Sen. Bill Nelson is asking the Department of Justice to investigate the Dozier School for Boys in Marianna.

In a letter sent Attorney General Eric Holder, Nelson requested that the Department of Justice conduct and investigation into the deaths and burials of dozens of boys at the now-defunct reform school.

"I believe it's now time for the U.S. Department of Justice who is uniquely positioned to provide an outside and independent review, to get into it and find out why the state of Florida said there were only 31 graves when in fact there were 51 that have now been uncovered by the University of South Florida," Nelson wrote.

Florida Department of Law Enforcement conducted an investigation five years ago and found there was no criminal wrongdoing.

However, anthropologists at the University of South Florida say the burial records kept by Dozier officials do not match with what was found on the school's grounds. Those researchers said they have found the remains of 51 people buried on the school grounds, which is 20 more than the FDLE said were buried there.

Former Dozier student Robert Straley said hopes Nelson's request is accepted. Straley says he remembers being raped, beaten, and tortured at the state-run school, where he stayed for 11 months.

He remembers his particularly brutal first day on the school grounds, when he was 13 years old.

"I got about 35 to 40 lashes which made me black, blue, red and pinholes of blood on you where the capillaries' surface had broken," said Straley.

Straley says his greatest hope is making sure there is a historical record of the horrors that happened at Dozier to make sure no one goes through what he had to endure again.

The USF research team has access to the school grounds until later this year, and they are still uncovering more information.

Full text of Sen. Bill Nelson's letter

Dear Attorney General Holder:

I am writing to respectfully request that the U.S. Department of Justice examine new evidence about the deaths of youth at a now-defunct Florida reform school as part of the agency’s ongoing probe of more recent inmate deaths in the state’s prison system.  Given new information about wards of the shuttered reform school, and a long history of mistreatment allegations surrounding the Arthur G. Dozier School for Boys in Marianna, Florida, I believe the department is uniquely positioned to provide an outside and independent review.

Earlier this month, researchers at the University of South Florida (USF) reported that they have found the remains of 51 individuals buried on the grounds of the reform school.  This contrasts with a 2009 Florida Department of Law Enforcement (FDLE) investigation concluding that 31 individuals were buried on the school grounds.  Having brought USF’s initial research to the Justice Department’s attention in 2012, I remain troubled that university researchers have uncovered information not contained in the state’s 2009 report.

I am grateful for the assistance the department already has provided USF through a 2013 grant from the National Institute of Justice, which has helped fund the forensic research - research that indicates children at Dozier suffered from nutritional deficiencies, lack of dental care, and underdevelopment.  In one grave, officials discovered what they think may be a buckshot.  Yet in 2012, when the FDLE was asked to comment on the university’s initial findings, officials characterized them as just “an academic research study” with a different standard and scope than a law enforcement investigation.  Local law enforcement, meantime, has expressed no interest in investigating.  Thus, a federal investigation may be the best alternative.

As the Justice Department works to provide answers and closure for the families of Florida prison inmates whose deaths may have stemmed from potential violations of their constitutional rights, I hope you will do the same for the families of these deceased young wards of the state.  I am enclosing a copy of USF’s 15-page report detailing its findings.  Please feel free to contact me with any questions.  I appreciate your consideration of this request.


Bill Nelson