or services necessary to maintain his physical or mental health that a prudent person would consider essential for the well-being of a child, or by failure to make a reasonable effort to protect (him) from abuse, neglect or exploitation by another person."

In addition to Schmidt… and Helms, the other defendants were identified as Henry Dickens, Charles Enfinger, Patrick Garrett, Raymond Hauck, Henry McFadden Jr., and Joseph Walsh II.

The guards appeared Tuesday before Bay County Judge Elijah Smiley and were released on $25,000 bail each. Arraignment is set for Jan. 18. Schmidt planned to turn herself in later Tuesday….

Bay County Sheriff Frank McKeithen called the investigation lengthy, complex and intense. He emphasized Ober's findings that no coverup existed, but he said nothing in defense of the guards and nurse….

Jim White, the attorney for Hauck, said he hopes the Sheriff's Office will stand behind the camp guards.

"Sure (Hauck) thought he was doing the exactly right thing," White said. "I think that all the things he did would have been in keeping with Sheriff's Office policy."…

Ober's investigation did not find evidence of a conspiracy…

Dr. Charles Siebert, the medical examiner who performed the original autopsy, acted under "good faith belief”…

"Tunnell's personal relationship ... did not affect the work of the FDLE investigations," Ober wrote in a letter to Bush.

And Bay County State Attorney Steve Meadows "did not attempt to hide information pertinent to the investigation" by deleting e-mails on the case, Ober concluded…

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11/28/06 Sheriff McKeithen Issues Statement
Press Release. Bay County Sheriff's Office.

November 28, 2006 Ruth Sasser, PAS For Immediate Release 747-4700, ext. 2117

Sheriff McKeithen Issues Statement

Bay County Sheriff Frank McKeithen issued the following statement today in reference to the latest developments in the Martin Anderson case:

At approximately 9 o’clock this morning I was notified by Mark Ober’s office that they were at the Bay County Courthouse in the process of obtaining eight warrants for the arrest of the drill instructors and the nurse involved in the Martin Anderson investigation.

I was advised the charges would be Aggravated Manslaughter by Culpable Negligence. I understand seven of the drill instructors have been arrested at this time.

This has been a lengthy, complex, and intense investigation. Mr. Ober’s office has made the decision to charge these individuals with a criminal offense and they now will have the right to a trial.

Despite continued allegations and accusations of cover up, misconduct, and conspiracy relating to the original investigation by the Bay County Sheriff’s Office and other agencies involved, Mr. Ober’s office has determined these to be false and absolutely unfounded.

It is now time for the attention to be focused on the facts at hand and to only hope that justice will prevail.

Prepared by R. Sasser Information by Sheriff F. McKeithen

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11/28/06 7 guards, nurse charged in boot camp death
Carol Marbin Miller, Gary Fineout and Marc Caputo. Miami Herald.


Seven guards and a nurse at a juvenile boot camp here were charged with manslaughter this morning in the death of a teenager earlier this year. Martin Lee Anderson, 14, died hours after guards were videotaped manhandling him on Jan. 5 after he collapsed during a forced run. One autopsy determined he was suffocated by the ammonia capsules shoved up his nose. He had arrived at the Bay County Boot Camp earlier that morning. The charges -- aggravated manslaughter against a child, which carries a maximum 30-year prison term -- were announced by Hillsborough County State Attorney Mark Ober, who was named as a special prosecutor to investigate the case by Gov. Jeb Bush. . . Those charged today were identified as drill instructors Henry McFadden, Charles Enfinger, Patrick Garrett, Joseph Walsh, Henry Dickens, Charles Helms and Raymond Hauck and nurse Kristin Schmidt.

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11/28/06 Eight charged in Anderson case
Stephen D. Price Florida Capital Bureau. Tallahassee Democrat.


Seven guards and a nurse have been charged with aggravated manslaughter of a child in the death of Martin Lee Anderson, the 14-year-old boy who died in January a day after he entered a Bay County juvenile boot camp. State Attorney Mark Ober, special prosecutor in the case, today announced the charges against the seven, who are being arrested this morning.

Charged are Henry Dickens, Charles Enfinger, Patrick Garrett, Raymond Hauck, Charles Helms Jr., Henry McFadden Jr., Kristin Schmidt and Joseph Walsh II, according to a filing Ober made today in state circuit court in Bay County. Ober's charges said in part the defendants, "did cause the death of Martin Lee Anderson by culpable negligence, without lawful justification or excuse, by neglecting Martin Lee Anderson by failure or omission to provide Martin Lee Anderson with care, supervision or services necessary to maintain his physical or mental health ..." Anderson died Jan. 6, a day after he was hit, kicked and kneed by guards at the boot camp in an incident captured on videotape... Anthony Schembri, secretary for the Department of Juvenile Justice, said the investigation has been conducted appropriately, though he had not yet seen the charges Ober brought. " It's always sad when police officers break the law or bend the rules. But I think we need to look at our own ethics. We need to be a policeman in charge of our own ethics and we're not getting paid to abuse people."

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11/28/06 Audit knocks juvenile centers
Michael C. Bender. Palm Beach Post.


TALLAHASSEE — — Authorities at nearly all of Florida's 26 detention centers, including those in Palm Beach and St. Lucie counties, occasionally fail to return money, clothes or other property to juveniles when they are released from custody, according to a state audit released Monday...

The audit was sparked by complaints that thousands of dollars worth of property was stolen from youngsters in the 226-bed lockup in Miami-Dade County. The statewide investigation turned up "no instance of fraud or misappropriation" in the Miami-Dade detention center and "a few instances of small amounts of cash missing" at other centers across the state. But the Miami-Dade center is not in the clear yet. A more thorough investigation into specific theft allegations is under way, a juvenile justice department spokeswoman said Monday. When the Department of Juvenile Justice received the allegations that juveniles' property was stolen in Miami-Dade, it opened two investigations: one into the alleged thefts, and another to look at policies at detention centers statewide.


11/20/06  NAACP threatens protest over Anderson
Stephen D. Price Political Editor. Tallahassee Democrat.

Excerpts: If the investigation into the death of Martin Lee Anderson is not concluded by Jan. 2, the day Charlie Crist will be sworn in as governor, members of the Florida NAACP, students and the Conference of Black State Legislators vowed today to conduct a silent protest at the ceremony...

Last week, a former acting inspector general for the DJJ said he was fired from his job in August because he wouldn't go along with a "misrepresentation" in the death of Anderson, and filed a whistle-blower complaint with the state Commission on Human Relations.

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11/18/06 DJJ inspector sues over firing Claims it was payback after boot-camp-death case
Stephen D. Price Florida Capital Bureau. Tallahassee Democrat.


A former acting inspector general for the Florida Department of Juvenile Justice said he was fired from his job in August because he wouldn't go along with a ''misrepresentation'' in the death of Martin Lee Anderson and has filed a whistle-blower complaint with the state Commission on Human Relations.

''I believe the reason I was terminated was because I wouldn't go along with misrepresentation related to Mr. Anderson's death,'' Steve Meredith said.

Meredith, in his position as acting inspector general for the agency, issued a report in March to DJJ Secretary Anthony Schembri that guards were allowed to use chemical agents to restrain juvenile detainees if they were being attacked. But, he concluded, the 14-year-old was not a threat to deputies when he saw videotape of guards putting ammonia tablets in Anderson's nose Jan. 5. Anderson died Jan. 6, a day after he was hit, kicked and kneed by guards at a Bay County boot camp for juvenile offenders. No arrests have been made, and a criminal investigation into Anderson's death is ongoing.

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11/18/06 Boot camp whistle-blower complaint filed
Marc Caputo. Miami Herald.


…Steve Meredith said Friday that… he was fired Aug. 4 without explanation from the Department of Juvenile Justice. He…said that current DJJ employees he wouldn't name have told him his outspoken views on Martin Lee Anderson's death played a role.

DJJ spokeswoman Cynthia Lorenzo said the agency ''emphatically denies'' Meredith's claims…

On the day of Martin's death, Meredith said he and two other DJJ employees viewed the videotape…then joined a conference call with DJJ Secretary Anthony Schembri and other senior level staff in which, he said, he noted the violations of DJJ policy by guards of the Bay County Sheriff's Office, which ran the camp.

'The secretary had asked a question about how bad this is . . . either I made the statement or he asked: `Was this as bad as Rodney King?' '' Meredith recalled.

''Absolutely,'' he said he responded. "Yes it was.''

He said the second DJJ employee agreed with him, but a third witness to the tape did not. That employee is still working for the agency, Meredith said, but he and the employee who agreed with him were subsequently fired.

More than a month after the conference call, one of the participants, DJJ staff chief Chris Caballero, appeared before a DJJ legislative oversight committee Feb. 23 and refused to say whether boot-camp guards were legally allowed to inflict pain on nonthreatening children who weren't complying with simple commands, such as running laps…

… Meredith said. “This is the type of thing that if a parent had done to their child, they would be up on child abuse charges without any question. The fact that someone could do this to someone else's child is inexcusable.''

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10/30/06 'Systemic' Flaws Found in Florida Juvenile Court System
Shreema Mehta. The New Standard.


A new report says children arrested in Florida face a judicial system that prioritizes resolving cases quickly over fair legal representation.

The study by the by the National Juvenile Defender Center, a group that helps lawyers working with children, found an "excessive" number of defendants waive the right to legal counsel, leaving them with no counsel to look after their interests. The report also found that children often unnecessarily accept guilty pleas, putting a possibly extraneous criminal mark on their record...

"If children are not properly informed of the consequences, they will likely opt to waive counsel or accept a guilty plea to get out of the courtroom quickly," said Patricia Puritz, co-author of the report and director of the Center. Puritz told The NewStandard that the underfunded and overwhelmed court system encourages waiving counsel or accepting guilty pleas. "It keeps the docket moving; it gets rid of a lot of cases."...


10/23/06 Legal defenses deficient for Florida kids, report claims
Carol Marbin Miller. Miami Herald


Strapped for money and resources and facing ''staggering'' caseloads with often green attorneys, public defenders in Florida's juvenile courts frequently fail to provide adequate representation to children charged with crimes, says a report to be released today.

A 109-page report by the National Juvenile Defender Center -- which was supported by the Florida Supreme Court and the Florida Bar -- concludes that "overwhelmed juvenile defenders [often] are unable to fulfill their responsibilities to clients.'"

The stakes are high: A juvenile-court conviction can have serious consequences for youths, including the inability to get a driver's license, to enlist in the military, or to secure a student loan -- and the possible transfer of a future case to adult court, where juveniles can face long imprisonment with adults.

''Youth in Florida's courts, even very young children, were observed routinely waiving the constitutional right to counsel,'' the report said. "This often occurs with a wink and a nod -- or even encouragement -- from judges.''

The report also questioned the ''frequent and liberal use'' of handcuffs and shackles on children in juvenile court -- a practice that is being challenged by public defenders in both Miami-Dade and Broward counties.

In 2003, Florida ranked among the states most likely to lock up youths in secure detention, detaining juveniles at a rate 13 percent above the national average, the defender report says. That year, Florida locked up 352 out of every 100,000 juveniles, placing the state second in the nation for detaining children.


10/18/06 Judge sets trial date, dismisses on claim in boot camp case
The Associated Press

PANAMA CITY, Fla. - A judge dismissed a federal civil rights violation claim against the state Department of Juvenile Justice in a lawsuit by the parents of a teen who died after guards roughed him up at a boot camp.

U.S. District Chief Judge Robert L. Hinkle did not dismiss the same civil rights violation claim against the Bay County Sheriff's Office in his ruling from the bench on Monday, said John Jolly, an attorney representing the sheriff's office…

The judge also removed claims for punitive damages against both defendants, Jolly said. But that ruling will still allow a jury to award whatever compensatory damages they consider appropriate, Jolly said.

