TALLAHASSEE — Victims of abuse at the Florida Reform School for Boys should be compensated for their injuries at the hands of school staff during the 1940s, '50s and '60s, a Tampa state senator said in a bill filed on Friday.
Sen. Arthenia Joyner, a Tampa Democrat and lawyer, filed the claims bills to pay an undetermined amount to the victims known collectively as the White House Boys, a reference to the white concrete-block house where the boys at the reform school in Marianna were sent for beatings.
Joyner's bill says that boys at both the Marianna and Okeechobee campuses suffered "physical and psychological abuse'' that "included beatings in which the boys were forced to lie face down on a blood-stained cot'' and were "struck repeatedly with a leather razor strap."
The bill details many of the allegations made by former students of the schools, which were reported by the St. Petersburg Times, Miami Herald and other news organizations.
"Some boys as young as 10 years of age were severely beaten, requiring the pieces of their cotton underwear be extracted from the boys' flesh," the bill reads. Other victims "needed medical attention," and others "were placed in solitary confinement for as many as 30 days'' in an 8-foot windowless cell with a bunk and a bucket.
The news reports prompted Gov. Charlie Crist to order an investigation into 31 unmarked graves at the Marianna school in December.
In May, the Florida Department of Law Enforcement concluded that there was no evidence that the graves held the remains of abused boys or that state officials covered up abuse. It found that there were 31 bodies buried at the school between 1914 and 1952 and each of the deaths was attributable to a known cause.
Hundreds of the alleged victims have since filed a class-action lawsuit in Pinellas-Pasco County Circuit Court. The suit now has more than 400 claimants "and is growing daily," said attorney Greg Hoag.
The bill says that the class-action claimants are willing to hold off their lawsuit while the Legislature considers the claims bill. The bill also would limit the attorneys' proceeds in the case to 25 percent.
Mary Ellen Klas can be reached at meklas@MiamiHerald.com