Make us your home page

Today’s top headlines delivered to you daily.

(View our Privacy Policy)

Troy Tidwell, who doled out 'spankings' at the Florida School for Boys, answers to allegations

MARIANNA — They say Troy Tidwell drew blood. They say he dragged the boys to a tiny building on the campus of the Florida School for Boys in Marianna, made them bite a pillow and hit them so hard with a leather strap that they feel it 50 years later.

They say he enjoyed it.

More than 200 former students of the state-run reform school, now in their 50s, 60s and 70s, accuse Tidwell in a class-action lawsuit of abuse. They tell of picking underwear from their lacerations and being black and blue from their thighs to their backs.

For the first time since the men told their stories publicly in October, Tidwell was made to face the allegations.

He called it "spanking," according to those at his deposition here Thursday. He said it was state-sanctioned discipline, punishment for kids who tried to run away or got caught smoking. He said he hit kids eight to 10 times per infraction with a thick leather strap, but never hard enough to harm them.

He said he never made a boy bleed.

Tidwell was the focus of a St. Petersburg Times report called "For Their Own Good," which documented a history of abuse at the school, now known as the Arthur G. Dozier School for Boys. Since the article was published last month, dozens more men have told similar stories of being abused by Tidwell and other school employees.

Tidwell, who was hired at Florida School for Boys in 1943 as an instructor and houseparent, is 84. He's in poor health and frail.

He was dapper Thursday. He wore a navy blue suit with a crimson shirt and matching handkerchief. He carried a multicolored cane.

He spoke quietly during most of the deposition. At times he seemed upset, aggressive even.

Bryant Middleton was sitting a few seats from Tidwell during the four hours of testimony. Middleton, sent to the school in 1959 for incorrigibility, said Tidwell wouldn't look him in the eye.

"He inflicted so much harm on me that it totally changed my life," Middleton, 64, said after the deposition. "I was brutally hurt, physically and emotionally. For him to say he never hurt anybody, well, he hurt me."

Tom Masterson, an attorney representing the men, said he wasn't surprised that Tidwell denied abusing children. He tried presenting historic testimony from a former psychologist at the school who told a U.S. Senate panel that the beatings with the leather strap constitute "brutality."

But Tidwell said all discipline was state-approved protocol. They called it Final Disciplinary Action.

"The ultimate issue is: How do you define abuse?" said Masterson. "He denied that he harmed anybody, but when you have 200 people telling the same story …"

Masterson said he will question Tidwell again in coming weeks.

The deposition came a week after the Florida Department of Law Enforcement closed its investigation into a small cemetery on the reform school campus. Investigators found no evidence that the 29 boys buried there died at the hands of school staff. They did not exhume any remains or use ground-penetrating radar to determine how many bodies are in the ground, and they relied heavily on staff-generated reports to account for the deaths.

The FDLE is still investigating allegations of abuse at the school.

Tidwell's attorney, Matthew Fuqua, refused to answer questions.

"He did good," was all he said.

Thursday afternoon, deposition over, Tidwell stepped out of his lawyer's office into the light. Photographers snapped pictures as he carefully walked to a waiting car, his eyes down, a police officer keeping watch nearby.

He said nothing.

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

Troy Tidwell, who doled out 'spankings' at the Florida School for Boys, answers to allegations 05/21/09 [Last modified: Monday, May 25, 2009 5:26pm]
Photo reprints | Article reprints

© 2017 Tampa Bay Times


Join the discussion: Click to view comments, add yours

  1. 'Oh, my God, this is crazy!' The 911 calls as Hollywood nursing home residents died (w/video)


    One by one, the calls for help poured in from nurses at the Rehabilitation Center at Hollywood Hills.

    The Rehabilitation Center at Hollywood Hills, where 14 residents died during an air conditioning failure in the aftermath of Hurricane Irma, in Hollywood, Fla., Sept. 14, 2017. The police released 911 calls from a nursing home under investigation after some of its residents died in the post-hurricane heat. [Scott McIntyre | The New York Times]
  2. Neil deGrasse Tyson will speak at the Straz Center for the Performing Arts on Thursday. We talked to him ahead of time. Check out what he had to say. [Patrick Eccelsine/FOX]
  3. Conor Oberst, Johnnyswim concerts moved out of State Theatre over construction issues


    Two more concerts -- including one this weekend -- have been moved out of the State Theatre in St. Petersburg as the venue continues to experience scaled-down crowd capacity following recent construction.

  4. Hillsborough board to vote on new school start times


    TAMPA — The big issue at today's Hillsborough County School Board meeting will be the 2018-19 bell schedule. To save money and get students to school on time, …

    Hillsborough County School Board members tried to work out their differences at a training day in Temple Terrace on Oct. 11. Today, they will vote on revised school start times for 2018-19. [COLLEEN WRIGHT | Times]
  5. McCain condemns 'half-baked, spurious nationalism' in clear shot at Trump (w/video)


    PHILADELPHIA — An emotional Sen. John McCain, R-Ariz., launched a thinly veiled critique of President Donald Trump's global stewardship Monday night, using a notable award ceremony to condemn "people who would rather find scapegoats than solve problems."

    Sen. John McCain, R-Ariz., right, accompanied by Chair of the National Constitution Center's Board of Trustees, former Vice President Joe Biden, waves as he takes the stage before receiving the Liberty Medal in Philadelphia, Monday, Oct. 16, 2017. The honor is given annually to an individual who displays courage and conviction while striving to secure liberty for people worldwide. [Associated Press]