Benjamin Crump, an attorney for Anderson's family, said Hinkle's ruling did not come as surprise…

Hinkle also set a trial date for April 16…

Crump said conspiracy counts against DJJ and the sheriff's office remain part of the civil action…

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10/14/06 New claims of abuse at boys camp
Carol Marbin Miller and Marc Caputo. Miami Herald.


GREENVILLE - Three separate state agencies are investigating whether caretakers used banned, excessive and harmful restraints at a camp for delinquent boys, some of whom are mentally retarded or have other special needs. At least one youth might have suffered a broken collarbone at the Greenville Hills Academy in Greenville just last week, according to records obtained by The Miami Herald. One 16-year-old claimed he was "choked''... The DJJ is investigating Greenville along with the Florida Department of Law Enforcement and the Department of Children & Families... In all, DCF received 219 child abuse reports involving the camp since January 2002. Twenty-six of the reports were closed with either verified abuse or some ''indicators'' of abuse.

[Click here for a first person account of life at  Greenville Hills Academy. J4K.]
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10/09/06 Davis pledges more money for juvenile crime prevention
Beth Reinhard. Miami Herald.


The parents of 9-year-old murder victim Sherdavia Jenkins and Democratic candidate for governor Jim Davis came together Monday to say they have a common goal: keeping children safe from violence... Miami-Dade Public Defender Bennett Brummer criticized the two state agencies responsible for troubled children: the departments of juvenile justice and of children and families. ''These departments have been abusing and neglecting children for years,'' he said. "I want to see righteousness flow down from Tallahassee.'' ... Davis and his running mate, former Sen. Daryl Jones of Miami, pledged to invest more money in juvenile crime prevention and after-school programs if they are elected...


10/03/06 Five-Year-Old Handcuffed, Taken to Mental Health Facility
Ken Amaro. First Coast News.


JACKSONVILLE, FL -- We're in an environment where parents are concerned about school violence, but the Dorn family says what happened with their five-year-old is not school violence... The child attends Andrew Robinson Elementary. When he became disruptive, the school called his parents and the police. The police got here before the parent. In his field investigation report, the arresting officer wrote that "school officals stated the subject threatened to cut another student's head off and moved toward him in an aggressive manner. The officer says when he got to the school, the child was crying... Given the child's behavior, he was Baker Acted and, the report says, "handcuffed to prevent him from hurting himself."


10/03/06 End the shackling of juveniles
Editorial. St. Petersburg Times.


The idea behind a separate juvenile court system is to provide young people a gentler form of justice as a way of acknowledging their immaturity and capacity for change. But in one respect, juveniles are treated far harsher than their adult counterparts. Regardless of the offense, juveniles automatically appear in court shackled in handcuffs, chains and leg irons, while adult defendants do not. This practice is unjustified, degrading and potentially damaging to justice. Bay area juvenile court judges should put an end to it.

Pinellas-Pasco Public Defender Bob Dillinger says that he tried unsuccessfully about two years ago to get the juvenile court judges in his jurisdiction to banish shackles. He plans to try again soon…

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09/28/06 Family wants arrests in boot-camp death before election
Brent Kallestad. Associated Press


...The family's attorney, Ben Crump, said he wanted the investigation completed before the Nov. 7 election, when a new governor will be chosen by Florida voters...

Anthony DeLuise, a spokesman for Gov. Bush, said the governor is equally frustrated and had his staff talk with special prosecutor Mark Ober's office Tuesday...

"The investigation will not be complete until I am satisfied that we have gathered and analyzed all relevant information," Ober said in a statement from his office.

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09/22/06 Fix the detention center, or prepare for a lawsuit
Editorial. Palm Beach Post.


It is now obvious why the Florida Department of Juvenile Justice spent months trying to block a court-ordered review of the Palm Beach Regional Juvenile Detention Center. The review, released Monday, shows what DJJ already knew: The state is warehousing children and failing to provide requested substance-abuse and mental-health treatment, despite a law that the state provide such treatment.


09/19/06 Report rips mental health care at juvenile center
Kathleen Chapman. Palm Beach Post.

Excerpts: WEST PALM BEACH — A girl locked in Palm Beach County's juvenile detention center asked to see a therapist on the anniversary of her mother's death, but said she never heard back.

A boy at the center was recommended for substance abuse treatment, but nine months later, reviewers could find no evidence he ever got it…

Palm Beach County Juvenile Court Judge Peter Blanc ordered the review in response to attorneys' concerns that teens were being locked up for months without meaningful treatment.

The 93-bed facility, managed by the Department of Juvenile Justice, holds juveniles charged with serious or repeat crimes until space opens for them in a longer-term residential programs.

This year some teens have been forced to wait several months in detention. The time they spend there does not count against their sentences, which can vary depending on behavior.

The state pays PsychSolutions, Inc. of Coral Gables up to $180,170 a year to provide a therapist and two mental health workers at the facility, and $28,665 for a part-time psychiatrist…

The report's authors, Legal Aid attorneys William Booth and Michelle Hankey, said one of the main problems seemed to be breakdowns in communication.

In some cases, mental health experts suggested that state juvenile justice workers keep constant watch on suicidal teens, or check on them every five minutes. But records show detention officers actually made those checks just twice an hour…

Leaders at the Department of Juvenile Justice are reviewing the report, spokeswoman Cynthia Lorenzo said. A spokeswoman for PsychSolutions said the company would respond to the findings soon. Judge Blanc has scheduled another hearing on the issue, and said he would wait to hear from the state before making any decisions…


09/14/06 Thefts at youth lockup focus of inquiry
Carol Marbin Miller. Miami Herald.


While hundreds of youths at the Miami-Dade Juvenile Detention Center were doing the time, some of their jailers were doing the crime, state officials say. The Florida Department of Juvenile Justice's inspector general is investigating the theft of more than $100,000 worth of property from juveniles at the 226-bed Miami lockup, according to department officials and a Miami Beach lawmaker who headed a DJJ oversight committee. Some of the thefts -- mostly of cash, jewelry and cellphones -- occurred as long as two years ago, officials said, though the lawmaker, Rep. Gus Barreiro, said property has turned up missing as recently as the past few months... Barreiro said most of the youths didn't discover their belongings were gone until after they had completed their court proceedings and had either been released or sent to a youth corrections program. ''They don't know their stuff is missing yet,'' he said. ''Many of these kids have no respect for the system,'' Barreiro added. 'And if they see themselves as a victim, they will have even less... We have a small window of opportunity to show a kid, `You're in the system, and we're here to help you.' We are ruining that opportunity. It's wrong.''


09/13/06 Take the chains and shackles off juveniles
Editorial. Miami Herald.


When it comes to making an appearance in court, Florida treats murderers and rapists better than it does a 12-year-old charged with a harmless misdemeanor. A heinous killer who faces a jury at trial must have his shackles and handcuffs removed, lest the restraints unfairly taint the jurors' minds about his possible guilt. This is not the case with juveniles. They routinely appear before juvenile judges in courtrooms throughout Florida bound by handcuffs and shackles.

End this practice now...

Some adult with broad authority should step up and say, Enough! That would be Mr. Schembri.

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09/13/06 Lawyers want kids unshackled in court
Abhi Raghunathan (727 893-8472) and Kevin Graham. St. Petersburg Times.


Public defenders in South Florida started a campaign this week to stop forcing child suspects to appear in court in handcuffs and leg shackles.

The Miami-Dade County Public Defender's Office filed a series of motions Monday with Juvenile Court judges seeking an end to the practice and said it would seek support from the Florida Bar for a statewide prohibition...

"It's an appalling spectacle to see all detained children paraded into court with their wrists in handcuffs and ankles bound in leg irons," said Miami-Dade Public Defender Bennett H. Brummer.

The state Department of Juvenile Justice places all youths in handcuffs, waist chains and ankle shackles while transporting them. Individual judges have discretion to remove shackles from offenders appearing in their courtrooms.

Public defenders in Pinellas and Hillsborough counties said they applauded the effort by their colleagues but did not anticipate filing similar motions.

"I wish them well," said Ron Eide, the chief assistant in Pinellas-Pasco Public Defender Bob Dillinger's office.

Several years ago, Dillinger filed motions to stop the practice of shackling juveniles, Eide said. But Judge Frank Quesada turned down his request.

John Skye, assistant public defender in Hillsborough County, said removing shackles from juveniles comes with a "host of legal problems" that have to be addressed...

Skye said Florida Supreme Court Chief Justice R. Fred Lewis plans to meet locally with judges, lawyers and the Department of Juvenile Justice in the next couple of months. The issue of unshackling juveniles, Skye said, is one that they likely will discuss...

"It is the agency's responsibility to minimize their risk of escaping," said Cynthia Lorenzo, the department's chief of staff.

Broward County's public defender, Howard Finklestein, said he also intends to file similar motions.

"These are children, and we are treating them like wild animals," Finklestein said.

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09/12/06 Shackling of juveniles challenged
Maya Bell (305-810-5003). Orlando Sentinel.

MIAMI -- The arrest of her son for a schoolyard fight was devastating enough, but Giselle Sanchez was horrified when she watched the 15-year-old, his wrists handcuffed and his ankles shackled, shuffle into his first juvenile-court appearance.

"He's a child, not an animal," Sanchez said. "Why is he in chains?"

For years, the same question has haunted lawyers with the Miami-Dade Public Defender's Office. On Monday, they acted to unshackle the children who appear in their courtrooms. If they are successful, their tactic is likely to spread across the state.

They think Florida's practice of routinely chaining children during court hearings -- regardless of their age, size, alleged offense, or likelihood of misbehavior or escape -- is psychologically abusive and counter to the rehabilitative goals of the juvenile-justice system.

Asking judges to halt the "degrading and unlawful" practice in Miami-Dade County, the lawyers filed motions on behalf of each youngster who appeared in juvenile court for detention hearings. The only judge to hear the motions Monday granted them, saying he, too, disagreed with cuffing kids in the courtroom unless the child was a known security risk.

Appointed to represent poor clients, the lawyers plan to return today and Wednesday and thereafter, asking the remaining three juvenile-court judges to remove the leg irons and handcuffs from each of their clients.

The Public Defender's Office in Broward County plans to introduce a similar motion soon, and counterparts in at least Orange, Brevard, Leon, Hillsborough, Pinellas, Palm Beach and Pasco counties are watching with considerable interest.

"It is an insidious policy, and the worst part is it's being done across the board, before any determination of guilt," said Carlos Martinez, Miami-Dade's chief assistant public defender. "What makes sense is to have default policy not to shackle and make a determination to shackle only when they are a flight risk or a danger."

Frank de la Torre, a chief assistant public defender in Broward, agreed. After a 10-year hiatus from juvenile court, he said he was stunned to learn that juveniles awaiting detention hearings in Broward are more tightly restrained than adults appearing in a court for violent repeat offenders, known as ROC.

"It's shocking to go to ROC court, where guys are facing life in prison for carjacking, kidnapping and armed robbery and see them only in handcuffs, then go downstairs to juvenile court and see two 12-year-olds who are 5-foot-nothing shackled like [serial killer] Ted Bundy," de la Torre said.

Many judges, however, say the restraints are necessary, especially in jurisdictions such as Orange County, where juveniles attend hearing in groups rather than individually.

"It would be extremely dangerous [to remove the restraints,]" said Maura Smith, administrative judge of juvenile court in Orange and Osceola counties. "If just one kid is off, it could ignite the whole group. He could get a gun from a deputy. With the facilities we have and the lack of funding, it's a security issue."

She and other judges said that because juveniles are tried by judges, not juries, the restraints do not prejudice the child's presumed innocence.

