The University of South Florida argued Monday that the state has the authority to allow researchers to excavate graves around a clandestine cemetery at a notorious state-run reform school.
Secretary of State Ken Detzner last week denied USF's request to exhume bodies from the old cemetery at the Dozier School for Boys in Marianna to learn how they died and return their remains to families. He said his office didn't have the authority under Florida law to give the green light.
USF, in a letter to Detzner, argues that his department has both the authority and the obligation under Florida law to allow them to excavate because the remains are vulnerable.
Using ground-penetrating radar, researchers found 19 burial shafts outside the perimeter of the small graveyard and believe there are remains buried in woods, under a road and adjacent to a modern garbage dump. Some of the human remains were discovered in shallow ground and are "vulnerable to being lost or scattered," researchers argued. The state has also put out a request for bids on the shuttered school, so the remains could be disturbed by development.
"The state has ample authority here," said U.S. Sen. Bill Nelson, who supports the USF effort to reunite families with the remains of boys who died under suspicious circumstances. "Their refusal to renew the permits is just a dodge. The response by USF makes hash out of the state's position."
Ben Montgomery can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or (727) 893-8650.