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Courts / Law

Sen. Nelson Slams Gov. Scott on Latest Dozier School Decision

Katy Hennig
USF News

On Monday, Florida Secretary of State Ken Detzner turned down a request from USF researchers to conduct exhumations on possible graveshafts at the former Dozier School for Boys in Marianna, leading Sen. Bill Nelson to "tweet" his disappointment with Detzner's boss, Gov. Rick Scott.

Credit Sen. Bill Nelson's office
Sen. Bill Nelson's office
U.S. Sen. Bill Nelson's tweet Monday in response to the decision not to allow exhumation of remains at Dozier: "Too many children unaccounted for at Dozier. Families have a right to know. If the gov. really wanted to do something about it, he could."

Nelson spoke out once again today, saying the buck stops with Scott.

"It clearly is, if not a direct attempt to sidestep, it is a lack of leadership," he said on a conference call from Washington, D.C.

"The people of Florida deserve the answers, the families deserve the answers - that's what leadership is all about and the Governor ought to step up and require this. He is the chief executive officer, he certainly can influence the Department of State.

"Now this could be over in a nanosecond," he added. "If the Governor really wanted to do this, it would be done. Saying that the Department of State does not have jurisdiction, that's just an excuse to sidestep and not take accountability."

In Detzner's letter to USF researchers Monday denying their exhumation request, he said that his office doesn't have the authority to allow the exhumation of human remains, "absent a danger to the grave site that actually threatened the loss or damage of those remains."

Nelson and the researchers say Detzner is wrong and point to a section of state law that they say gives his office jurisdiction over human remains, particularly those of people buried more than 75 years ago. That would likely cover many of the bodies possibly buried in the Boot Hill cemetery. Those remains could also be in danger of being destroyed if the state sells the land.

The researchers want to dig up the nearly 50 unmarked graveshafts - 19 more than state law enforcement found in a previous investigation - to determine if any of the young men who died under mysterious circumstances at the reform school between 1911 and 1973 are buried there.

In a statement released this afternoon, USF Media/Public Affairs Manager Lara Wade-Martinez said that university officials met with representatives from Florida Attorney General Pam Bondi's office today and plan to follow up with Detzner.

The University of South Florida remains committed to its research at the former Dozier School for Boys. The university also remains committed to fulfilling this project on behalf of the families of untold numbers of children who were buried at Dozier in unmarked graves and these families’ fundamental right to have their relatives’ remains identified and buried in a proper and respectful manner.

And while Nelson talked to the U.S. Department of Justice about possibly getting involved in the investigation a few months ago, he hopes the state's slow action doesn't lead to federal authorities taking over.

"This should all be done in collaboration with each other, all levels of government - local, state and federal," he said, "and that is what is so infuriating about this is that state is dragging its feet and sidestepping this whole thing."

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