Though Miami-Dade Circuit Judge William Johnson disagrees with the practice and ordered the children appearing in his courtroom unshackled Monday, he said each judge should decide his or her policy.

Exactly when the policy began varies by locale and is difficult to pinpoint, but Martinez said it has slowly crept into every judicial circuit in the state. Even court officials in Miami-Dade disagree on the timetable here.

But they generally agree the practice evolved from decades-old and still-active state Department of Juvenile Justice regulations that require youths transported from detention to be placed in handcuffs, waist chains and ankle shackles. The regulations, however, do not require judges to leave the children manacled in their courtrooms, and DJJ personnel can remove the restraints if instructed, DJJ spokeswoman Tara Collins said.

That rarely happens, according to Orange-Osceola Public Defender Bob Wesley, who said some judges are even reluctant to remove restraints so the accused can take notes during trial. One judge, he said, only agrees to remove the cuff on one hand.

He blames the perceived inconvenience on the juvenile system.

"Instead of saying, 'I'll take the chains off Johnny and let him be human in court,' they become lazy and say: 'Oh, I'll just leave the chains on. It's too much trouble. I have to put them right back on anyway,' " Wesley said.

Lester Langer, the associate chief judge in Miami-Dade's juvenile division, agreed the practicalities of removing and refastening restraints are intertwined with security concerns.

"From a practical point of view, they have to transfer children from point A to point B, so to unshackle some when you get to point B might create more of a security problem," he said.

Langer would not comment on the motion but will have his first chance to rule on it today.

Miami-Dade's public defenders hope their challenges will shock the conscience of court personnel across the state. Though the 34-page motions are not the first legal challenges to the policy, they are thought to be the first to attack it from a psychological and scientific, as well as legal, perspective.

Relying on the testimony of five experts, the public defenders allege that restraining children harms them emotionally and psychologically, as well as physically.

"These are young, impressionable kids who are going through what we used to call an identity crisis: 'Who am I? What is my place in the world?' " said Bruce Winick, an expert in law and psychology at the University of Miami. "And we're telling them: 'You are dangerous. You cannot be trusted.' We're giving them a message that they are bad and, moreover, violent. It becomes a self-fulfilling prophesy."

Gwen Wurm, medical director of Jackson Memorial Hospital's medical foster-care program in Miami, agreed, adding that, as a health-care professional, she would be obligated to report any parent who restrained their child in the manner in which they routinely appear in court.

"We have to ask ourselves a simple question," said Martinez of the Miami-Dade Public Defender's Office. "What year are we living in where we think it's appropriate to chain up children as if they were wild animals?"

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09/11/06 Public defenders want chains out of juvenile courts
Carol Marbin Miller. Miami Herald.


In what may be the first barrage in a coordinated effort in South Florida, the Miami-Dade Public Defenders' Office called upon juvenile court judges Monday to end the chaining of youthful offenders in court, calling the practice a ''degrading'' affront to the Constitution and damaging to the youths' mental health. In motions filed on behalf of about a dozen teens arrested over the weekend, Public Defender Bennett H. Brummer claimed that handcuffing and shackling children in court violates their right to due process and interferes with their ability to communicate with their lawyers... ''The handcuffing and shackling of children can cause them serious mental and emotional harm, and undermine the Court's very objectives in preventing delinquency or rehabilitating a delinquent child,'' the motions said... Broward Public Defender Howard Finkelstein said his office would be ''moving expeditiously'' to file similar motions in juvenile court, as well. In Fort Lauderdale, he said, accused delinquents are escorted through public areas of the courthouse in chains before they go to court. ''These are children, and we are treating them like wild animals,'' Finkelstein said. ``It is disgraceful, it is inhumane, and we should all be ashamed for allowing children to be handcuffed and shackled and led through public hallways to be disgraced and humiliated.''

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09/10/06 Boot camps reborn
Melanie Ave. St. Petersburg Times.


The boys were the first recruits to a juvenile delinquent academy debuted by the Pinellas County Sheriff's Office on Saturday. The new program uses less confrontational techniques than traditional juvenile boot camps. Gone are the military-like commands and marching drills. The Sheriff's Training and Respect, or STAR, Weekend Program is a scaled-down version of a boot camp. It is available to troubled children between the ages of 7 and 17. Its goal is to prevent at-risk kids from becoming criminals.

Located at the county's shuttered boot camp facility at 14500 49th St. N in Clearwater, the program is free and open to Pinellas County children, girls and boys. Parents or guardians must participate.

The Pinellas County boot camp closed in June in the fallout from the Jan. 6 death of Martin Lee Anderson. The 14-year-old died one day after he was roughed up by guards at the Bay County boot camp. His death caused an outcry about the harsh physical restraint techniques and intimidation used at the camps.

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09/09/06 Sheriff's office cuts ties with detention center
Mike Coulter. Herald.


After recent legislation banning physical discipline for youthful offenders, the Manatee County Sheriff's Office is cutting ties with the "Omega 10" juvenile detention center.

"The bottom line is that we can't leave our corrections deputies at risk," said Dave Bristow, spokesman for the Manatee County Sheriff's Office...

Omega, which was established in 1995, is a "level-10" facility, designed to house 50 of Florida's most violent youth offenders...

Effective Oct. 7, the sheriff's office is terminating its contract with the Department of Juvenile Justice, which sponsors the facility.

"These kids are murderers, rapists and robbers," said Bristow. "I hate to put it like this but, they're bad kids."

"With our other boot camps it was our hope to turn kids around. But in Omega, a lot of these kids are beyond that. We still put a lot of emphasis on education, but it is basically housing, like a youth prison."

The new legislation, the "Martin Lee Anderson Act", is named after a 14-year-old boy who died on Jan. 6, one day after being beaten by guards at a youth boot camp in Panama City.

Still, Bristow questioned the overall effect of the new laws, and said pepper spray is a useful alternative to using lethal force.

"On the street, if we needed to use pepper spray on a juvenile we could and would use it," said Bristow. "It doesn't make sense"...

According to Herald archives, only one police agency in the state, the Polk County Sheriff's Office, agreed to proceed with the new training.

As of today, the fate of the boys, ages 14-21, who remain in the Omega program is uncertain...

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08/29/06 Fix the detention center
Editorial. Palm Beach Post.


Florida's Department of Juvenile Justice has wasted too much money and time fighting, out of fear of embarrassment, an investigation of the juvenile detention center in Palm Beach County. DJJ had hoped that the 4th District Court of Appeal would stop the probe, which Juvenile Court Judge Peter Blanc ordered in February after complaints of "cruel and unusual punishment" of four teens. Last week, the appellate court dismissed DJJ's whine.

...the agency should focus on fixing the problems already cited in the agency's own evaluations.


08/21/06 Guards delayed dying teen's CPR
Carol Marbin Miller. Miami Herald.


Records show guards waited 20 minutes to begin CPR on a boy discovered unconscious in his juvenile justice center dorm room.  Just after 4 a.m. on Oct. 13, youth-camp guard Josephus Johnson heard a ''gurgling'' sound coming from a dorm room. He found 17-year-old Willie Durden cold, limp and without a pulse. Twenty minutes and two exams later, an officer at the Cypress Creek Juvenile Offender Correctional Center finally started CPR. Why the wait? ''Some of these kids will play pranks,'' Johnson told an investigator with the state Department of Juvenile Justice, according to records provided to The Miami Herald this week. The inspector ``asked Johnson how someone could get his or her heart to stop beating to accomplish such a prank.'' Durden, a Jacksonville teen described as a ''model inmate'' who dreamed of being a youth counselor himself, was pronounced dead on arrival at Citrus Memorial Hospital at 5:10 a.m. He was to receive a football scholarship to a Christian school in Jacksonville following his release. He became the sixth Florida child to die in DJJ custody since 2000...


08/15/06 DJJ Office May Benefit Polk
Julia Crouse 863-802-7536. The Ledger.


POLK CITY -- The Polk Juvenile Correctional Facility and the 400 other Department of Juvenile Justice programs may start getting some extra attention with the creation of a new DJJ accountability office. Last week, DJJ Secretary Anthony Schembri announced the creation of a new Office of Program Accountability, which will enhance oversight of all of the agency's programs. The DJJ was under fire this spring in Polk County after two independent reports confirmed heavy concentrations of mold in some of the buildings at Polk City's juvenile corrections center. Dennis Higgins, the former director of alternative education, sought more accountability and action from DJJ after problems at Polk's detention facilities increased. The biggest problem that Higgins sees with the new office is that it is still under the DJJ umbrella.


08/09/06 Supervised probation advised for boot camp case medical examiner
Brian Skoloff. Associated Press.

An embattled medical examiner, who performed a disputed autopsy on a teenager who died after a confrontation with guards at a boot camp, should be placed on supervised probation for the remaining 10 months of his contract...Florida Medical Examiners Commission found that Bay County Medical Examiner Dr. Charles Siebert was negligent in performing at least 35 of 698 autopsies reviewed...recommended suspension followed by probation, but the full commission voted to order Siebert to retain and pay for his own supervisor until his contract expires June 27, finding that his work was negligent and he failed "to perform the duties required of a medical examiner."

An administrative complaint will be filed by the commission next week. Siebert then has 30 days to respond, and can either accept the punishment or appeal. He will remain in his $180,000-a-year position until the outcome is resolved.

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08/03/06 Juvenile justice official accused of DUI
A local child care advocate calls him unfit for his position.
Abhi Raghunathan, St. Petersburg Times

The superintendent of the Pinellas Regional Juvenile Detention Center was arrested last week on charges of driving under the influence in Manatee County, records show.

James Joseph Uliasz, 39, was arrested for driving with a blood alcohol level of 0.08 or above, according to state driver license records. Manatee County court records show Uliasz has entered a written plea of not guilty.

It is unclear which law enforcement agency arrested Uliasz or what his blood alcohol level might have been. Uliasz did not respond to a message seeking comment.

Uliasz oversees the Juvenile Detention Center, a 120-bed institution that serves youth detained by various circuit courts. Youths are kept there until their cases are resolved or they are moved to other detention or treatment facilities. The average length of stay in secure detention is approximately 12 days, according to the JDC.

Some local child welfare advocates are calling for Uliasz to step aside until his case is resolved in Manatee County. Cathy Corry, president of the nonprofit, said Uliasz's arrest shows he is unfit to watch over kids in trouble with the law.

Her group led a protest outside the Juvenile Detention Center Wednesday night.

"We expect more from the administrators," said Corry. "Superintendents have to be accountable."

Times researcher Carolyn Edds contributed to this report. Abhi Raghunathan can be reached at   or 727 893-8472.

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07/28/06 GPD: Detention officer kicked teen
Deborah Ball (352) 338-3109. Gainesville Sun.


A Florida Department of Juvenile Justice sergeant was arrested Thursday on a charge of child abuse after he allegedly kicked a 13-year-old boy in the stomach Wednesday at the Alachua Regional Juvenile Detention Center, according to the Gainesville Police Department.

A surveillance tape reportedly shows Earnest Chestnut, 35, kicking the victim at 7:48 p.m. Wednesday, causing him to fall onto a bench, according to a GPD arrest report. Chestnut, who is 5 feet 9 inches tall and weighs 230 pounds, told police he "tapped" the victim on the right thigh with his foot after Chestnut was called to the youth's cell by another detention officer to break up a fight, police said.

The surveillance video, however, shows Chestnut kicking the victim in the "upper torso," not in his thigh, GPD reported. The boy had no visible signs of injury, police said, but he reportedly vomited after being kicked...


07/14/06 School Officials Promote Fast Track to Incarceration
Catherine Komp. The NewStandard.


Youth- and civil-rights advocates are speaking out against the rising presence of cops on campuses and administration complicity in what critics call a school-to-prison pipeline.

