USF and families vow to continue fight for answers at Dozier

5:49 PM, Jul 16, 2013   |    comments
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Former residents of the Dozier School say the 'white house' is where they were beaten with boards and whips by guards until they were bloodied.
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Clearwater, Florida - Robert Straley knows about Dozier.  As a 13-year-old runaway, he was sent to the Panhandle reform school in 1963 and endured three savage beatings there. 

"That was brutal, bloody punishment," he said of the floggings.

Straley, who now lives in Clearwater, helped form the group called the White House Boys in 2007. Their stories of abuse sparked investigations into Dozier.

"I don't want them to get away with this. I want the world to know just how bad it was," says the 66-year-old.

Straley and several families that have loved ones buried at the school want answers and they believe USF's research there and the exhumation of bodies can help. Since February of 2012, forensic anthropologist Erin Kimmerle has led a team of researchers that have located more graves on the site than had previously thought to exist.

So Straley and others are angry that the Florida Department of State has refused to grant permits to exhume and identify bodies and they wonder if officials are playing politics.

"I think it is disgusting they would stop this thing," says Straley.

On Tuesday, Senator Bill Nelson (D-Florida) was also critical of the state's research roadblock and what he called a lack of leadership by Governor Scott. 

"This could be over in a nanosecond if the Governor really wanted to do this... it would be done," said Nelson from Washington.

The state's decision may push some families toward litigation with the state.

As for USF, in a written statement Tuesday, the school says it remains committed to its research at Dozier and "to fulfilling this project on behalf of the families of untold numbers of children who were buried at Dozier in unmarked graves and these families' fundamental right to have their relatives' remains identified and buried in a proper and respectful manner."

And Straley says he's not about to back down either. 

"Nobody's giving up. We're taking off the gloves."

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