Putnam Asks FDLE for Further Dozier Investigation

Feb 22, 2015
Originally published on February 23, 2015 10:44 am

Agriculture Commissioner Adam Putnam is asking the head of the Florida Department of Law Enforcement to evaluate new findings in the history of students at the former Arthur G. Dozier school for boys.

In a letter dated Wednesday, Putnam — who is one of three members of the Florida Cabinet — cited a recent report by researchers at the University of South Florida.

Anthropologists have found the remains of 51 people buried in 55 graves at the school during a dig. That's 19 more people than had been identified by the Florida Department of Law Enforcement in a 2010 investigative report.

The USF researchers also uncovered garbage, syringes, drug bottles and a dog encased in an old water cooler buried in the cemetery. And in a recent report prepared for the Florida Cabinet, researchers said they found, along with the remains of one teenage boy, "(near the left lower abdomen/upper thigh region of the body) was a small lead ball consistent with a projectile." (NOTE: 2/21 1:30 p.m. this paragraph has been corrected to indicate the location of the possible projectile found in the grave)

At a news conference earlier this month, USF anthropologist Erin Kimmerle said, "What it looks like is a small, round metal object. It's lead, it looks very much like what you'd see as pellets in a shotgun."

But Kimmerle added there's no way to determine if the projectile was a factor in the boy's death.

Kimmerle is leading a team of investigators trying to identify who was buried there and the stories behind how they and others died at the school.

The report identified two more people buried in graves, in addition to three who were identified previously.

The FDLE, in its 2010 report, said it was unable to substantiate or refute claims that inmate deaths were caused by the school's staff or that staff members physically and sexually abused them.

In the letter to FDLE Commissioner Rick Swearingen, Putnam said that the latest report could contain information not available to the law enforcement agency when it investigated the Dozier cases in 2009.

"I am requesting that the FDLE evaluate new findings reported by USF to determine whether or not there is new evidence that would otherwise warrant additional investigation," said Putnam, who copied the letter to the other members of the cabinet and the governor.

Putnam also asked the FDLE Commissioner to report his findings back to the cabinet.

However, the Tampa Bay Times says several former Dozier students don't want the FDLE at the helm of another  investigation.

"We don't trust them to do this," said Jerry Cooper, 70, of Cape Coral, president of a group of former wards called the Official White House Boys. "If they're going to reopen this and they can't get the feds in here, they need to use an independent outfit to investigate this."

According to researchers, the school underreported deaths; didn't provide death certificates, names or details in many cases, particularly involving black boys; and simply reported some boys who disappeared as no longer at the school. In one case, a casket believed to contain the remains of one victim instead contained wood. And many in the Panhandle community don't want to talk about the school's dark past.

USF researchers plan to continue their field work on school grounds until this summer. That work includes excavating the site where a dormitory fire in 1914 is believed to have killed 10 students and staff members. Only some of those victims' remains have been found.