...The testimony of Florida parents and young people compiled by the NAACP Legal Defense Fund is alarming. Fifteen-year-old Latia Smith said she was a bystander during a fight at school between two girls when a police officer threatened her with arrest, grabbed her and dislocated her shoulder. The ten-year-old son of Latrell Brassfield was arrested at school for "disruptive behavior"... From Florida to California to Connecticut, students and parents across the country are contending with an education system that is increasingly implementing harsher methods of disciplining students, and placing thousands of armed officers on school campuses. Youth and civil-rights advocates call the growing presence of law enforcement in schools, along with increasingly punitive punishment for misbehavior, the "school-to-prison pipeline"... According to the Florida Department of Juvenile Justice, out of 28,008 school-related referrals to the department in the 2004-2005 school year, the most serious offense for 63 percent was a misdemeanor...


07/14/06 Something stinks at juvenile hall
OPINION By Elisa Cramer. Palm Beach Post.


The air conditioning finally is fixed. The sewage leak is not. A month and a half after it was reported, a stench that air freshener cannot mask still permeates the Palm Beach Regional Juvenile Detention Center.

...The cause of the smell cannot be healthy. Surely, if such foulness greeted DJJ Secretary Anthony Schembri in his Tallahassee office, it would be cleansed, never to return. So, Mr. Schembri, when will the sewage leak at the Palm Beach County detention center be fixed... And when is the state going to place as much of a priority on fixing juvenile justice problems as it does on trying to hide or perfume them? Consider DJJ's challenge of the Juvenile Advocacy Project of the Legal Aid Society of Palm Beach County. Lawyers with Legal Aid have been court-ordered to review conditions at the detention center. In hopes of convincing the 4th District Court of Appeals to stop the review, DJJ likens it to "fishing expeditions" with presumably ulterior motives of shaming the department. In fact, DJJ's attack is misdirected. To stop the negative publicity, DJJ has to stop the problems causing the negative publicity. Or, Mr. Schembri, is your department content to ignore the source and let the problems fester, pretending at the end of the day, that you don't smell the stench?


07/12/06 Boy's family sues agencies for $40 million in boot camp death
Brent Kallestad. Associated Press



…Ben Crump, who represents the family of Martin Lee Anderson, filed the suit against the Department of Juvenile Justice and the Bay County Sheriff's Office, which ran the camp under contract with the state. He said Bay County sheriff's officials rejected an offer to settle for its insurance policy limit of $3 million.

…"Our thoughts and prayers remain with the family of Martin Lee Anderson," DJJ Secretary Anthony Schembri said. "While unable to comment on the pending lawsuit, the department remains committed to the safety of the youth in its care."

…State Rep. Gus Barreiro, a Miami Beach Republican who led the push to revamp the juvenile program, was outraged that Bay County officials rejected the settlement offer.

"It's a disgrace," Barreiro said. "You're asking a community to put a value on a kid and they're saying he's not even worth $3 million? That's unacceptable."

…Waylon Graham, the attorney for Lt. Charles Helms, the highest ranking officer who was on the exercise yard with Anderson, said the case appears to be about money.

"None of these officers set out to harm this young man in any way," Graham said. "I think this has turned into a game of money and that is what this is all about at this point, is how much money are they going to get."...

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07/10/06 Bush hiring decisions questioned after ex-prisons chief scandal
Marc Caputo and Gary FineoutMiami Herald.


TALLAHASSEE - His prison boss took bribes. His law-enforcement chief compared two black leaders to criminals. The top man at his child-welfare department had cozy ties to lobbyists. • Anthony Schembri, Department of Juvenile Justice chief, was rapped this year by legislators and a sheriff for lying about his budget and a girl's boot camp he closed. Schembri is still in office. • Guy Tunnell, the head of Florida's law-enforcement agency, resigned earlier this year after he compared Illinois U.S. Sen. Barack Obama to Osama Bin Laden and Jesse Jackson to outlaw Jesse James. They were to appear at a protest concerning the January death of a child at a Panama City boot camp, which Tunnell had founded years before.

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07/04/06 17-year-old escapee is recaptured
Staff Report. Miami Herald.


A 17-year-old boy climbed two 12-foot razor-wire fences to escape from the Juvenile Detention Center...early Tuesday morning. By Tuesday afternoon, police had recaptured him. Gibson Belizaireo was in the center in connection with a charge of possession of cocaine, police said. ''I've got friends back home who I've seen climb over razor wire and never get cut,'' Miami-Dade detective Robert Williams said. "It's a skill that people learn.''


07/04/06 After boot camps
Editorial. St. Petersburg Times


If sheriffs can't afford to meet new mandates, troubled teens suffer. The law that was supposed to give juvenile offenders a better chance to turn around their lives has instead reduced the chances, and don't blame Pinellas Sheriff Jim Coats. Coats, faced with new state mandates his department couldn't afford, had little choice but to follow three other sheriffs and close his boot camp… …If there is to be a new beginning and a new way to turn around the lives of some troubled teenagers, then the solutions must be shared as well.

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07/01/06 Manatee's boot camp shuts down
Sylvia Lim. Bradenton Herald.


MANATEE - The Manatee County Sheriff's Office will not continue its juvenile boot camp program under a new state law that goes into effect today. Manatee County Sheriff Charlie Wells, along with sheriffs in Pinellas and Martin counties, declined to participate in the Sheriffs' Training and Respect program, or STAR, saying the new program would end up costing local taxpayers more. . . As of today, the Polk County Sheriff's Office is the only agency in Florida that has agreed to proceed with STAR… The Florida Department of Juvenile Justice allocated a $10.6 million budget to fund STAR. "That's a 20-percent increase in the STAR program, compared to the boot camp," said Cynthia Lorenzo, the department's spokeswoman. With only one STAR program to fund, juvenile justice spokeswoman Lorenzo said the rest of the money would be assigned to other programs...

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06/30/06 Two boot camps close; one left
Marc Caputo. Miami Herald.


TALLAHASSEE - One day before the Martin Lee Anderson Act's tough reforms take effect, two Florida sheriffs unexpectedly announced they're closing their boot camps today, saying the Legislature set too many expensive requirements while giving them too little to pay for them. The decision by the Pinellas and Manatee county sheriffs means Florida will only have one boot camp -- in Polk County -- from the five that were running on Jan. 5, the day 14-year-old Martin Lee Anderson was beaten by guards at a Panama City boot camp and died hours later... Manatee Sheriff Charlie Wells chafed at a few of the requirements -- such as giving kids instant access to an abuse hot line... Only Polk Sheriff Grady Judd said he'll sign the contract, while "holding my nose.'' ''What occurred with Martin Lee Anderson was tragic. And as a result, the Legislature has micromanaged the program in law,'' Judd said. "And I understand that because they have an obligation to respond to the crisis. Then, on top of the Legislature, we've got a 30-something-page juvenile-justice contract... "The children will be better for our anguish.''

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06/30/06 Pinellas Closes Its Boot Camp
David Sommer. Tampa Tribune

LARGO - Pinellas County's juvenile boot camp, one of the last remaining in the state, closed Thursday. It will not reopen as a STAR Academy. The January death of 14-year-old Martin Lee Anderson at the Bay County boot camp prompted lawmakers to mandate a switch from the military-style boot camps to a new program that would bar physical contact by guards. It was to be known by the acronym STAR for Sheriff's Training and Respect. . . Since Anderson's death, boot camps have closed in Bay, Collier, Manatee, Martin and Pinellas counties. . . Cathy Corry, of the advocacy group, said she welcomed the demise of boot camps

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06/30/06 Pinellas closes its boot camp
Abhi Raghunathan and Jacob H. Fries. St. Petersburg Times.


LARGO - The Pinellas County Boot Camp, which opened in the early 1990s as a tough-love approach to juvenile justice, suddenly shuttered its doors Thursday and sent its last group of teenage criminals to other facilities. Sheriff Jim Coats said it simply would cost too much to comply with a new state law replacing boot camps with less confrontational academies called Sheriff's Training and Respect, or STAR... State Rep. Gus Barreiro, R-Miami Beach, said Coats' decision was unfortunate after the Legislature came up with additional money for the program to replace boot camps. "The money we allocated to the STAR program is historic," he said. But Coats said that money would not offset the increased costs. Barreiro, who called attention to the Panama City beating after seeing a surveillance videotape, suggested sheriffs are shuttering their programs because they can no longer use physical and mental intimidation. "If they don't want to be in the business the way the state thinks they should be, then they should find something else to do," he said.

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06/23/06 Maggots on menu nauseate Juvenile Justice
Carol Marbin Miller. Miami Herald.


A Homestead food vendor was fired from a juvenile facility after some of its offerings featured maggots, and investigations continued...

Lunch at Thompson Academy, a youth camp for delinquents in Broward County, recently featured some unexpected cuisine: maggots.

One teenager decided he didn't like the extra protein on his green beans and complained to his parents.

The parents complained to Legal Aid Society of Palm Beach County, which then complained to the state's child-abuse hot line.

The Broward Sheriff's Office investigated.

The results: Police with pictures of maggots in the food. The food vendor summarily fired. And the state Department of Juvenile Justice, responsible for overseeing the camp, "horrified.''

"We are outraged and horrified at the quality of food served to youth at Thompson Academy,'' said department spokeswoman Cynthia Lorenzo. "DJJ does not tolerate such improper service to youth in our care.''


06/22/06 Well, the veto was fast
Editorial. St. Petersburg Times.


Gov. Bush's veto of a bill that would have required prompt response to requests for public records tends to indicate the need for it.

The public records laws and the games bureaucrats play with them are two substantially different things, and no one knows that better than Gov. Jeb Bush. For the governor to suggest that state emergencies might go unheeded if agencies have to "promptly" turn over records is self-serving sophistry.

The bill he vetoed Tuesday was a direct legislative response to his own games of delay and denial. While he feigns concern over agencies forced to "set aside their primary missions to comply with a new, but undefined, time standard for responding to public records requests," the truth is that many of the current delays have nothing to do with overworked bureaucrats. They are politically motivated...


06/20/06 Fight ignites fears for safety
Julia Crouse. The Ledger.

POLK CITY -- Fights that broke out Monday at the Polk Juvenile Detention Facility have Polk County School District officials questioning whether teachers at the facility's school are safe.

That means classes at Sabal Palm, the on-site alternative school operated by the School District, could shut down for the second time this year. The previous closure came after concerns were raised about mold and air quality at the school.

About 30 inmates were involved in a fight Monday morning while waiting for classes to begin at Sabal Palm. Several Sabal Palm teachers helped break up the fight…

...Cynthia Lorenzo, a spokeswoman for the DJJ, said the agency is investigating the fights and looking into the security staffing situation...

Sabal Palm closed for five weeks this spring after the majority of its teachers complained of mold in the air. Two independent air quality reports and a survey by the Polk County Health Department found evidence of mold contamination and negative health effects.

The DJJ has promised to remove the mold and renovate the buildings this summer.

The Polk Education Association will visit the teachers at the school Thursday to talk about working conditions unrelated to Monday's fights, said Marianne Capoziello, president of PEA, the teachers' union.

She hadn't known about the disturbance as of Monday evening, but said she'll incorporate security into her talks with teachers.

"We remain concerned about the health and safety of the Sabal Palm teachers," she said.


06/17/06 Justice officials say alleged inmate-guard sex case is closed
Dara Kam. Palm Beach Post.


TALLAHASSEE — Juvenile justice officials acknowledged Friday that the investigation into allegations that a female guard at a high-risk detention facility in Okeechobee County had a sexual relationship with a male detainee is closed and that no charges were filed...

