Gov. Rick Scott, Cabinet embark on challenge of 'closure' at Dozier School
Gov. Rick Scott and the three elected Cabinet members on Tuesday discussed giving Secretary of State Ken Detzner the challenging and complicated job of managing the grounds of the former state-run Arthur G. Dozier School for Boys in Marianna sometime next year.
The planned state takeover will not occur until USF forensic anthropology researchers, led by Dr. Erin Kimmerle, complete their work of analyzing human remains recovered from the brutal reformatory that permanently closed in 2011.
Detzner faced criticism two years ago when he initially denied access to the USF team to exhume human remains, saying he lacked authority under state law. After Attorney General Pam Bondi intervened and called it a "misunderstanding," the state granted USF the permit it requested.
A cemetery at the former Panhandle school includes 31 pipe crosses planted in crooked rows, and subsequent research uncovered 24 more bodies. Dozens of men who were housed at Dozier have come forward in recent years to describe beatings, rapes, torture and deaths there.
The four officials delayed a formal vote until next year. The issue of future custody of the Dozier site was raised by Chief Financial Officer Jeff Atwater, who cited the need for "one entity" to manage the grounds "as we move toward eventual closure."
"The next phases involving the preservation of artifacts unearthed, the storage and reinterment of the remains of those identified, decisions regarding appropriate memorials, and state funding appropriations will need to be addressed," Atwater wrote. "The issues involving the preservation of historical resources and records, archives and state monuments seem best to be handled by the Department of State or an appropriate oversight body."
During discussion, Atwater said: "This story is not going to be swept under the rug ... Is the state taking ownership of telling this story?"
Dale Landry, a state NAACP official, said some families are too poor to pay the costs of having a loved one's remains reinterred. He called on Scott and Cabinet members to pay for those burial expenses. The state needs to find a way to find a new use of the school, "to make it good for kids ... We're reclaiming our children. This should be a sacred thing."
Detzner, a Scott appointee, is primarily the state's chief elections official. His agency also includes the state Division of Historical Resources, which describes as its mission "to inspire a love of history through preservation and education."
Agriculture Commissioner Adam Putnam cited issues of asbestos and long-term neglect on the Dozier property and its historical significance to the city of Marianna. "We don't turn a blind eye to its past, but how do we bring the work of Dr. Kimmerle and USF to light and to resolution?"