Editorial: Bring FDLE back to Dozier investigation

Published Feb. 20, 2015

The Florida Department of Law Enforcement should open a new investigation into the now-shuttered Dozier School for Boys. The state has a public obligation to account for the abuses at the reform school committed under its name, and it's important for the record and for Florida's legacy to fully air this deplorable history and make every effort to hold those involved accountable for any crimes.

Agriculture Commissioner Adam Putnam asked the FDLE last week to consider reopening the case, noting that researchers at the University of South Florida had discovered 20 more human remains on the property than the 31 the FDLE reported after an earlier investigation.

Hundreds of men have come forward with stories in recent years of being raped and beaten at Dozier, which operated for 111 years before being closed in 2011. A cursory investigation by FDLE in 2009 turned up a lot of maybes and what-ifs, and it fell to USF researchers afterward to take a more serious look.

USF has performed an invaluable public service with its methodical and dignified approach to documenting the horrors at Dozier. But now it's time for the state's chief law enforcement agency to come in. In its latest update to the Florida Cabinet in January, USF urged authorities to step in, saying an investigation into abuse and rape was beyond USF's expertise and might involve criminal or civil implications.

USF has uncovered a handful of suspicious and violent deaths and, in one set of remains, metal consistent with buckshot. While researchers will work at the site west of Tallahassee until August, the number of missing victims, the discovery of more skeletons than the number of names on file and the deteriorated condition of the remains all point to the need for involving FDLE, which can bring more resources to the investigation.

Putnam and Attorney General Pam Bondi were instrumental in pushing the investigation this far. They moved the governor to remove his earlier roadblocks so USF could proceed. As Putnam said early on, in 2013: "There is no shame in searching for the truth." This is also a chance for Rick Swearingen, the newly appointed FDLE commissioner, to establish himself and restore his agency's public image after Scott's ham-handed maneuver to install him in the job.

The state has moved quickly in the past two years to come to terms with one of its darkest secrets. It shouldn't stop now. The earlier FDLE inquiry has been discredited as insufficient, and it's time to make it right by having that agency take a second and more serious look at what transpired at Dozier. The governor and other Cabinet members should add their voices to Putnam's request.