But the department still may not release the love letters that were found in the 18-year-old detainee's cell and spurred an Okeechobee County Sheriff's Office investigation, which was formally closed June 9 because the alleged victim refused to cooperate... Lawyers for the man, who has been in the department's custody for three years, sued the department on Thursday to get the letters, which they say they need to figure out what happened to the Okeechobee Juvenile Offender Corrections Center detainee, whom they say is mentally retarded... Because the detainee refused to talk about any sexual encounters, the report concluded, "this case is closed from lack of cooperation with the alleged victim."


06/13/06 Police Want To Stay In Schools
Stephen Thompson (727) 823-3303. The Tampa Tribune.


…Wilcox is considering removing city police officers from schools and replacing them with Coats' sheriff's deputies. But the police chiefs don't want their officers to leave…

…"I told [Zambito] it would be a junkyard dogfight," Tarpon Springs Police Chief Mark LeCouris said. "They will pry the SRO [school resource officer] stuff up here from our cold, dead hands."…

… Pinellas, which has 24 municipalities and more than a half-dozen police agencies, Coats publicly has advocated the consolidation of police agencies under his command, similar to Metro-Dade in South Florida.

Some cities, especially St. Petersburg, bristle at such an arrangement because they do not think the sheriff has as keen an appreciation of the nuances in their communities, especially when it comes to minorities, as they do.

Some chiefs wonder whether the school proposal is simply a way to provide Coats a toehold for an eventual takeover in the cities where he doesn't provide services.

…Coats also wonders why some chiefs are so vociferous in their objections when the cities in the past have relinquished some school positions because of budget constraints.

"If these schools are so important to them, why don't they do all the schools in their communities?" Coats said…


06/01/06 Gov. Bush signs act to reform boot camps
Marc Caputo. Miami Herald.


 …The governor credited Martin's parents, Gina Jones and Robert Anderson, for helping push the law, named after their 14-year-old son….

''This won't bring your son back, Gina,'' Bush said. ``But I hope you know that your involvement in this process has made a difference. Were it not for your advocacy and for your passionate love for your child, this bill would not have become a law. Your son won't come back for that, but you're going to be part of something bigger.''

The Martin Lee Anderson Act bans the use of stun guns, pepper spray, pressure points, mechanical restraints, ''harmful psychological intimidation'' and the use of ammonia capsules to revive kids.

…No one has yet been charged. And Bush, like the parents, acknowledged he is ''frustrated'' by the slow pace of the investigation but urged caution. In the past the governor has said the guards' use of force was ''inappropriate'' and said Siebert's autopsy ``defied common sense.''

The dueling autopsies will make it difficult for the special prosecutor to make charges stick, according to former prosecutors as well as the lawyers hired by some of the guards.

''Charles Siebert is our star witness,'' said Robert Allan Pell, attorney for guard Joseph Walsh. Pell said his client followed strict procedures at the camp, and added that the governor's involvement ``has made this a political issue.''

…The new law, pushed by committee chairman and Miami Beach Republican Rep. Gus Barreiro, renames boot camps STAR programs. It says the boot-camp replacements must come under the same DJJ rules as other juvenile facilities. It says physical force can be used only when a child is a threat to himself or others or if he tries to leave the camp without permission.

... law boosts per-resident daily funding from $81 to about $100, Crowder said his camp would need $130 a day for every kid. Bush noted the other sheriffs haven't expressed the same concern -- a statement Crowder dismisses…

“…They don't have a 78 percent success rate,'' said Crowder, a Republican like Bush. ``The state had $6 billion extra dollars this year to make sure we got all the funding we all needed. But it didn't happen. They'd rather spend the money on gimmicky tax cuts that don't really help anybody.''

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06/01/06 Law puts end to boot camps
Alex Leary. St. Petersburg Times.


TALLAHASSEE - With the parents of Martin Lee Anderson looking on, Gov. Jeb Bush signed a bill into law Wednesday banning the aggressive physical tactics used by guards at a North Florida boot camp that an autopsy found caused the death of the teenager.

 "Your son won't come back," Bush said, "but you're going to be part of something bigger than yourselves."

The Martin Lee Anderson Act marks the end of Florida's juvenile boot camps, including one in Pinellas County. They are to be replaced by less confrontational academies called Sheriff's Training and Respect, or STAR, that use more education and after care. The law shifts funding from the boot camps to STAR. Pinellas Sheriff Jim Coats says his facility already adheres to many of the changes.

 …"But I would still like the guards to be accountable for killing my baby," Jones said, holding a picture of her son in a basketball uniform. "He was only 14."

…Bush declined to offer his opinion when asked if the name of the bill suggested something terribly wrong occurred. He has previously questioned the guards' actions. "I have to be cautious about what my personal views are about this," he said. "But it is a criminal investigation, obviously, and that speaks for itself."

Aside from barring the use of ammonia and the physical contact guards had with Anderson, the new program calls for medical exams before youths enter and when they leave. It also calls for better supervision by the Department of Juvenile Justice.

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05/18/06 How bad are kids? Just ask teachers
Donna Winchester. St. Petersburg Times.


 …A St. Petersburg Times poll of Pinellas and Hillsborough County teachers shows that almost one in three strongly agrees or somewhat agrees that discipline is a problem in their classroom.

Those who describe their schools as "high poverty" are three times more likely to feel that way than those who describe their schools as "middle to upper class."

And close to one in two Pinellas County teachers say they have felt physically threatened by a student. That compares to about one in three in Hillsborough.

Compounding the problem, many teachers say, is the way principals deal with discipline problems. Thirty percent of the teachers surveyed say administrators take meaningful action on student referrals "only sometimes," "hardly ever" or "never"…


05/16/06 Sheriff's office inundated with calls
Associated Press

PANAMA CITY, Fla. - College students are demanding the former supervisor of a Panama City boot camp be fired after a teenager was beaten by guards and later died.

The Bay County Sheriff's Office received about 120 calls yesterday from students at Florida State University, Florida A-and-M University and Tallahassee Community College.

Sheriff Frank McKeithen isn't happy about the calls.

He says his staff doesn't have time for telephone games and foolishness.

The students read a prepared statement demanding McKeithen fire former Bay County Juvenile Boot Camp supervisor Captain Mike Thompson.

Florida State's student center president says the students decided on the phone strategy after McKeithen rejected a request from Gov. Jeb Bush to fire Thompson.

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05/15/06 Boot camp death reflects a system of power, control
Leonard Pitts Jr. Opinion. Miami Herald. Leonard Pitts Jr. 


So now we know how Martin Lee Anderson died.

…As it happens, news of how he died came almost simultaneously with news of another appalling mistreatment of children in detention. According to a report from an advocacy group, the Juvenile Justice Project of Louisiana, more than 100 teenagers were left locked in a flooded prison in the wake of Hurricane Katrina. They had to scramble to the top bunks to avoid drowning. They went up to five days with nothing to eat or drink. Some drank floodwater. A large number had not been convicted of any crime…

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05/14/06 Hidden truth of youth's death at camp
Carol Marbin Miller and Marc Caputo. Miami Herald.

Article contains links to

 Video | Boot camp beating (edited version)
 Video | Boot camp beating (full unedited version)
 Read letter from Jeb Bush to McKeithen
 Read Sheriff McKeithen's response to Bush
 Press release | Boot camp offender receives medical care
 Press release | Juvenile offender passes away in Pensacola
 Timeline of Boot Camp incident
 Versions of what happened


The official version of how 14-year-old Martin Lee Anderson died obscured what really happened to him in January at the Panama City boot camp. 

…a concerted effort to define Martin's death as a tragic but unforeseeable medical mishap, whether from illness or shoddy medical care.


The official version of events of Jan. 5, like Martin, died hard.

…The boot camp's nurse, Kristin Schmidt, expressed few concerns about Martin's treatment by guards when the state Department of Juvenile Justice's highest-ranking medical official, Dr. Shairi Turner, interviewed her shortly after Martin's death.

Schmidt referred to Martin's ordeal as ''use of force techniques,'' ''counseling'' and and an effort by guards to "maintain control.''

''She noted that Martin Anderson was alert, looking around and made eye contact,'' Turner wrote in her report. "The youth stated to her that he could not breathe, however, per her report, he appeared comfortable and in no respiratory distress.''

If the boot camp officials' story to doctors was sanitized, the information they provided to the public was positively sterile…


…The evening of Jan. 6, state Rep. Gus Barreiro, a Miami Beach Republican who spearheaded the boot camp reforms as head of the justice committee that controls juvenile justice spending, got a call from DJJ Secretary Anthony Schembri, who told him of Martin's death.

'He said: 'I've investigated hundreds of these cases. He's a young black gang kid, and you'll find drugs in his system,' '' said Barreiro, who along with his committee has repeatedly faulted Schembri for lying to them.

In a written statement, Schembri responded: "I remember telling the legislators that Martin's file indicated that he was a gang member...I was careful not to reach any conclusions based on preliminary information."

Martin's arrests: joy riding in his grandmother's stolen Jeep, violating curfew while on probation for the car theft, and stealing candy.


The 10 frightened boys who were present in the exercise yard Jan. 5 also were told that Martin died of an illness -- although they had watched in horror as guards punched and kneed the youth and dragged him around.

Aaron Swartz, a Leon County 14-year-old who was admitted to the camp the same day as Martin, said a mental-health worker told the youths that Martin died of ''medical reasons'' and that the actions of guards ''had nothing to do'' with his death.

''She was telling us how athletes die every day, all the time, because of medical reasons. That healthy athletes stop and die, so it's not unusual,'' Aaron told The Miami Herald.

…FDLE Commissioner Tunnell shot off several e-mails..., bashing the lawmakers and assuring McKeithen, who soon called the legislators ''loose cannons,'' that his agency would fight a request from The Miami Herald that the video be made public.

...Tunnell received an e-mail...from an FDLE assistant commissioner, Scotty Sanderson, who wrote that the medical examiner was expected to release his report soon and "bring this case in for a landing quickly. Our side will be ready to roll out as soon as we get the toxicology findings.''

''Hurry -- BEFORE I get REALLY carried away,'' Tunnell replied.

…on Feb. 16, Siebert, the Bay County medical examiner, released his report, concluding that Martin died of natural causes when an undetected genetic blood disorder, sickle cell trait, together with rigorous exercise, led him to bleed to death. Tunnell placed a call to McKeithen's cellphone at 9:35 that morning.

…Tunnell and a key aide to Gov. Jeb Bush urgently debated by e-mail how best to release the 30- to 40-minute video that Tunnell had fought hard to keep private. In a 7:15 a.m. e-mail to Tunnell, the aide, Bush chief of staff Mark Kaplan, all but pleaded with Tunnell to release the controversial video in the state capital, not in Bay County.

…"Your integrity is being challenged unfairly, and you are making it too easy for those who wish to allege that FDLE is part of some conspiracy.'' Tunnell ignored Kaplan's advice, saying that if his agency were to ''bow to the political or media pressure,'' it would empower his critics.

…'There is simply no opportunity that would allow for any alleged ‘cover-up,' '' Tunnell said in his e-mail response to Kaplan. “Not that there was any effort or intent to do so.''

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05/11/06 Bush wants boot camp boss fired; sheriff balks
Associated Press. St. Petersburg Times


"… I thought it was appropriate to request that [Capt. Mike Thompson] be removed," Bush told reporters Wednesday. "I think there's enough information about how this boot camp operated that suggests there ought to be a clean slate."

McKeithen wrote Bush on May 3 that Thompson "violated no policies, procedures or laws" but that he would take swift action if a pending criminal investigation implicates him in wrongdoing.

But Bush said in his letter that the sheriff could act sooner.

"I believe it is essential that you identify and take appropriate disciplinary actions for each individual who may have had knowledge or responsibility for authorizing guards to force youths to inhale ammonia in order to obtain behavioral compliance," Bush wrote. "Specifically, I recommend the dismissal of the former supervisor."

