Make us your home page
Instagram

Today’s top headlines delivered to you daily.

(View our Privacy Policy)

Judge allows military home to stay open despite abuse complaints

FORT PIERCE — Despite a list of state findings that includes, most recently, bizarre punishment and a broken bone, a self-titled "colonel" and his unlicensed Port St. Lucie military academy can continue to house and discipline boys for 16 more months with no oversight.

On Thursday, St. Lucie Circuit Judge Robert Belanger gave Southeastern Military Academy until June 30, 2014, to gain the accreditation of two state-recognized organizations. That is a "drop dead" date, the judge said. If it lapses, he would grant the state's request to shut down the academy.

State law requires boarding schools to get accredited within three years. June 2014 will mark an entire decade that the military school run by Alan Weierman has not been overseen by any state-recognized authority.

Belanger's decision came at the end of a two-day hearing in which the judge opined, "Abuse sometimes is in the eye of the beholder," and "Sometimes, putting shackles on kids might scare them straight."

It came after Weierman took the witness stand and testified he was in the Army, without acknowledging he left within six weeks because of an allergy to bees. And it came after he said he provided phone access to his cadets without being asked if those calls were monitored.

Weierman left the courthouse with a broad smile, giving assurances that he would be accredited by his new deadline.

It marked the second time he triumphed over a state effort to shut him down. In 2011, another judge found he was making a "good-faith effort" to get accredited.

The Florida Department of Children and Families filed the second attempt in January, two months after a Tampa Bay Times investigation exposed how Weierman and others have been able to run children's homes outside state standards despite evidence they hurt kids in their care.

State child welfare workers do not regularly inspect unlicensed homes to guarantee the living conditions are safe. Some have a religious exemption, and some operate without any state-recognized credentials at all.

Thursday's court decision illustrates the lack of power DCF has had for more than a dozen years over Weierman. In 2001, he surrendered his home's license amid a DCF attempt to revoke it. He then took refuge under a religious exemption that allowed him to be overseen, instead, by a private, nonprofit organization.

But in 2004, that group had a problem with his boot camp approach, and he lost the exemption. He registered the home as a boarding school with the Department of Education, which does not inspect private schools.

"How can he keep doing what he is doing?" asked Michaela Mattox, a mother who withdrew her son after the Times investigation. The boy said academy staff physically slammed him to the ground, and that he witnessed a boy get punched.

Alex McEntee, a 17-year-old who recently ran away from the home, also said he watched a boy get punched.

DCF says it is investigating a face-punching allegation.

Weierman has denied that his academy is abusive and notes he has never been charged criminally for the ways he disciplines boys.

In this shutdown attempt, the state relied less on its investigative history and more on the statute that dictates all boarding schools must get accredited within three years. But its own licensing specialist admitted that the law is confusing, and an accreditor testified Weierman was cooperating with the credentialing process.

Judge Belanger initially said he would give Weierman until April 2014, but after an interjection from Weierman's defense attorney about needing more time, the judge decided on June.

A DCF spokeswoman said the department will discuss whether to file an appeal. Meanwhile, its lawyers are scrutinizing other unaccredited boarding schools identified by the Times.

Alexandra Zayas can be reached at azayas@tampabay.com or (813) 226-3354.

Judge allows military home to stay open despite abuse complaints 02/21/13 [Last modified: Wednesday, May 15, 2013 3:28pm]
Photo reprints | Article reprints

© 2017 Tampa Bay Times

    

Join the discussion: Click to view comments, add yours

Loading...
  1. Kriseman and Baker cash race continues as campaigns officially reset

    Blogs

    The mayoral campaign, mostly operating in stealth mode during the two weeks of Hurricane Irma's build-up, arrival and recovery, has entered its stretch run, a compressed schedule of ten days before ballots are mailed to tens of thousands of voters in the Sunshine City.

    Mayor Rick Kriseman and former mayor Rick Baker are emerging from Hurricane Irma mode and getting back into campaign form
  2. Bucs have chance to beat Vikings in their third stadium

    Bucs

    Here's a cool sign that the Bucs are getting up there as an NFL franchise: If Tampa Bay can win Sunday at U.S. Bank Stadium, it will mark the first time the Bucs have posted road wins against the same NFL opponent in three different stadiums.

    TIMES ARCHIVES (2012) | Bucs RB Doug Martin runs during Tampa Bay's 36-17 win at the Vikings in 2012, in what was then called Mall of America Field. If Tampa Bay wins Sunday, it will mark the first time they have road wins against the same NFL opponent in three different stadiums.
  3. Memorial for Snooty the manatee, postponed because of Irma, to be held Sunday

    Wildlife

    A public memorial to celebrate the life of 69-year-old Snooty the manatee will be held at the South Florida Museum on Sunday from noon to 5 p.m.

    Snooty , the world's most celebrated manatee, begs for another slice of apple in his pool in the Parker Manatee Aquarium at the South Florida Museum in Bradenton in 2008. Snooty was 60 then. [Times 2008]
  4. Residents wade through a flooded road after the passing of Hurricane Maria, in Toa Baja, Puerto Rico, Friday, September 22, 2017. Because of the heavy rains brought by Maria, thousands of people were evacuated from Toa Baja after the municipal government opened the gates of the Rio La Plata Dam. [Associated Press]
  5. NFL commissioner, players' union angrily denounce Trump comments on national anthem

    Bucs

    SOMERSET, N.J. — The National Football League and its players' union on Saturday angrily denounced President Donald Trump for suggesting that owners fire players who kneel during the national …

    President Donald Trump walks off the stage after he speaks at campaign rally in support of Sen. Luther Strange, Friday, Sept. 22, 2017, in Huntsville, Ala. [Associated Press]