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Investigation into child abuse at Marianna reform school brings no charges

They have thought about revenge, daydreamed about swinging a leather strap at a feeble old man. Some have even driven back to Marianna, as grown men, with murderous intent.

One way or another, the former wards of the Florida School for Boys want the guard who beat them to pay.

But a 15-month investigation into decades-old abuse won't result in criminal charges against Troy Tidwell or any other former staffers at the state's oldest reform school, the Florida Department of Law Enforcement said Thursday.

"With the passage of over 50 years," the 13-page FDLE report states, "no tangible physical evidence was found to either support or refute the allegations of physical or sexual abuse."

The FDLE interviewed more than 100 men, relatives and former staffers about allegations of brutal beatings in the 1940s, '50s and '60s. Most of the statements were consistent, they found. Boys were given up to 100 licks with a heavy leather paddle in a putrid cinder block building called the White House. Many said their backsides bled, that they needed stitches, that they had to pick underwear from their lacerations. Eight said they had scars or suffered injuries.

Three former employees told investigators they either witnessed abuse or saw the effects, such as welts or bloody pajamas. The daughter of one deceased employee told the FDLE that her father came home one night and said, "That damn drunk son of a b---- beat another boy," in reference to Arthur G. Dozier, after whom the school is now named. Her father later quit in disgust.

One former superintendent, Lenox Williams, told investigators he administered 10 to 12 licks. "That's the number," he said. "We didn't go over that."

He did recall hearing from a school physician that a boy had "gotten too many licks across his buttocks with that paddle."

"He said there . . . were some, some lacerations," Williams continued. "And it's possible to do that with it if you choose to."

The few men who claimed to have witnessed deaths at the school could provide few specifics and no names. Some former students said they were sexually abused, but they could not identify their abusers.

The investigators did not interview Tidwell; his attorneys declined their requests.

Forensic investigators did examine the inside of the White House and tested the walls for blood. "All areas tested had negative results."

The FDLE gave its report to Glenn Hess, state attorney for the 14th Judicial Circuit of Florida. Hess declined to prosecute, citing the statute of limitations and the vague nature of some of the allegations.

The investigation was ordered by Gov. Charlie Crist after a number of men went public in 2008 with stories of abuse. The men, who call themselves the White House Boys, found each other online a few years ago. The school is the subject of a Times investigation, "For Their Own Good."

Crist also asked the FDLE to investigate a small cemetery on the property. That investigation, concluded last year, found no evidence of foul play in the deaths of 31 boys believed to be buried on school property.

The White House Boys are critical of both reports, saying the FDLE has a conflict in investigating allegations against state employees and state agencies.

Robert Straley, 63, of Clearwater says he was beaten and sexually assaulted by Tidwell, a memory that he repressed for decades. "It seems like such an absolute travesty of justice that a person could do that and get away with it," Straley said after reading the report.

Straley and more than 300 others are pursuing a claims bill in the Legislature seeking unspecified compensation.

"This isn't over," Straley said. "We're not in it for the money."

Times correspondent David Gardner contributed to this report. Ben Montgomery can be reached at bmontgomery@sptimes.com or (727) 893-8650.

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Investigation into child abuse at Marianna reform school brings no charges 03/11/10 [Last modified: Friday, December 12, 2014 12:21pm]
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