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05/06/06 Autopsy: Teen was suffocated
Carol Marbin Miller and Marc Caputo. Miami Herald


TALLAHASSEE - Martin Lee Anderson, the 14-year-old boy whose death last January at a Panama City boot camp sent shock waves through the state's juvenile justice system, was suffocated by guards who held his mouth shut and forced him to inhale a fatal amount of ammonia, a medical examiner said Friday...

''The truth is out now. My baby was murdered in a boot camp. And he [Siebert] tried to cover it up,'' said Gina Jones, Martin's mother...

''So now it's murder,'' Sen. Frederica Wilson, a Miami Gardens Democrat, instantly added. "Here we have a tape. We have a beating. We know who the guards are. Suffocation is murder.''

...Rep. Gus Barreiro, a Miami Beach Republican who brought public attention to the boy's death when he told The Miami Herald the video showed Martin being ''flung around like a rag doll,'' called upon prosecutors to arrest the boot camp guards "immediately.''

...Rep. Dan Gelber, a Miami Beach Democrat who also described Martin's beating to the newspaper before the video was made public, said state juvenile justice officials also share blame in the case for failing to see repeated red flags that youths were being roughed up at the boot camp for such things as ''insolence'' and smirking.

''What killed this kid was the guards who mishandled him, and the bureaucracy that ignored him,'' Gelber said. "This was handled terribly by those employees, and he paid a horrible, unfair price for it.''

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 05/06/06 New autopsy blames guards in camp death

Abbie VanSickle  (727 226-3373)  and Alex Leary


TAMPA - The results of a second autopsy show Martin Lee Anderson died of suffocation at a Panama City boot camp after he was forced to inhale ammonia fumes while someone held his mouth shut.

Hillsborough County Medical Examiner Vernard Adams blamed the 14-year-old's death on the actions of boot camp guards, contradicting another medical examiner who previously ruled the teen died of complications from a blood disorder.

…"It reflects what a lot of people that saw the tape would think," said Gov. Jeb Bush. "I'm not a doctor, but clearly, I think that asphyxiation was a more logical conclusion.''

"The truth is out,'' said Martin's mother, Gina Jones, 36. ""We all knew how Martin passed away. So I'm relieved and happy today. It's a beginning. Justice needs to be served.''

..."It's tragic, it's sad, it's horrific,'' said state Attorney General Charlie Crist.

…Rep. Gus Barreiro, who helped expose the scandal after seeing the video and then describing it to the news media, said the autopsy "brings some closure to this sadness.'' He echoed demands for swift action against those responsible. "You have to send a strong and loud message across the state to people who deal with kids that if you do such a thing, there will be a consequence,'' said Barreiro, R-Miami Beach.

…Panama City, Bay County Medical Examiner Charles F. Siebert Jr. called journalists throughout the state to defend his work.

…he ruled out suffocation because of the low level of carbon dioxide in Anderson's body. If the teen had suffocated, Siebert said, he would have had high levels of carbon dioxide in his system because he wouldn't have been able to breath out. Any "second year medical student" would have ruled out suffocation, he said.

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05/05/06 Legislator honored for leading DJJ boot camp reform
Marc Caputo and Evan S. Menn. HeraldToday


TALLAHASSEE - State Rep. Gus Barreiro, a Miami Beach Republican, was honored Thursday by black lawmakers for standing up for children who were abused and died while in the care of the state's Department of Juvenile Justice.

…Rep. Arthenia Joyner, a Tampa Democrat, credited Barreiro for taking a stand for people who otherwise have little influence in the legislative process.

''This man is a true champion for children, for all children. It's been wonderful to have an advocate who stands up and says what needs to be said,'' Joyner said.

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05/05/06 Youth was suffocated by guards at bootcamp, medical examiner says
Carol Marbin Miller and Marc Caputo. Miami Herald


Martin Lee Anderson was suffocated to death by guards who held his mouth and forced him to inhale ammonia fumes, a special prosecutor investigating the 14-year-old boy's Jan. 6 death announced today...

The second autopsy was conducted by Dr. Vernard Adams, Hillsborough County's chief medical examiner. In a brief statement, Adams said his investigation was aided by an enhancement done by NASA of a 30- to 40-minute videotape of Martin's manhandling at the boot camp.

''At my request, the Hillsborough County Sheriff's Office created a detailed timeline of events from the enhanced video,'' Adams wrote. ``I have reviewed all investigative reports as well as all known medical records for Martin Anderson. My opinions are based on all available information, including the video, police reports, medical records and autopsy findings.''

''Martin Anderson's death was caused by suffocation due to actions of the guards at the boot camp,'' Adams wrote.

Adams, however, said that Martin was ''not beaten to death'' -- a suspicion many had after seeing the caught-on-tape manhandling by guards.

Siebert stood by his original autopsy, however, saying he was ''shocked'' by Adams findings.

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05/01/06 His finest hour fathoms camps' lowest
Alex Leary. St. Petersburg Times.


Rep. Gus Barreiro's passion for juvenile justice grew with each abuse. In his last term, he led the elimination of boot camps.

Now, as Barreiro enters the final week of his last legislative session, the term-limited Republican is no longer a lone voice. Boot camps have been eliminated, replaced by a less militaristic program, and the subject of juvenile justice, once a legislative backwater, is a high-profile issue.

"This is a guy who came to Tallahassee to fight for his passion," said Rep. Dan Gelber, D-Miami Beach. "He asked the tough questions over and over and over again. He's shaken the culture of the Department of Juvenile Justice."

Barreiro, 46, was given a standing ovation during a farewell on the House floor Thursday and was thanked for tireless advocacy of youths.

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04/27/06 In wake of death, juvenile boot camp system is scrapped
Marc Caputo and Carol Marbin Miller. Miami Herald.

The Martin Lee Anderson Act bans the use of stun guns, pepper spray, pressure points, mechanical restraints and psychological intimidation unless a child is a threat to himself or others.

''It's sad a young man had to die for us to come to this kind of conclusion. We can say now, when we leave to go home, that we changed the mind-set of how we're going to deal with young people in the state of Florida,'' said Sen. Tony Hill, a Jacksonville Democrat and leader of the state's black caucus.

The Martin Lee Anderson Act also establishes a seven-member commission to independently review the Department of Juvenile Justice's programs. Juveniles would have an extensive physical exam and access to an abuse hot-line telephone number. The act also mandates more training for staff at the camps, which will now be called Sheriff's Training and Respect Academies.

''This is the same point we've always been at with the Department of Déj&gravea; Vu,'' said Gelber, a Miami Beach Democrat. ``We are implementing constant reforms to compensate for the absence of oversight. We shouldn't operate that way. It shouldn't take a child's death to focus on an area that should have been previously scrutinized.''

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04/27/06 State closes door on boot camps
Alex Leary. St. Petersburg Times.


TALLAHASSEE - Florida's boot camps were eliminated by lawmakers Wednesday, nearly four months after a teenager's death led to a protest march on the Capitol and the resignation of the state's top law officer.

"Boot camps are gone, never to rear their ugly heads again in Florida," said Sen. Les Miller, D-Tampa.

"It's historic, but unfortunately it's taken the death of a young man to get here," said Rep. Gus Barreiro, R-Miami Beach, a longtime critic of juvenile justice programs who led the charge to eliminate boot camps after seeing the video of the Jan. 5 beating.

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04/23/06 Boot camp inspections missed red flags
Carol Marbin Miller. Miami Herald.


For years, Florida boot camps received high scores on state inspections, despite spiking use-of-force incidents.  While oversight was breaking down, physical force incidents escalated. Although guards at a Panama City boot camp routinely roughed up teenagers for minor infractions, state auditors for years praised the facility for its record-keeping, nursing care and use of physical force, rating the camp's performance "commendable."

The camp did so well in its 2004 inspection that it wasn't inspected at all last year -- despite 180 questionable use-of-force reports since January 2003. Guards physically punished youngsters for smiling, smirking, failing to complete exercises or other so-called ''insolent'' behaviors, records show. The ''quality assurance'' audits, mandated by state law to ensure the facilities are safe and properly run, portray the Bay County Sheriff's Office Boot Camp as a Grade A operation. That changed Jan. 6, when 14-year-old Martin Lee Anderson, charged with stealing his grandmother's car for a joyride, died after boot camp guards punched, kneed and choked him -- all captured on videotape... ''There have been a series of situations where a program got a... high QA [quality assurance] score but something very serious then happened,'' DJJ Quality Assurance Chief John Criswell wrote his staff after a Central Florida youth died in custody. "Are we too focused on paper and not enough on kids?"

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04/22/06 2,000 protest in march on Capitol
Alex Leary (850 224-7263) and Aaron Sharockman. St. Petersburg Times.


Revs. Jesse Jackson and Al Sharpton rally protesters demanding justice in the case of Martin Lee Anderson.

TALLAHASSEE - Led by two of the nation's civil rights leaders and the parents of a teenager who died after a beating at a North Florida boot camp, 2,000 protesters flooded the state Capitol on Friday for an emotional, racially charged rally demanding justice. The marchers arrived just before 10 a.m., chanting "No justice, no peace," and waving poster-size pictures of 14-year-old Martin Lee Anderson in an open casket. Demonstrators were emboldened by a sit-in this week outside Gov. Jeb Bush's office, the governor's subsequent call for a conclusion to the investigation, and Thursday's surprise resignation of the head of the Florida Department of Law Enforcement, who drew sharp criticism for his handling of the case.

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04/22/06 Young offenders in Polk may see teachers soon
Amy L. Edwards  or 863-422-3395. Orlando Sentinel


POLK CITY -- It's been more than six weeks since Sabal Palm School closed its doors at the Polk Juvenile Correctional Facility because of mold that prompted more than half of the teachers to file workers-compensation claims... The 200 teens sentenced to the facility have been getting by with a makeshift education provided by a handful of school-district employees and correctional staff. Sabal Palm's teachers -- as well as Dennis Higgins, the school district's senior director of alternative education and a critic of the DJJ who was placed on a week of administrative leave April 17 -- are expected to return to work Monday... Higgins said he thinks Superintendent Gail McKinzie placed him on a one-week leave for "political" reasons. Despite being placed on leave, Higgins, who has been with Polk schools since 1990, said he doesn't think he did anything wrong and achieved some successes. "The e-mails that I write are direct; they are honest," he said. "DJJ has demonstrated over and over that they must be monitored and addressed, and that's what I was doing."


04/21/06 Jesse Jackson, Al Sharpton lead marchers protesting progress of Panama City boot camp investigation
BY Marc Caputo and Evan S. Benn. Miami Herald.


TALLAHASSEE - Up to 2,000 people marched today on the Capitol with the Revs. Jesse Jackson and Al Sharpton in protest of the slow and controversial investigation into the Jan. 6 death of 14-year-old Martin Lee Anderson after he was at a boot camp.

Bearing oversized placards of Martin in his coffin, the crowd boomed during the rousing call-and-response speeches from the two outspoken black leaders. Alongside were some of the college students who helped organized the rally and had hosted a 33-hour protest sit-in this week in the office of Gov. Jeb Bush.

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04/21/06 Gov. promises fair probe to dead boy's parents
Marc Caputo and Mary Ellen Klas. Miami Herald.


Bush, whose two terms as governor have been bookended by racially related sit-ins, called for the meeting with the parents Wednesday when the students camped in his office, and promised the parents of the dead teen that the investigation by an independent prosecutor would be fair and thorough.

''It was heartening that he wanted to talk to me after those four months my baby has been gone -- murdered, in a boot camp,'' Jones said. ``But we talked and had a conversation and he said he's going to start looking into it now. I think he's getting on the right path. Me, as a mom, he saw how I felt.''

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04/21/06 FDLE chief steps down
Jennifer Liberto and Alex Leary. St. Petersburg Times.

Florida Department of Law Enforcement Commissioner Guy Tunnell resigned Thursday in a cloud of controversy for his handling of an investigation into the death of a teenager the day after he was beaten at a Bay County boot camp.

…Even as his agency investigated Anderson's death, Tunnell kept up a running e-mail commentary with his successor as Bay County sheriff, Frank McKeithen. In a series of heated electronic exchanges with law enforcement colleagues, Tunnell vented about everything from a search for scapegoats in Anderson's death to the lack of state money for boot camps.

…When two state legislators asked to see the videotape of Anderson's beating, Tunnell shot back, "Ain't gonna happen."

…Sen. Victor Crist, R-Tampa, and Rep. Gus Barreiro, R-Miami Beach, both received a call from the governor's office tipping them off about Tunnell's resignation about an hour before the public notice went out.

"I've got a positive working relationship with him, no matter how hard it got, he was always calm and thorough," Crist said.. "He's an experienced law enforcement officer with a long record of achievement, and he's leaving behind an agency."

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04/20/06 Official in Mold Alert Suspended
Andrew Dunn & Julia Crouse. The Ledger.


Lakeland -- The district administrator who pulled teachers out of a Polk County juvenile detention center because of mold concerns has been placed on a weeklong suspension. Polk Superintendent Gail McKinzie put Dennis Higgins, the district's director of alternative education, on administrative leave after he aggressively pressed the state Department of Juvenile Justice to correct environmental conditions at the Polk Juvenile Correctional Facility. The district maintains Higgins' suspension is not retribution for his involvement with Sabal Palm, the alternative school at PJCF. But Higgins said that his suspension is "absolutely a political move..." ...Higgins thinks his suspension is a result of pressure by state officials.


04/19/06 Rooms With A Phew
Josh Poltilov. The Tampa Tribune


POLK CITY - Nearly 200 young offenders are living in a Polk County detention center with mold problems so severe that school personnel were ordered to stay away.

More than half of the 37 staff members, who work for the county school district, became ill from mold at the Polk Juvenile Correctional Facility and have filed workers' compensation claims, said Dennis Higgins, head of the district's alternative education department.

Higgins accused the Department of Justice of poor oversight and called the situation an environmental crisis.

"Most recently, I think the department has made a sincere and genuine effort to get a correction made in a timely manner," he said. "But prior to most recently, I know that I have been reporting it for months, to various levels of dissatisfaction."

Rep. Gustavo Barreiro, R-Miami Beach,...said that for their health, the Polk students should be moved to other facilities until repairs are complete. As for reports that mold has not sickened students, he said the department "said there were a lot of kids that weren't getting hurt in boot camps, either."


04/15/06 Health Panel to Review Facility
Julia Crouse 863-802-7536. The Ledger.


Juvenile correctional workers report health concerns

LAKELAND -- After five weeks of no school, two reports confirming mold and pressure from the Polk School District, the Polk Juvenile Correctional Facility is getting a review from the county Health Department. Dennis Higgins, the Polk director of Alternative Education, has been pleading with the Department of Juvenile Justice to conduct an outside medical study since the school closed March 3. DJJ has asked the Health Department to look at how the mold may have affected the health of teachers, staff and students, said Cynthia Lorenzo, spokeswoman for DJJ... Ultimately, Higgins said he would like to see a change in the way DJJ oversees its facilities. This time the issue was environmental, next time it could be housekeeping or security, he said, citing the escape of an inmate earlier this month. "This shouldn't have to come to a crisis situation," he said. "There should be continuous oversight."


04/15/06 Bad attitude burdens DJJ
Editorial. Palm Beach Post


Florida's Department of Juvenile Justice finds tours of Palm Beach County's juvenile detention center and interviews of staff as part of a court-ordered investigation "burdensome and purposeless." DJJ this week asked county juvenile Judge Peter Blanc "to protect it from harassment and unnecessary inconvenience" by ending "what is at best a fishing expedition." Judge Blanc correctly responded with an emphatic no.

Of course DJJ finds the investigation burdensome. The agency often finds doing its job burdensome. The state finds the 97 teens at the center (four over capacity) such a burden that the agency is content to warehouse them for months at a time...


04/13/06 Effectiveness of camps at the center of debate
Stephen D. Price. Tallahassee Democrat.


Two years ago, 15-year-old Charles Miller was drinking alcohol, smoking cigarettes and had broken into a flower farm for kicks.

Last year, his mother, Wendy Miller, figured a stint at the Martin County boot camp would instill the discipline that she couldn't. A year later, she is happy with her decision.

"It's been an awesome turnaround," said Miller, 49, a Palm City single mother. "Now he makes his bed military-style. His corners are squared off. He's a big vegetable eater. I feel fortunate we were able to go through this experience."

Not everyone can say the same.

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04/13/06 Boot-camp case stirs students
Daniela Velazquez (850) 599-2161. Tallahassee Democrat.


College students from throughout Tallahassee remembered Martin Lee Anderson during a forum Wednesday and renewed calls for justice in the case of the 14-year-old's death after an incident involving guards at the Bay County boot camp. The forum, hosted as part of FSU's Chi Theta chapter of the fraternity Omega Psi Phi's "Omega Week," aimed to educate and provide discussion about Martin's death. The fraternity is a participating organization in the Coalition for Justice for Martin Lee Anderson, the group that is organizing a rally April 21, when students from FSU, Florida A&M University and Tallahassee Community College will march from their campuses, converge at the Civic Center and then walk to the Capitol. The coalition demands that Bush and FDLE employees publicly apologize to Martin's family for their "uncooperative nature," that the results from the second autopsy be released, for Tunnell to be officially reprimanded, for all seven guards seen in the video to be arrested, the license of the camp's nurse to be suspended and the medical examiner who performed the first autopsy to be removed from his job.

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04/12/06 Judge won't stop probe of juvenile detention center
Kathleen Chapman . Palm Beach Post


A judge expressed frustration Tuesday with Department of Juvenile Justice attorneys who have asked him repeatedly to stop an investigation into the local juvenile detention center.

Juvenile Judge Peter Blanc ordered the investigation in February so he could find out what help the state could give teens who are stuck at the facility. Juveniles are supposed to stay at the Palm Beach Regional Juvenile Detention Center for only a few weeks but are being held for up to six months because there is no place for them in residential programs.

Two Department of Juvenile Justice attorneys flew down from Tallahassee Tuesday to argue a motion that asks for an end to the investigation. The review, they said, is vague and unfair.

"You'd just like it to stop, and respectfully, I'm not going to stop the investigation," Blanc said.


04/09/06 State-sanctioned abuse
Editorial. St. Petersburg Times.


If parents used on their children the same kind of force regularly administered at boot camps, the state would intervene. So why has it been tolerated?

... Juvenile Justice Secretary Anthony Schembri told the [Miami] Herald Tuesday he did not stop the guards in Bay County because he was unaware of the "use of force" reports and because a locally elected sheriff ran the operation. "They discipline their own people. I discipline my people," he said.

That answer is unacceptable. The boot camps are operated by sheriffs, but they receive state money and are considered part of the juvenile justice system. The secretary may be trying to avoid accountability, but Ober should not accept Schembri's excuses. While he examines the specifics of Anderson's death, he also should explore whether the teen's fate was sealed by the culture of a bureaucracy that tolerated abuse in the boot camps and looked the other way in Tallahassee.

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04/0/07/06 Boot camp closes; facility now dormant
Associated Press. Bradenton Herald


…The camp officially closes today, which means the two buildings on the property are available.

…The Florida Department of Juvenile Justice owns the boot camp buildings. DJJ spokeswoman Tara Collins said Wednesday the department "is assessing its needs" and has no immediate plans for the structures. …Bay County owns the 7.5-acre boot camp property, which the state leases. Collins said there is no expiration on the lease, as long as it is used by DJJ as a juvenile treatment or detention facility.

…Only one or two people working at the boot camp will have jobs with the Sheriff's Office after the camp is closed.

…None of the seven drill instructors seen manhandling Anderson in the infamous boot camp video will be retained, said Sheriff Frank McKeithen.

…After the tragedy, McKeithen proposed a substitute program to boot camp, called the Sheriff's Office Training and Rehabilitation, or STAR, Academy. The county subsequently refused to fund it.

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04/06/06 Stop passing the buck
Editorial. Miami Herald.


Excerpts: In the annals of buck-passing, Anthony Schembri, secretary of Florida's Department of Juvenile Justice, struck a new precedent for shifting blame on Tuesday. In response to a Sunday Miami Herald article recounting how teens were frequently manhandled for merely smiling or mumbling at the Bay County Sheriff's Boot Camp, Mr. Schembri said that even though his department knew about the use of force at the facility, he couldn't have stopped it…

Mr. Schembri says that he didn't see the 180 reports to his department that cited Bay County camp guards as continuing to apply pressure points to children's skulls… Even if he had seen the reports, Mr. Schembri says his hands were tied because of the sheriff's elected status.

Mr. Schembri has a reputation for being a take-charge boss. This is his chance to live up to that by taking responsibility instead of offering excuses (passing the buck) for adults who routinely punished children for so much as smirking or breathing heavily after strenuous exercise.

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04/05/06 Chief says his hands were tied on camp's use of force
Marc Caputo. Bradenton Herald.


…The state's juvenile-justice chief said Tuesday he didn't step in to stop what appeared to be excessive use of force at a Panama City juvenile boot camp for three years for two reasons: He was unaware of 180 use-of-force reports from the camp, and his hands were tied because the sheriff who ran the camp was an elected official separate from his agency.

…''There's nothing he says that's credible anymore,'' Barreiro said, referring to misstatements Schembri has made, particularly in the case of 14-year-old Martin Lee Anderson's death on Jan. 6 after he was beaten by guards at the Bay Boot Camp in Panama City.

…''He's the head of this agency, these kids are in his care,'' Barreiro said.

“For him not to take responsibility is a surprise. The sheriffs are on contract with DJJ, so Schembri's still in charge.”

…During an Oct. 20 committee meeting, Schembri told lawmakers he was vehemently opposed to the use of excessive force on kids and that, as the man in charge, he was going to fix problems and own up to them.

He also said he ''fired'' 300 employees for using excessive force -- a number that he now says is closer to 60.

According to The Miami Herald's review of the Bay Boot Camp's use-of-force reports, 173 of the 180 incidents were deemed ''appropriate'' by administrators.

Of the seven others, four were unresolved and three were found inappropriate.

''That was a ticking time bomb: 180 incidents of use of force,'' Barreiro said.

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04/02/06 Minor offenses at camp brought beatings
Carol Marbin Miller. Miami Herald.


A smile, a mumble and other forms of nonviolent behavior resulted in force against teenage boys at a Florida sheriff's boot camp, a Miami Herald investigation found.

The teenage boys smiled, they shrugged and they smirked. They spoke without permission or they refused to speak at all. That's all it took for the boys at the Bay County Sheriff's Office Boot Camp to provoke a swift and painful response from their guards. Even crying and ''whimpering'' brought harsh discipline. The scenes were repeated over and over, 180 times over the past three years, at the juvenile boot camp in Panama City, according to Florida Department of Juvenile Justice records obtained by The Miami Herald under the state's public-records law. In only eight of the 180 instances documented since January 2003 were the teenagers described as hitting guards, fighting with other youths, threatening to escape or trying to harm themselves... The physical punishments meted out at the camp were well known to officials at the DJJ. All of the use-of-force reports were faxed to DJJ headquarters in Tallahassee for review, and there is no record of DJJ officials ever objecting to the boot camp's methods for dealing with uncooperative detainees.

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04/02/06 Manatee's boot camp in trouble
Duane Marsteller 745-7080, ext. 2630. Bradenton Herald.


…Florida's camps have come under intense scrutiny since January, when 14-year-old Martin Lee Anderson died after being punched, kicked and dragged by drill instructors at Bay County's camp...

..."I think this will be the catalyst for the demise of Florida's military boot camps*," said Cathy Corry, president of Inc., a Clearwater-based advocacy group that's been highly critical of the Florida Department of Juvenile Justice. "These dungeons* will cease to exist."
[*Notes: Ms. Corry said “Florida’s military style boot camps” not “Florida’s military boot camps.” Also, Ms Corry referred to the boot camps as programs not dungeons as stated in the article. J4K]

…At least 10 states, including Alabama, California and Georgia, have closed their camps because of abuse, deaths and/or poor results.

…The boot-camp concept stemmed from the "Scared Straight" programs of the 1970s, in which hard-core inmates confronted young offenders with the harsh realities of prison life.

…Since hitting a low of 38 percent in 2000, when those who graduated between July 1, 1997, and June 30, 1998, were studied, the recidivism rate for Florida's camps has been on a generally upward trend. It was 44 percent for those who graduated between July 1, 2003, and June 30, 2004, the most recent time period for which data was available, down slightly from the peak of 47 percent in the previous year.

…"You can't just shock and awe these kids into turning their lives around," said Cassandra Jenkins, juvenile justice director for Children's Campaign Inc., a Tallahassee-based children's advocacy coalition. "Just locking a kid up and doing physical fitness doesn't work."

…Programs that work offer education, counseling, day treatment, after-care and family involvement, she said.

…Manatee's recidivism rate since 2001 is 53 percent, tied with Bay County's camp for the highest among the seven that operated during that time period. Excluding Manatee, the other camps' combined average is 41 percent.

…its grades from the Juvenile Justice department, which annually rates the effectiveness of more than 150 juvenile justice programs statewide. Manatee's camp, rated "average" four years ago, has been tabbed as among the state's "least effective" for two straight years.

…Despite the furor over Anderson's death, there's been no flurry of proposed legislative action. Only two bills - identical ones in the House and Senate - address the camps, and the only proposed change is a renumbering of one section of the state's juvenile justice law.

That doesn't surprise Corry, who argues that the political power of Florida's sheriffs hinders true reform.

"They don't want to make it appear to be a knee-jerk reaction to what they call an isolated incident," she said. "I do think they will make changes - but it won't be so obvious as to admit there is a problem."

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03/31/06 Does Florida's boot camp system work?
Carson Cooper, host. Florida Matters. WUSF Public Broadcasting

The recent death of 14-year old Martin Lee Anderson at a youth boot camp in Bay County has many Floridians wondering about the need for and effectiveness of military-style youth boot camps. Carson Cooper, Justice4Kids Cathy Corry, Manatee County Sheriff Charlie Wells and Stetson Law Professor Robert Batey discuss the pros and cons of juvenile boot camps in Florida along with their possible future.

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03/31/06 FDLE replaced in camp investigation
 Julian Pecquet (850) 599-2307. Tallahassee Democrat.


The special prosecutor investigating the death of 14-year-old Martin Lee Anderson announced Thursday that he has found a new law enforcement agency to help with the probe in place of the Florida Department of Law Enforcement.

Martin died Jan. 6, one day after being kicked and punched by guards at a Bay County boot camp.

Citing recent exchanges in which the state's top law enforcement official expressed support for Bay County Sheriff Frank McKeithen, Hillsborough County State Attorney Mark Ober said in a news release that Hillsborough Sheriff David Gee would handle the investigation from now on.

"Due to comments expressed by FDLE Commissioner Guy Tunnell in recently released e-mails regarding the Bay County boot camp," Ober wrote, "I have determined that it is in the best interest of the investigation that an independent law enforcement agency assist my office."

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03/28/06 E-mails put Florida investigator in hot seat
Carol Marbin Miller. Miami Herald


When the family of Martin Lee Anderson questioned the impartiality of Florida's top state lawman, Guy Tunnell, in investigating the teen's death at a Panama City boot camp, Tunnell assured Floridians he would be fair and impartial. The reason the family was suspicious: Tunnell, head of the Florida Department of Law Enforcement, is a former sheriff of Bay County, founded the boot camp, and is friends with the current sheriff, Frank McKeithen, whose office runs the camp. Now, a series of e-mails obtained by The Miami Herald shows that at the same time his agency was investigating the camp, Tunnell kept a running commentary to McKeithen, other sheriffs and his own staff in which he let off steam and disparaged critics of his investigation and the state's boot camps.

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03/25/06 Impact of zero-tolerance school-arrest policies
Letters to the editor from Joseph Garcia, Cathy Corry, and Monica Harvey, Miami Beach. Miami Herald.

Excerpts from their letters:

"As the innovative programs described -- school community policing and a civil-citation program for minor offenses -- have more time to succeed, we anticipate even steeper drops in arrests with no decline in the safety and security."
Joseph Garcia, spokesman, Miami-Dade Public Schools, Miami

"The Pinellas County Juvenile Justice Council, of which I am a member, recently requested that the Pinellas school district place a moratorium on arrests for disorderly conduct and disruption of school environment. All school districts should take a firm stand on this issue to protect children from avoidable anguish now and in their future."
Cathy Corry, president, Justice 4 Kids, Clearwater

"It's 2006, and racism still rears its ugly head even when it comes to our children. Though this does not surprise me, it manages to break my heart a little bit more every time."
Monica Harvey, Miami Beach


03/20/06 Parents of dead teen don't want case tried in Panama City if anyone is charged
Marc Caputo. Miami Herald.


The parents of a boy who died at the Bay County juvenile boot camp want the case moved far away from Panama City, saying they can't get justice in their home county.

Gina Jones and Robert Anderson said today that their 14-year-old was ''murdered'' by guards Jan. 5 and, despite video evidence of a beating by as many as eight guards, no one has been arrested or even fired from the Bay County Sheriff's Office, which runs the soon-to-be-closed camp.

''When this trial takes place, it's almost the entire Bay County Sheriff's Office on trial here,'' said family lawyer Daryl Parks, adding it's ''very difficult'' to get an impartial jury in such a small town.

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03/19/06 More Miami-Dade students face detention for misdemeanors
Peter Bailey. Miami-Herald.

[Miami-Dade Juvenile Court Judge Lester] Langer says his and other courtrooms in the Juvenile Detention Center are packed with more and more cases of kids arrested for minor offenses, as school officials strictly enforce a zero-tolerance policy in an effort to deter violent crimes on campus.

''The juvenile judges are seeing a lot of school-related cases that could have been handled at the school, such as schoolyard fights and kids acting out in class,'' said Langer, who has been on the bench since 1992 and in juvenile court since 1997...

In the 2004-2005 school year, Miami-Dade schools police arrested 2,484 students, district records show. But only 12 percent of those arrests were for serious crimes involving weapons or drugs -- among the catalysts driving the zero-tolerance measures.

...about 70 percent, were for disorderly conduct and a host of misdemeanor offenses, graffiti markings and disturbing the peace, the latest records available show. Fifty-four percent of students arrested were black though black students make up 28 percent of the district's enrollment.

Langer and others on the 11th Circuit Juvenile Justice Board have lobbied school leaders for alternatives to arresting students. In November, the Miami-Dade School Board approved a civil citation initiative, which officials believe will curb a majority of the arrests. Officers are expected to begin training during spring break next month.

''By law we can make the arrest, but by conscience do you have to arrest?'' asked schools Police Chief Gerald Darling, who is leading the [Civil Citations] initiative. ``We want to eliminate the image of police being just an arresting agent.''

Under the [Civil Citations] program, officers would issue civil citations to students for petty offenses such as minor altercations, disorderly conduct and trespassing. It would be a judgment call, at the discretion of officers who will be given guidelines to follow, Darling said... ''New research shows that arresting and Scared Straight programs does nothing to cause a child to not act out. It's not productive,'' Darling said. Darling said so far this school year, overall arrests on school grounds have decreased throughout the district, particularly those involving black males. ... zero-tolerance measures have been enforced at many schools throughout the country. But child advocates argue the policy often ''criminalizes'' childhood -- by turning minor incidents into major offenses. Advocates point to the case last March involving 5-year-old Ja'eisha Scott, who was arrested in her classroom after throwing a tantrum at her elementary school in St. Petersburg. The videotape of officers handcuffing Ja'eisha received national attention. ''School districts have been delegating their responsibility of school discipline to police,'' said Jim Freeman, an attorney with the Advancement Project...


03/19/06 Never again
Editorial. St. Petersburg Times.


The Department of Juvenile Justice is now reconsidering the practices it will allow boot camp instructors to use, though both Bush and department head Anthony Schembri say they still support the camps. To make any juvenile rehabilitation program work, however, it will take adequate funding, training, oversight and followup. We now know the consequences of failing to do so.

It shouldn't have taken the death of a frail 14-year-old to bring attention to these issues. It was a life unnecessarily lost, but at the very least Martin Lee Anderson's death should spark enough outrage in Floridians to assure that it never happens again.

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03/18/06 Doctor: Beating cut off teen's oxygen
Alex Leary 850 224-7263. St. Petersburg Times.


[Dr. Michael] Baden, who spoke from New York, also said there were instances where guards covered the 14-year-old's mouth in order to force an ammonia capsule up his nostril, a tactic guards used to make him more compliant.

"With ammonia in his nose and hands over his mouth . . . he can't breathe, he can't get oxygen," Baden said. "When he leaves on that stretcher, he's already mostly brain dead."

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03/16/06 Boot camp failures were unquestioned [click and scroll down to letter]
Cathy Corry. Letter to the Editor. St. Petersburg Times.

A disappointed Pinellas County Sheriff Jim Coats just learned that his expensive juvenile boot camp has had a near 90 percent failure rate during its 12-year history. Bob Stewart, Pinellas County commissioner, was "stunned."

Stunned? Each year, the sheriff requests public dollars from the County Commission for the Pinellas County boot camp. Did Stewart ever ask if this was public money spent wisely? Did any of the county commissioners ask?

Commissioners Calvin Harris and Ken Welch, as well as Sheriff Coats, should be keenly aware of the boot camp failings. After all, they are members of the Circuit 6 Juvenile Justice Board. This board also includes State Attorney Bernie McCabe, Public Defender Bob Dillinger, Judge Marion Fleming and a dozen other key players in juvenile justice issues. The board meets quarterly to "advise and direct" the Department of Juvenile Justice.

I've attended these board meetings as a citizen observer for the past two years and not once has there been any discussion regarding cost or effectiveness of the Pinellas boot camp. As an advocate for youth rights, I find it extremely frustrating to watch these hasty meetings where I've never heard the board discuss any critical issue. Several board members regularly play with their Blackberrys and most seem anxious to adjourn the meetings in less than 90 minutes.

Close the costly, ineffective Pinellas boot camp! Treat youth with dignity and respect rather than fear and force. The outcome will be astounding!

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03/16/06 Even if we didn't beat him to death, we're responsible
Howard Troxler. St. Petersburg Times.


On Jan. 5, you and I roughed up a 14-year-old boy at one of Florida's juvenile boot camps in Panama City.

We held him down, pummeled him, kneed him and punched him, long past the point he showed any ability to resist.

I had him by the arms while you gave him a knee to the back. Then you held him while I gave him some good pokes.

Oh, don't worry, it wasn't dangerous for us. There were plenty of folks around to make sure of that, and only one of him.

The kid was pretty limp by the time we loaded him on the gurney, his arm dangling over the side. It's all on the videotape.

He died the next day.

What? You say you weren't in Panama City on Jan. 5, and you doubt that I was there either?

Okay, then. We hired somebody to do it for us. But we're still responsible.